The ex ex­pat

Reel­ing from the neg­a­tive ef­fects of a year of bad news sto­ries and ag­gres­sive re­al­ity-TV shows, Kate Birch thinks it’s time to cut her con­sump­tion

Friday - - Contents -

In­stead of watch­ing what she eats, Kate Birch re­solves to watch what she watches as she ditches junk TV on her me­dia diet.

I have de­cided to do what most peo­ple do at this time of year…

go on a diet. Not a calo­rie-cut­ting, me­tab­o­lism-boost­ing, fat-fight­ing diet, how­ever. Nor one claim­ing to de­liver in­cred­i­ble inch loss, promis­ing eter­nal body con­fi­dence or guar­an­tee­ing that elu­sive ‘thigh gap’ that was so ridicu­lously cov­eted in 2013.

No, at 41 years old, and with more than a dozen di­ets al­ready un­der my snugly fit­ting belt (did you know, the av­er­age 45-year-old woman in Bri­tain has been on 61 di­ets since the age of 16?), I am way past dab­bling in such point­less prac­tices.

More wor­ried th­ese days about my brain than my butt, I’ve de­cided to go on a me­dia diet… a plan that in­volves strip­ping back the quan­tity and im­prov­ing the qual­ity of me­dia I con­sume.

The plan is in­tended to boost my emo­tional health and hap­pi­ness be­cause what junk food is to the body, junk me­dia is to the brain.

Af­ter a year of liv­ing like many Brits – in­hal­ing neg­a­tive news sto­ries, binge­ing on mind­less re­al­ity TV shows and lurch­ing from one tacky celebrity ex­posé to the next – I have re­alised that my men­tal and emo­tional health is suf­fer­ing.

Take the never-end­ing stream of neg­a­tive news sto­ries we have in the UK. While many coun­tries are skilled at cel­e­brat­ing their suc­cesses, po­si­tion­ing them­selves in as pos­i­tive a light as pos­si­ble, we Brits like noth­ing more than talk­ing our­selves down, beat­ing our­selves up and wal­low­ing in our own de­spair.

In­hale any main­stream news­pa­per here for a mis­er­able mo­ment, not just The Daily Mail, and you’ll be left won­der­ing why ‘only’ one in five Bri­tons is de­pressed. And while the ‘Bri­tain is fat­ter, poorer and colder than ev­ery­one else, ever’ news that the me­dia dripfeeds us – anx­i­ety-build­ing, fearin­still­ing, panic-wor­thy sto­ries that grind us down to a pes­simistic pulp – might fuel the lives of many fa­tal­is­tic Brits, I’m think­ing news of a lit­tle more nu­tri­tious na­ture might help me to stay sane.

As might ditch­ing the re­al­ity TV dross that has worked its in­sid­i­ous way not only on to my tele­vi­sion screen, but into my morn­ing read­ing ma­te­rial, Twit­ter feed and even daily watercooler dis­cus­sions.

From The X Fac­tor, The Ap­pren­tice and Big Brother to Made in Chelsea, The Only Way is Es­sex and Hell’s Kitchen, this train-

We Brits like noth­ing more than talk­ing our­selves down and wal­low­ing in our de­spair

crash TV is not just killing my brain cells, it’s mak­ing me un­happy.

While watch­ing fame-hun­gry, brain-dead, drama-gen­er­at­ing peo­ple be­have badly and hu­mil­i­ate them­selves on Bri­tish re­al­ity shows was sort-of en­ter­tain­ing from afar (liv­ing in Dubai), wit­ness­ing their night­mar­ish be­hav­iour and ques­tion­able morals back on Bri­tish soil is be­yond bleak. Not least be­cause of the wor­ry­ing num­ber of re­al­ity-TV wannabes wan­der­ing the streets, a dis­turbingly re­lent­less trend summed up by the lat­est copy of Lonely Planet’s guide to Great Bri­tain: “It’s a telling in­dict­ment that more peo­ple vote on TV tal­ent shows than for the coun­try’s lead­ers.”

And then, of course, there’s the very real anx­i­ety that some­one you know, not to men­tion like, might ac­tu­ally pop up in one, re­veal­ing not just their

naked body parts, but sor­did se­crets and ou­tra­geous be­hav­iour. Or, worse still, that your very own child will re­turn home from school one day and de­spite their ap­par­ent vo­cal in­abil­ity and culi­nary in­com­pe­tence, an­nounce they are en­ter­ing both Bri­tain’s Got Tal­ent and

Ju­nior MasterChef.

Al­though maybe we should be more wor­ried about our chil­dren watch­ing them than tak­ing part in them. Ac­cord­ing to dozens of stud­ies, re­al­ity TV scores high on ag­gres­sive acts – a study of The Ap­pren­tice found it de­picted 85 ag­gres­sive acts in an hour – with peo­ple who watch it ac­cept­ing and ex­pect­ing a higher level of drama, ag­gres­sion and bul­ly­ing in their own lives.

Ag­gres­sion. Anx­i­ety. De­pres­sion. Stu­pid­ity. Pes­simism. Oh, and did I men­tion my re­duced ap­petite? The many re­al­ity diet shows that haul obese peo­ple out in front of mil­lions in hu­mil­i­at­ing fash­ion (they are forced to get their fat out on TV), as well as the co­pi­ous amounts of ‘Look how dis­gust­ingly fat I am’ news­pa­per sto­ries cir­cu­lat­ing is mak­ing me choke on my chips.

But all this doesn’t mean I have to give up my re­mote con­trol or iPad – I just need to change chan­nels and read and watch things a lit­tle less pop­u­lar.

It’s sad to think that the most pop­u­lar me­dia here in the UK is also the most de­press­ing and neg­a­tive – what does that say about us Brits?

So I now have the TV tuned to arts and cul­ture on BBC Four, while flick­ing through dig­i­tal edi­tions of high­brow cur­rent af­fairs mag­a­zines such as

The Spec­ta­tor.

I feel smarter al­ready, merely by not fill­ing my­self with Mc­Me­dia meals three times a day. I’m just hop­ing that my diet lasts longer than the av­er­age 19 days.

Over­worked, over­whelmed and over there... long-term Dubai ex­pat Kate Birch misses

her maid, strug­gles with small talk and is des­per­ate for some­one

to pack her shop­ping

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