What Can Be Learned From Kirstie Alley?

Fatty Alley, #1

Entertainment writer Jennifer Graham Kizer composed a splendid history of actress Kirstie Alley’s second career as an obese person:

Showtime’s 2005 funny-but-short-lived scripted series, ‘Fat Actress,’ loosely chronicled the Emmy winner’s travails as an overweight Hollywood star. Off the set, Alley also became a spokesperson for Jenny Craig’s weight loss program. By 2006, the ‘Cheers’ star lost 75 pounds, and appeared on Oprah in a bikini to flaunt her success. But in the years since, she regained the weight… Not losing weight could fuel Alley’s fat-fighting career for years to come.

The actress’s remark about seeing herself as “circus fat” was widely quoted, and probably resulted from seeing a picture similar to the one on this page. Since Alley has appropriated overweight as her schtick, Kizer also speculates on whether the performer is clever or simply nuts. The reality TV show, “Kirstie Alley’s Big Life” premiered in the spring of 2010, with a 230-pound star. Twelve episodes were made, a complete list of which can be found at IMDB.

Kizer noted that…

Cynics might view the show as a 10-episode infomercial for the diet program…

What diet program? The one Alley originated, which retails for well over a hundred dollars per month. The line is called “Organic Liaison.” The program’s name is explained as meaning that its goal is “liaising” you from conventional eating habits to a healthier organic diet.

That doesn’t seem quite like the mot juste. “Organic Segue” would have been more accurate, but nobody knows what it means or how to pronounce it, and it would not be possible to spell it phonetically and call it Segway because that name has already been trademarked.

At any rate, Alley’s product is described thus:

Organic Liaison is a weight loss and diet plan that offers organic weight loss products, natural dietary supplements, and access to online diet and exercise tools… We help you create your own meal plans based on personal food preferences, use a daily journal linked with a calorie calculator, explore healthy organic recipes, and locate the nearest organic grocery stores, restaurants and farmer’s markets easily.

Many people look to Kirstie Alley as some kind of role model, for better or worse. And she uses her charisma and influence to sell products, which she manufactures. There is no question here of a “conflict of interest,” because it is all so frankly and cheerfully commercial. For an arguable conflict of interest to exist, it seems like there should be at least a bit of furtiveness about the transaction.

A lot of actors would rather do their own material than someone else’s. Denise Martin of the Los Angeles Times wrote about how much Alley enjoys poking fun at her own obesity struggle, and how that has soured her relationship with the program whose spokesperson she used to be:

When she pushed for her Jenny Craig commercials to be ‘self-deprecating and hysterical’ — ‘They have chicken fettuccine… FETTUCCINE!!!’ she screamed in one ad — instead of something more earnest, her partnership with the weight-loss business ended.

Ah, the time-honored show-biz cliché — creative differences. Martin’s interview with the actress also brought out a facet of weight control that many of us have noticed firsthand. Metabolism changes with age. Alley has described herself as eating like a truck driver for most of her life, but said,

It took me awhile to figure out I can’t eat 4,000 to 5,000 calories a day, which is what I ate my whole life and stayed thin.

As much as Alley enjoys amusing her audience, she also aspires to inspire. Oprah Winfrey’s website says,

One of Kirstie’s biggest regrets when it comes to her weight gain is letting down the people she motivated to lose weight, she says. ‘I really want to inspire again,’ she says.

A pseudonymous blogger called “Compulsive Overeater” shared thoughts about Alley via The Huffington Post:

Here’s the problem: Anyone can lose weight, but compulsive overeaters can’t keep it off without admitting they have a problem beyond the physical… On Alley’s new show… she talks about how she eats and wants to eat all the time — whether she’s hungry or not. This isn’t a normal reaction to food, it’s a compulsive one.

It is “Compulsive Overeater’s” opinion that Kirstie Alley cannot make her life work without a traditional 12-step program. The writer adds, “The program asks you to believe in a higher power — but one of your own choosing. It can be God, nature, gravity or a lamp post. As long as you believe in it, you’ll be ok.”

Any reader who has been in suspense over the current state of Ms. Alley’s physique may now breathe easy. As of last week, she was reported by David W. Freeman of CBS News to have lost 90 pounds, thanks to her own program and the extensive workouts required by the TV show “Dancing with the Stars.”

Freeman reports that the actress is now also concerned about the possibility that environmental chemicals contribute to the obesity epidemic. As background, the reporter quotes Dr. Linda Birnbaum, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences:

I think there is a possibility that they may alter your likelihood of becoming obese. There is a growing body of animal evidence that exposure to a number of different pesticides in utero and childhood is associated with obesity.

Maybe, maybe not. Dr. Pretlow is of the same mind as “Compulsive Overeater” and many others who view the problem through the “psychological food dependence-addiction lens.” In his newly published paper, “Addiction to Highly Pleasurable Food as a Cause of the Childhood Obesity Epidemic: A Qualitative Internet Study,” Dr. Pretlow points out that childhood obesity and adult obesity are alike in many ways, one of them being that the criteria for substance dependence outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders apply to both. He says,

Given that childhood obesity interventions show marginal success rates with generally poor long-term results (Whitlock et al., 2010), and given that the impact of physical activity is in question (Metcalf et al., 2010), it may be sensible to add in substance dependence methods (addiction medicine) to weight management programs. … Acknowledging highly pleasurable food as an addictive substance for a segment of the pediatric population, and incorporating substance dependence methods in overweight intervention and prevention programs, may prove to be an important factor for control of the childhood obesity epidemic.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The Controversy Behind Kirstie Alley’s ‘Big Life,’” iVillage.com, 03/19/10
Source: “About,” OrganicLiaison.com
Source: “Kirstie Alley takes her weight-loss battle to reality TV,” LA Times, 03/31/10
Source: “Kirstie Alley’s Weight Struggle,” Oprah.com, 04/30/09
Source: “Why Kirstie Alley and the Biggest Losers Will Gain the Weight Back,” The Huffington Post, 05/12/10
Source: “Do chemicals make people fat? Slimmer Kirstie Alley weighs in,” CBS News, 06/23/11
Image by nayrb7, used under its Creative Commons license.

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