“The Biggest Loser”- We All Lose

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Let’s play word association. I say the NBC television show “The Biggest Loser,” what comes to mind? Inspirational, motivating, maybe even life changing? These are all words I’ve heard people use to describe The Biggest Loser.

My word association is a little different; unrealistic, unhealthy, dangerous, fraudulent, and misguided are just a few of the words I (along with the rest of the legitimate exercise science community) associate with the show. In reality, the people that “lose” the most are the ones that watch this show thinking that it portrays realistic, healthy weight loss.

I don’t quite have the patience or the tolerance to explain to you ALL the levels this show gets it wrong with regard to healthy lasting weight loss, but I think I can make time for a few of them, even if it gets one fewer person to watch this travesty of a show.

First, we have to begin with the basic premise – competitive weight loss. Since when was weight loss a competition with anyone else other than yourself? When did it become a game to lose weight and get healthy? Think about this for just one second, if this is a game then there are winners and loser, like any game.

Your prize for winning – you lose a bunch weight (and probably gain it back, but that’s outside of the scope of this article). Now what’s your prize for losing? No silver or bronze medal here. Nope, you’re still morbidly obese, you’ve damaged your metabolism, and you have an incredibly psychologically distorted view of your body image, as well as what healthy weight loss should be like. The implication of losing isn’t simply that you’ve just lost, but you’ve been put in a situation that can make healthy weight loss potentially impossible to achieve for the rest of your life. The result of this is an increased risk of early mortality, disability, and disease into adult life.

What kind of twisted game are we trying to play when the outcome of losing is major disability or dying far too young? What is this? a scene from Gladiator where the winner lives and the loser dies? We should be ashamed of ourselves for dignifying this show with an ounce of viewership.

Think my stance is too harsh? Consider for a moment that there isn’t one SINGLE organization that sets protocols and regulations for exercise prescription that would deem what the so-called “trainers” do to these people as appropriate. In fact, if you were to go through the litany of medical and orthopedic issues many of the contestants have you’d find that current protocols suggest these people should do little more than walk on a treadmill. But we can’t have them to do that, that’s not compelling television, so we should compromise someone’s health and safety for ratings?…give me a break!

So how do they come up with these horribly inappropriate workouts you might ask? Well, their crack staff of “experts.” Three trainers who don’t have as much as a semester of college course work in exercise science between them, 2 medical doctors that are just basically there to make sure no one dies of a heart attack on national television, and then an athletic trainer who can pick-up the pieces after someone ruptures their Achilles Tendon. The bottom-line is this collective group of “experts” isn’t qualified to prescribe exercise for my pet goldfish, let alone a high risk population.

So why am I so fired up? It actually has little to do with my overall concern for the welfare of the contestants on the show, because I think they know what they’re signing up for. It certainly isn’t because I’m jealous of the “trainers,” because you could pay me a million dollars per nanosecond of an episode and I wouldn’t be a part of this catastrophe.  I’m so fired up because of the message this show sends.

Weight loss isn’t quick, it isn’t easy, it’s not a contest, and it certainly doesn’t happen for anyone by being in a controlled rigid environment where all you’re doing is trying to lose more weight than the person next to you. Our society wants to believe this isn’t the case. We want the simple and easy way out. We want to believe these people can safely lose 50 or 100lbs in 3 months, so we can lose our 20lbs in 3 weeks. It just doesn’t happen.  You don’t lose 4 pound per week no matter how bad you want it. It’s not because you won’t work hard enough, or because you don’t care enough, it doesn’t happen because it’s physiologically impossible.

We have known for decades the acceptable rate of fat reduction is 2lbs per week (maybe 3lbs per week in the extremely obese population). We also know the body responds to progressive change very well, not dramatic “shocks” to the system. Finally, we absolutely know real change is lifestyle-based and alters behaviors effectively. How do we know all this? From years of scientific investigation on working with a diseased, overweight, and unhealthy population, that’s how.

The Biggest Loser perpetuates the opposite of these things; rapid weight loss, workouts that should be used on only the most advanced trainees, and an environment that couldn’t possibly be mimicked outside of the vacuum of Hollywood.

The Biggest Loser isn’t all that’s right about fitness and weight loss like most people think – it’s all that’s wrong. The only thing you’ll lose from watching this is an accurate sense of how you should lose weight, and that, my friend, is something not worth losing.

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