The Truth About The Biggest Loser
If you haven’t heard, there is a reality show called The Biggest Loser. I say this in jest.
Of course you’ve heard about it, as have thousands of others. According to online research, apparently the 2010 season had its largest audience with 1,580,000 viewers. Knowing this, and the fact that this show is still being aired makes me sad and angry. I roll my eyes and flair my nostrils. You’d think that given my profession – certified personal fitness trainer and fitness nutrition coach – that I would DVR every episode, rave about it, show it to my clients for motivation, and have posters of all the trainers and clients hanging in my studio.
No, no, no and no.
Why? Well I’ll start with saying this: With the exception of a few seconds during channel surfing when I may have unknowingly landed on it, I had never watched the show until I just made, no…forced would be a better descriptor, forced myself to watch the season 15 premiere and managed to finish the first 29 minutes of the season 15 finale. I then skipped ahead in that episode to see what sparked the controversy surrounding Rachel Frederickson, and her losing more than 59% of her original body weight.
After watching them, I suppose in theory it’s a nice concept. I too, want to help others improve their health, their self-confidence, their self-esteem, and learn how to follow a healthy lifestyle. However, I still stand behind the reasons I chose to never watch it prior to writing this article.
1 – It’s a reality show. By definition, a reality show is “a television show in which members of the public or celebrities are filmed living their everyday lives or undertaking specific challenges.”
To this, I say ‘feh’. Feh is yiddish for ‘yuck’. More commonly, it’s a term used to express disgust or contempt. This alleged reality show isn’t filming “everyday lives” or even air all of the “real” things that happen. The producers choose bits and pieces to make it entertaining, to elicit emotions so viewers connect with contestants, to raise their ratings, and to generate more advertising dollars – direct revenue for the show and indirect revenue through all of its merchandise and promotions. One quick example – the weigh ins don’t occur every week like the show depicts. They are usually 10 – 26 days apart. The weight loss is therefore unrealistic and unsafe. Losing thirteen pounds in one week? I don’t think so.
2 – It sets unrealistic expectations for everyday people who are struggling to lose weight, to keep it off, and to continue to live their real lives filled with work, family, and other commitments. During a significant portion of the show, the contestants are isolated in an environment where they are surrounded by trainers and fellow contestants with the same goal in mind. They aren’t working. They aren’t spending time with family or friends. They aren’t presented with real-life temptations of going to a drive-thru, attending a happy hour, sneaking a bag of chips, saying “no” to the donuts that a co-worker brought to work, eating Halloween candy that they are handing out to neighborhood kids, etc. Get the picture?
3 – I belong to several online forums with fellow trainers. One of the popular threads a few years ago was in response to how Jillian Michaels was demonstrating a kettlebell swing on the show. According to all of the trainers who viewed it, she was clearly using incorrect form. She did on this on TV with thousands of viewers, and more importantly, in front of her clients. Poor form can cause injury. It also certainly doesn’t help them when they leave the controlled environment of the ranch and are supposed to continue exercising on their own. She should know better. Especially when she is receiving thousands of dollars for being on the show and from all of the fame and fortune it has brought her brand of clothes, water, DVDs, books, and more.
4 – When Jillian originally left the show, I had the opportunity to talk with an International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness (IFBB) professional who has won or placed in 15 fitness and figure competitions, and even more before she went pro. She was asked to interview to be the next TV show trainer. This is a woman who I have learned a lot from. I respect her. She has helped hundreds or perhaps more than a thousand women to improve their physiques, meet or exceed their fitness goals, and win umpteen figure and bikini competitions. As it turns out, she wasn’t chosen as the TV trainer, and you know what? She was okay with that. Why? Because the philosophy of the show’s producers wasn’t aligned with her philosophy. In other words, this meant that they wanted her to play a role on TV for ratings, instead of being the type of trainer who focuses on the best interest of her clients now and in the future.
5 – The Biggest Loser is a competition based on the loss of weight, instead of the loss of body fat percentage. What they fail to recognize is that as you exercise, you are going to build muscle. Losing fat is important, but building muscle is good and should be rewarded. The more muscle you have, the higher your metabolism, and the higher your metabolism, the more fat you burn.
If these points aren’t enough to persuade you to stop enabling this type of fake garbage, then I offer the following.
Read this article written by a former contestant who spills the beans on what it’s really like. When you are finished, ask yourself if this is helping the contestants lead healthy lifestyles after they leave the show. Ask yourself if this is helping everyday people set realistic expectations they can achieve without failing repeatedly, and further lowering their self-confidence and self-esteem.
And then there is Kai Hibbard, a finalist on Season 3. In response to Rachel Frederickson’s recent 155 lb. loss, according to the New York Times (February 9, 2014), Ms. Hibbard said:
“Rachel doesn’t know what damage she has done to her body and her mind, and sadly she won’t until the spotlight goes away,” said Ms. Hibbard, 35, who seven years ago lost 118 pounds during her competition but has since spoken out publicly against the show’s extreme dieting and exercise regimen. “I feel I did a vulnerable population a disserve by not saying on television the night of my finale, ‘I’m sad, and I’m sick from being on this show,’” she said, recalling that her hair had begun falling out from a vitamin deficiency. “I should have walked off the set. The only difference between Rachel and me is she looked on the outside the way I was feeling on the inside, totally unhealthy.”
Kai Hibbard, Ken Coleman, and another former contestant who wanted to remain anonymous (we’ll call her “Linda”all from Season 3, all agree that the scrutiny and pressure they felt while on the show, continues after they leave the show. Linda explains, “You are constantly scrutinized. I remember after the show aired I was in the grocery store and somebody was looking in my cart and scrutinizing, and still do to this day, even though my show was a bunch of years ago, I am still worried about what is in my cart because god forbid if somebody recognizes me.” 1
Linda also has received criticism from others such as “Oh what, you had to go on a tv show to lose weight? It was a lot of why go to this extreme, what’s wrong with you that you had to go on national tv to do this?” 1
According Ken and Linda, there is a lack of long term support from The Biggest Loser show, “One of the things that hurt the most through this whole biggest loser process is I gave the show everything and they dropped me. After the show was over, when I reached out, when the weight started to come back on I reached out and begged and I pleaded and I said help me and they wouldn’t even respond to me. I felt terrible. I don’t think there are words to describe the defeat and the rejection I felt after the show.” 1
Ryan Benson, the Season 1 winner who regained almost all of the 122 lbs he lost while on the show, believes that after he publicly admitted that he dropped some of those pounds by fasting and dehydrating himself to the point that he was urinating blood, the show has “shunned” him. According to the New York Times, an email message was sent from a talent producer with The Biggest Loser to former contestants, saying that if they spoke with a reporter without the show’s permission, they could be subjected to a fine of $100,000 or $1,000,000, depending on the timing of the interview. 2
Did you know that in the first episode of the 8th season, two contestants were sent to the hospital after collapsing from heat stroke during a one mile race. Medical professionals in many fields – physicians, nutritionists, physiologists, those specializing in eating disorders, and many others – continue to warn their patients and anyone who will listen to not follow the practices they see on this show. 3
Speaking of safety and putting the health of their contestants first, according to the New York Times, contestants are required to sign releases that, in part, include “no warranty, representation or guarantee has been made as to the qualifications or credentials of the medical professionals who examine me or perform any procedures on me in connection with my participation in the series, or their ability to diagnose medical conditions that may affect my fitness to participate in the series.” 3
A waiver and release are standard in this industry. But this? Um….scary, to say the least.
Now what do you think about the show?
Please share this with others.