Bodywhys expresses concern over Operation Transformation return

Alanna Cunnane

New year, new you, and a new series of RTÉ’s Operation Transformation.

Hosted by Kathryn Thomas, the show returned to TV screens last week and was met with a myriad of backlash, including a petition signed by over 8,000 people calling on the national broadcaster to axe the programme due to its alleged correlation with body shaming and diet culture.

The Eating Disorder Association of Ireland, Bodywhys, said in a statement this week that it recognises the “great deal of correspondence and concerns” that it has received since the announcement of the RTÉ staple’s return, adding that the programme is “triggering” for viewers, in particular those who live with an eating disorder.

“There are many factors involved when a person develops an eating disorder, one of which is the atmosphere and world they are living within. The media makes up part of that landscape and plays a role in creating a normative discontent with how people feel about their body and their relationship with food,” the organisation said.

“[It] causes them distress and impacts negatively on their mental health. We hope that the national broadcaster would feel the sense of responsibility that comes with this influence,” it added.

Reminding readers that the statistics now show that there has been a 34 per cent increase amongst hospital admissions of young people with eating disorders, the organisation condemned the show for its “community sanctioned dieting culture” that research has found “does little to achieve long-lasting weight loss or health promotion”.

Calling for a more “inclusive approach” to promoting health and wellbeing, the organisation referred to a “growing body of research evidence which supports health promotion in ways that do not rely on shaming or measuring and counting as a tool for motivation” and hopes the programme can “live up to its name” within a more diverse, revolutionised format.

RTÉ’s response highlighted that Operation Transformation has “evolved considerably” throughout the 15 years it has been active, now encompassing “a more holistic approach to adopting and maintaining a healthy lifestyle as well as losing weight”.

The weekly check ins now encompass a “variety of areas” from blood pressure, hydration, sleep quality, cholesterol and psychological wellbeing, as well as the figures on the scales.

The national broadcaster concluded that 74 per cent of those who took part in a 2021 study by Healthy Ireland made “one or more positive lifestyle changes as a result of watching the show, including 41 per cent being more active, 33 per cent eating healthier food and 23 per cent looking after their mental wellbeing”.

Operation Transformation’s synonymous nature with the month of January may not aid its cause with the link to the pressures of new year’s resolutions, but while it and social media’s portrayals besiege media come January 1st, the date doesn’t necessarily have to signal metamorphosis of oneself.

The clean slate could instead be utilised for implementing incremental and sustainable steps toward a more healthy mind, body and soul.

The ‘new you’ and ‘old you’ may be better off to serve the present you, allowing for a more centred and content lifestyle.

Alanna Cunnane

Image Credit: RTÉ