BBC show The Restaurant That Burns Off Calories accused of not being ‘remotely responsible’ for people with eating disorders

‘It horrifies me that the BBC would think this is remotely responsible programming at any time, let alone now,’ says Ruby Tandoh  

Helen Coffey
Tuesday 21 April 2020 15:04 BST
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Fred Sirieix presents new BBC show The Restaurant That Burns Off Calories

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BBC Two programme The Restaurant That Burns Off Calories has sparked accusations that it could trigger disordered eating.

The programme, hosted by First Dates star Fred Sirieix and This Morning’s resident doctor Zoe Williams, saw unsuspecting diners invited to eat a meal while, unbeknownst to them, a secret team had to burn off every single calorie consumed at an onsite gym.

The premise was based on science that suggests that when we see just how much exercise is required to burn off what we eat, we consume up to 20 per cent less.

During the Horizon special, Sirieix and Williams also dug into why we need calories and why, as a nation, we’re eating more than we need, leading to almost two-thirds of the population being classified as overweight or obese.

However, some experts have criticised the show, claiming it could be “triggering” for people who struggle with eating disorders.

“We know that the myth that all calories eaten must be cancelled out through exercise has the potential to be devastating to those suffering from or vulnerable to eating disorders,” Caroline Price, director of services for eating disorder charity Beat, tells The Independent.

“Being told how much activity it would take to burn off particular foods risks triggering the illness further, and we strongly advise against anyone at risk to avoid these sources of information.

“We would urge television commissioners to consider the impact that their programmes may have on vulnerable people, and instead focus on healthy and balanced eating.”

The charity even kept its online peer support group The Sanctuary open late last night to deal with the fallout from the show, tweeting: “Our services have sadly been in high demand tonight due to BBC2 ‘The Restaurant that Burns Off Calories’.”

Food writer Ruby Tandoh, whose book Eat Up! denounces fad diets and calorie counting and promotes a joyful, healthy relationship with food, warned her social media followers prior to the show.

“If you’ve ever struggled with disordered eating, felt s*** about your body or had other anxieties around food/exercise, please spare yourself the hurt and stress of watching the BBC Horizon show tonight,” she tweeted.

“It horrifies me that the BBC would think this is remotely responsible programming at any time, let alone now. It is SO well established by now that this kind of focus on numbers (minutes exercised, calories in, calories out) feeds into disordered eating. We deserve better.”

Piers Morgan slams ‘bonkers’ reaction to GCSE calorie question that upset pupils with eating disorders

Sirieix retaliated, tweeting: “Thank you so so so much for using your platform and bringing attention to this really good #horizon scientific special @BBCTwo​ tonight at 9pm with @DrZoeWilliams. I think you will enjoy it. PS can’t wait to get your apology tweet later on x”.

A BBC spokesperson said: “The intention of the programme was to give viewers information about the latest research into the science of calories, about why our bodies need them and how our bodies use them. In particular, it looked at recent studies by academics in both the US and the UK, which suggest that diners may make healthier choices when presented with information about how much activity is required to burn off the calorie content of dishes.

“The voiceover is clear throughout that there are government guidelines for the recommended number of calories needed for the average man or woman to remain healthy (2,500 for men and 2,000 for women). The programme never endorses or suggests restricting calories below these levels.”

If anyone has been affected by the issues raised in “The Restaurant That Burns Off Calories”, Beat’s Helpline is available 365 days a year on 0808 801 0677.

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