The Real Biggest Loser

Here are just a few reasons I think this show is a travesty.

  • They haven’t proven that this extreme behavior is necessary.  The Biggest Loser contestants admit that they haven’t been practicing healthy habits.  I wonder what would happen if they just made a few healthy changes to their lives – ate in a nutritious way that supported their bodies about 80-90% of the time, did some kind of enjoyable movement 30 minutes about 5 days a week.  What would their health look like at the end of 16 weeks?  Until that show is on the air I fail to be impressed with a show that tortures people in the name of better health.
  • Time and again I see people encouraged by “health professionals” to ignore their bodies signals on the show – signals like pain, injury, exhaustion, and hunger.  I’ve written about this before and I’ll say it again – think about treating your body like a partner and friend instead of like a limitation to be overcome.  Our bodies give us feedback for a reason and I’m guessing that we’ll be in much better health if we work with our bodies  and listen to what they have to stay instead of just treating them like a nuisance.
  • The contestants spend 16 weeks eating extremely restrictive diets and exercising 5 or more hours a day.  Contestants have lost 100 pounds in seven weeks and 34 pounds in a single week.  There was a time in my life that I behaved in exactly that same way.  I was diagnosed with an eating disorder and given the opportunity to rethink my diet and exercise plan in the hospital.  Not only didn’t I win $250,000, I had to go to meetings.  Twelve step meetings.  Now we glorify and reward behavior that can set these people up for a lifetime of disordered eating and a severely dysfunctional relationship with food and their bodies.
  • Because it’s a game and there is a ton of money on the line, people do things that are really unhealthy and are often considered signs of disordered eating to win:  Dehydrating to lose extra weight.  Over-hydrating because they have immunity and they want to “save their weight loss” for the next week.  Binge eating donuts are part of a challenge and then trying to burn all of those calories with compulsive exercise.  The famous “last chance workout” where people push beyond all reasonable boundaries to lose that last bit of weight.  Abusing gum in lieu of eating etc.
  • The show perpetuates the idea that your self-esteem should come from fitting into the cultural idea of beauty.  It seems to me to be unacceptable on the show for someone to like their body and just be on the show for health reasons.  The end of my watching came when trainer (and self-proclaimed “life coach”)  Jillian Michaels told a contestant that his weight made him miserable.  He disagreed, telling her that he was happy, had a great wife, great kids and a great life and just wanted to be healthier.  Jillian would not let that go, she started to berate him, telling him that he was killing his children, insisting that he was miserable, until he finally said that he was.  Jillian was triumphant.  Is this show about making people healthy or satisfying Jillian’s ego? She had an opportunity to leverage his already high self-esteem to help him through a difficult process and instead felt the need to try to break him down so that she could build him back up in her image.  This behavior is utterly unacceptable for someone who claims to be a health professional and life coach.
  • These people are being set up for a self-esteem crash.  They are taught by the trainers that their self-esteem is contingent and not intrinsic.  They are encouraged to believe that nobody will want to date them unless they are thin.  They aren’t even encouraged to derive self-esteem from the accomplishment of finishing the program.   They are taught that they should have self-esteem and that they are  deserving of love only because they have become thin.   What happens if they gain back their weight (as statistically a vast majority of them are likely to do)? Why can’t we tell people the truth – that they are inherently, intrinsically, worthy.  That they should have high self-esteem because they are just awesome, without having to try at all.
  • Hypocrisy.  Ms. Michaels is the subject of at least three lawsuits for diet pills called “Jillian Michael’s Maximum Strength Calorie Control”  The advertisement for the pills claims “”Two Capsules Before Main Meals and You Lose Weight. That’s It.”.  If that’s the case, why not just put the contestants on your pills Jillian?

In fact, there are so many people who lose on this show, it’s hard to choose the biggest.

Is it the trainers who become egomaniacal trying to justify their existence through their clients suffering rather than nurture and assist them?

The contestants who put themselves through a human experiment the likes of which a researcher could NEVER get approval for?

The viewers who watch the show and buy into the idea that they can only have self-esteem and be worthy of love when they are thin?

The people who try to mimic the show and become frustrated when they don’t lose 100lbs in 7 weeks, or trigger an eating disorder trying?

There may only be one “biggest loser”, but in the end everybody loses with this show.

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Published in: on May 28, 2010 at 6:02 am  Comments (23)  

23 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. well said! I couldn’t agree more. I don’t understand the Biggest Loser phenomenon (well, I do, but I don’t think it’s at all healthy).

    • Thanks. I think it’s just so sad that we are at a place as a culture where this is what we want to see on television!

  2. where can I find other body positive blogs akin to yours?

  3. Not to mention the Biggest Loser scandal that I saw reported in the news this year- the winner from a few years ago had gained all the weight back.

    • They had him on the show – he said that he was planning to do the same type of regimen again and Bob the trainer told him that it wouldn’t work and that he would need to do small behavior modifications over time. It was really sad.

  4. I hate the exhortations to push through the pain and ignore one’s body’s signals, partly because I think that gets in the way of something more subtle: learning to distinguish between pain (“this is doing harm and I should stop now”) and various kinds of discomfort (“I’m working muscles I’m not used to working, I’m bending and stretching in ways I’m not used to bending and stretching, and my body is telling me about it”).

    I spent 15+ years dealing with chronic back pain until I found a postural alignment therapy that’s solved it (and changed my life in the process — funny how getting out of pain can do that). Something I noticed when I first started to do the exercises was how… hm, what’s the word? …how abstracted and separated “I” was from my body. When the physical therapist would ask “where do you feel that?” sometimes I would have to say “um… I’m not quite sure, actually.” I was so used to trying to shut off and ignore the pain, I didn’t know how to perceive other signals from my body.

    For me, learning to perceive this difference, and learning to respect pain but work through discomfort, has been both grounding (feels like I’m truly at home in and one with my body) and freeing (feels like I can do so much more than I ever thought I could). And now, at almost-40, I want to learn to do cartwheels, which I never learned to do as a kid.

    • This is beautifully stated – the difference between pain and discomfort. It’s fantastic that you found something that works for your back – I tend to do “alternative practices” as well. I bet you will do awesome cartwheels!

  5. Thanks for this post. I’ve never watched The Biggest Loser, but I did catch some of The Celebrity Fit Club once and was horrified by similar things. I think it’s interesting when people make assumptions about those of us who are overweight. Personally, I’m WAY healthier now than I was when I was really bone thin, but there are people who make strange assumptions. I think it’s important to get it through people’s heads that “fat” does not necessarily equate to “unhealthy” “Unloveable” or “unhappy.” I could go on and on about this topic, actually…lol

    • Totally agree! I saw a bit of Celebrity Fit Club and I agree that it seemed ridiculous. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  6. A show that says “get active for an hour a day, eat proper food and get those damn chips out of your mouth” doesn’t sell advertisements.

    I was 130lbs at 6’1″ for most of my adult life, then I started buying issues of muscle & fitness and started working out using the methods they describe, and eating the types of food and supplements they talk about, now I’m 230lbs of mostly muscle. I’ve been working out and eating like this for about 7 years, so it’s sustainable.

    Obviously my goal was opposite to the problem most people have, but no less traumatic (think “heavy door knocking you over and the girl you like laughing real hard”).

    • I agree that there’s no money to be made with suggesting sensible health which is so unfortunate. I have to disagree about the “eat proper food and get those damn chips out of your mouth” though. I think there’s more danger in making foods bad/evil restricted so I would prefer that we suggest that people try to eat foods that are nourishing most of the time and not feel guilty the rest of the time. In any event, thanks for taking the time to comment and I’m glad that you found something that works for you!

  7. Wow. I’d actually never noticed that about The Biggest Loser–which is shocking and appalling, because it shows just how much I’ve bought into culturally idealized definitions of “beauty” and “health,” even though I decry them at ever turn! Thanks for writing this and speaking out against these kinds of shows. It’s startling just how much we actually believe even when our ideals are polar opposites.

    • Thanks for saying that – I think it’s a great point. I used to watch the show all the time and I suddenly became conscious to what was going on so I know just how you feel!

  8. I noticed that this year’s “home” winner looked sickly. Truly ill. He lost a lot of weight but he did it by not gaining any muscle.

    I would respect the show a LOT more if they did hydrostatic weighing and judged by the amount of fat lost and/or muscle created. They clearly have access to the tool. It bothers me, insanely, to see someone who is significantly thinner get kicked off because they built enough muscle to equal or exceed their lost fat.

    • I didn’t see it but I’m not surprised – losing that much weight over that little time is dangerous at best, especially if you’re doing it on your own. I also agree about the hydrostatic weighing – it seems like if they cared about health that’s what they would be looking at.

  9. everything you write is extremely well said. i severely dislike the biggest loser and especially jillian michaels. she gives TRUE health and wellness professionals a bad name. she is unsafe, practices outside of what should be her professional ethical boundaries, and is gimmicky. i could likely go on and on with my opinions, but will refrain and just say that i just found your blog, love it, love your writing style and thoughts, and look forward to more.

    • You are so right about giving true health pros a bad name. I’m surprised that other health professionals aren’t more up in arms about this. Thanks for your kind words about my blog as well, I really appreciate it!

  10. *standing ovation* You’ve just summed up why I won’t watch this show far more succinctly than I ever could.

    • Thanks. Glad that you liked it and that you have also boycotted the show!

  11. Amen! I refuse to watch that horrible show where people get berated and humiliated.

  12. You may have already come across this, but just in case: http://www.bodylovewellness.com/2010/06/09/kai-hibbard-biggest-loser-finalist-part-1-of-3/

    Unsurprisingly, “Kai and I spoke on the phone about her experiences on the Biggest Loser. From seeing her fellow contestants forced to workout with injuries against doctor’s orders, to the extreme dehydration prior to weigh-ins, to the resultant eating disorder that Kai still is working to heal, the story she told was nothing like the fantasy that the Biggest Loser seeks to promote.”

  13. The other thing that bothers me so much aout Biggest Loser is the sublimal message it is sending out to society. They are basically saying it is ok to be verbally and physically abusive to fat people because that is the only way they will get thin. It goes back to the idea of it being ok to publically shame us for our own good.


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