Secret Eaters – a hilarious crash course in food psychology
Channel 4 over in the UK made a series called Secret Eaters that lasted a brief but entertaining 3 seasons from 2012 to 2014. On the surface it’s a show about people with unhealthy diets who want to change but there’s a critically important sub-text; the psychology of modern food and eating is something that many people are struggling to come to terms with. Food and nutrition literacy is low, consumption of processed and convenience food is increasing, and there’s a normalisation of poor eating habits.
So, why are we writing a blog about it? Well, because we think it’s a great entry point into the psychology of eating and can help people understand their own consumption habits. Our guiding principle is to always equip people with knowledge that empowers them, and Secret Eaters can do that.
Secret Eaters follows the story of a British family or household who follow the same pattern.
- Overweight and gradually gaining weight.
- Under the impression that their food consumption habits are either generally healthy, or don’t justify their size.
- Unsure of what is causing their weight gain.
- Aspiring to be healthier and happier.
Their house is then filled with cameras for a week to monitor what they eat. The show’s creators also, unbeknownst to the show’s subjects, organise to track their eating outside of the home. They follow them around to track everything they eat to get the most robust look at their diet.
The final piece is the self-reported food diary that the show’s subjects fill out before filming. They’re asked to write a journal that best represents their diet that’s later compared to their actual diet. You can probably guess at the alignment between their self-reported consumption and the reality of what they eat.
WATCH THE SHOW
Those who haven’t watched the show and want to enjoy without me spoiling it can just hit the play button below. I’m pretty sure this shouldn’t be on YouTube (we won’t tell if you don’t!).
The final reveal of the show comes when the Secret Eaters are presented a table laden with their entire week worth of eating and drinking. A nutritionist then gives them a jaw-dropping audit of the table’s contents, and a calculation of calories inside the food and beverages.
Everyone is stunned when faced with the sum total of what they consume. The experts then compare the self-reported food diaries to the reality. There’s always a substantial gulf between the two. It’s all a part of a valuable learning experience and watching others have those realisations can trigger the same thing in the viewers.
THE PSYCHOLOGY LESSONS
So, what does everybody learn? There’s a consistency to every episode:
- People substiantially underestimate how many calories they consume, and constantly omit food they know to be unhealthy when self-reporting. Everyone wants to feel like they have a good diet, even if it means misrepresenting information to themselves.
- It’s easy to make healthy foods unhealthy. Aspirationally healthy people might eat a salad for health benefits but might dress is with hundreds of calories in dressing, or fill it with fried bacon. One Secret Eaters episode saw a man pouring double cream and jam into his morning oats. The healthy intentions are good, the execution is often lacking.
- Context is everything. People focus too much on what on individual consumption decisions instead of the big picture. Overrepresentation of healthy habits or decisions and under-reporting of the opposite is a common mistake.
- Normal isn’t necessarily healthy. The show intentionally selects people who think their diets are not that bad or healthy. Subjects will often benchmark their decisions against what they see others do, without the full dietary context of the other person.
- Exercise burns fewer calories than people think. Physical activity is a wonderful thing to do, but it’s extremely difficult to use exercise to overcome poor diet choices.
- Drank calories are frequently overlooked. Alcohol, soft drinks, sports drinks, and sugary tea and coffee are common sources calories.
THE HAPPY ENDING
The final act of Secret Eaters focuses on the lifestyle changes that happen after the show, and how this affects the physical and mental state of the show’s subjects. It is always a positive end. People have lost weight and are feeling much better about themselves.
The final lesson behind the show is overwhelmingly encouraging; low health and nutrition literacy can be conquered when people are empowered by good information. All that’s necessary is the discipline to enact the changes once people are aware of what they’re doing wrong and what to do in future.
That’s very much our ethos at Future Health Fitness. We want to empower people with knowledge so they can take control of their health. We believe that everyone can change with the right information, self-discipline, and a willingness to work.
WE’RE HERE TO HELP
Our health scanning service, and affiliated nutrition services can help you get on track to your health goals. Feel free to get in touch with us if you need some help on your wellness journey: