Yum, yum! Dinner is done but can you burn all those calories consumed?

BBC documentary Horizon: The Restaurant That Burns Off Calories sees presenter Fred Sirieix – the normally charming host of Come Dine With Me – invite 20 diners to eat a meal in his new restaurant. Free food? Forks up! Unbeknown to the diners, though, there’s still a price to pay… but not by them.

A secret team is stationed behind the scenes at an on-site gym. While the diners feast, they will sweat and slave in an attempt to burn off the calories consumed in every single forkful of those meals – under the guidance of Dr Zoe Williams. Yikes!

The premise of the show is based on science that suggests when we see just how much exercise is required to burn off what we eat, we consume up to 20 percent less.

Watch now on Catch Up

Hidden menu

A BBC spokesperson explains, “The intention of the programme is 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 looks 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 the diners knew how many minutes of exercise their menu choice would take to burn off, would they order differently? Dr Zoe Williams goes in-depth into the question and speaks to various scientists and top-tier food nutritionists who add input about the subject at hand. Their valuable contribution is the real take-away from the show, adding knowledge about fat processes, microbiome influences and metabolic science.

In the end, Fred and Dr Zoe emphasise that you really can’t outrun your fork – which is to say that should you wish to maintain or reach a healthy weight, that needs to start with a healthy diet in line with your body’s physical requirements. As an extremely rough illustration of this:

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A bad taste?

Viewer discretion is advised, though. When the programme first aired in the UK, viewers were left with a bitter taste. The show aims to educate, but viewers felt that the emphasis on frantically exercising off calories fed into the dangerous attitudes behind several eating disorders. Director of Services for UK eating disorder charity Beat, Caroline Price, told The Independent: “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. 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.”

Nutritionists, health influencers and viewers took to social media to let off steam about what they saw. The BBC received just over 1,216 complaints following the airing of the Horizon special. They later cautioned that the content was potentially “triggering”.

The Restaurant That Burns Off Calories is food for thought and is worth a watch to learn more about how the body uses food as fuel. If it doesn’t tickle your taste buds, though, then it’s not worth a pinch of salt.

Watch Horizon: The Restaurant That Burns Off Calories on Friday, 17 July on BBC Earth (DStv 184) at 22:00 and Saturday, 18 July at 16:00, or on Catch Up


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