Eat, Drink and Be Healthy
Correction to This Article
The Eat, Drink & Be Healthy column misspelled the last name of the family featured in the TLC television series "One Big Happy Family." It is Coles, not Cole.

On TV's 'One Big Happy Family,' Cole family is losing weight together

The Coles -- from left, Amber, Shayne, Norris and Tameka -- are moving more.
The Coles -- from left, Amber, Shayne, Norris and Tameka -- are moving more. (Tlc)
By Jennifer LaRue Huget
Thursday, January 21, 2010

Well, they certainly are big. And they do appear happy.

Those were my first impressions when I tuned in to watch "One Big Happy Family," TLC's six-episode series featuring the Cole family of Charlotte.

The Coles -- parents Tameka and Norris, teens Amber and Shayne -- are like many American families. They're busy, sometimes snippy but more often jovial, and they're devoted to one another and to their faith. But what earned them a TV show was their commitment to lose weight, a commitment made stronger when Shayne learned that he was headed for diabetes if he didn't shape up. At the start of the series, each of them weighed more than 300 pounds.

But when I watched my first episodes (from the middle of the series, which debuted Dec. 29 and is now in reruns, with new entries expected this summer), I found them painful. Tameka, after leading the family on a supermarket trip in which they marveled at the fresh produce as if they'd never seen the like, tried to broil chicken breasts by placing them in a glass dish and sticking it right under the broiler. After the dish shattered, the unhappy family was left to eat broccoli for dinner.

The worst moment came when Amber, 16, sat on a dining-room chair and then tumbled heavily to the floor when the chair's leg broke. Her brother, 14, later admitted he felt embarrassed for her.

I found I wasn't alone in wanting to avert my eyes. Blogs commonly say the show exploits and degrades the Coles.

Beyond that, I was concerned that the Coles weren't receiving adequate guidance. The show's premise is that they're tackling their weight-loss project without outside help other than occasional checkups with their physicians. But as a reader commented on the Checkup blog last week, if diabetes is in fact in the offing, the family shouldn't rely on what appears to be a hit-or-miss approach but instead seek professional help.

But after conversing with the Coles (the adults by phone, the kids via e-mail) and with David Kessler, a pediatrician and author of last year's best-selling "The End of Overeating," I started to see the Coles' effort in a new light.

"There are food coaches that charge $250 an hour," Kessler says. "But not everybody needs or can afford a food coach or a bariatric physician." In fact, he insists, many people can succeed at losing weight without professional help, provided these elements are in place:

Motivation. Kessler says successful weight loss requires, first and foremost, motivation from within.

On that score, the Coles seem to be in good stead. Shayne told me he was the most motivated person in the family, and Amber reports she was "extremely motivated" to take part. That motivation's still strong, her mom says, as she looks ahead to fitting into a prom dress in May. While the whole project was Tameka's idea, Norris joined in willingly and soon found his own motivation as his sweat pants size shrank from 6X to 2X.

Social support. This is "absolutely key" to losing weight, Kessler notes. "Doing it yourself if the rest of the family is not on board is very difficult." Best if that support extends beyond the family to include friends and co-workers, he says.

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