Yesterday, I spoke to a writer who was doing a story on reality weight loss shows. In case you think the Biggest Loser is the only one of these shows, there are now many others and these shows are really a phenomenon. I’ve written about The Biggest Loser before but it has been some time and I think it’s worth revisiting.
I mentioned this topic to Lisa and Melissa in the office yesterday. The both pointed out how unrealistic it was to live secluded from “reality”, exercise hours a day and focus your life on your weight loss. To me, this is not unlike an alcoholic or drug addict going to an in-patient treatment center. Though I don’t think everyone needs to stop their life for their weight loss, this isn’t my main concern with these shows. The difference though between treatment centers or detox and reality television is that many do not provide treatment from a dietitian or psychologist.
In fact, emotional eating is virtually ignored on the shows I’ve watched which is probably what got many contestants so heavy in the first place. It’s no wonder that a large percentage of people on these shows regain their weight. However, clients I speak to aren’t focused on how much weight contestant’s regain they are mesmerized by how much they lose. I was in a meeting with a client who recently had a baby. She gradually losing her baby weight but asked me “how come I don’t lose like they do on the Biggest Loser?” It’s as though one or two pounds a week isn’t good enough anymore because people see gigantic seven, eight and ten pound losses on TV.
I must’ve been in a good mood when I last wrote about BL because I posted about its ability to inspire people. There is something about watching people massively change their bodies that just may get us off the couch and taking action. Yet with larger and larger contestants I worry that it can also do the opposite. If someone has 20 pounds to lose, they very well may say, “I’m alright, I don’t have to lose 200 pounds” thereby ameliorating their own issues. There is a voyeuristic element here. What will Lady Gaga wear? What will Chris Brown say? And what will happen when a 400-pound person runs sprints? Uh oh.
The writer asked me what my ideal reality weight loss show would look like. As a massive fan of HBO’s In Treatment (how great is Gabriel Byrne?) I would love a weight-focused version of this show but with real people. I think everyone could benefit from watching others sort out their real food issues and the issues behind the food issues and I know a nutrition that would do a decent job in case anyone wants to start filming (shameless I know).
Do you watch reality weight loss shows? Any you like better than others? Do you find these shows inspiring or frustrating to watch?
I really enjoyed The Biggest Loser for the first few seasons. But now it's unrealistic and filled with product placement. Perhaps as viewers we should understand that "a week" on TBL isn't really 7 days (as reported by a few former contestants), or that losing 5-10# isn't healthy. This show does not set up a realistic view of weight loss and management. Can't watch it anymore.
These weight loss shows bother me on so many levels. I love your idea Lauren of working with these participants on an emotional level. The majority of my clients have some emotional aspect connected to their eating and I can't imagine that if I screamed and yelled at them I would be of any help. Besides the artificial environment that these shows create, I question the boot camp approach. Let's face it, nobody becomes 200 pounds overweight from lack of exercise and a little extra on their plate. While I admit I haven't watched a full episode of The Biggest Loser, it seems there are much deeper issues there that don't get addressed.
In many ways I do think these shows are motivating because they show that less calories + more exercise = weight loss, which is an equation some people need to see to believe. In that sense I do think it's a positive thing for viewers to see that weight loss is actually possible. With that said it is also very unfair because not everyone with weight to lose has the opportunity to devote months to make it their sole priority. Also, many people struggle with isolation over this issue, and the show provides a group support system as an additional motivating factor that not everyone has access to.
Yes "The Biggest Loser" does set an unrealistic and even dangerous standard. I'm sure you know all about the dangers of rapid weight loss. However, I do think that the show inspires people to realize that they can change their lives. And it also encourages them to think about what they're eating when they may have never done this before. For myself personally, I never knew how bad some of my food choices were and how they were self-propagating. (If you haven't already read "The End of Overeating" by David Kessler you MUST).
But, overall, I have a love/hate relationship with the show. Sometimes I want to scream at the TV for how terrible it is. Other times I do think it is giving sound advice to people who need it.
I completely agree that the people on these shows need help from a psychologist. If you don't get to the root of the problem of overating then you really can't fix it, only mend it.
Joanna- I too can see both the pros and the cons of the show. Love the term self-propagating as people who thing "a calorie is a calorie" don't realize how one food choice affects the next etc.
There is a show on A&E called "Heavy" which:
1) Shows them going to counseling
2) Follows them home to watch them struggle with it outside of the treatment center. Sometimes the people have to go back to the treatment center if they start gaining weight back.
I love Biggest Loser and will probably watch it until it isn't on any more, but I'm always frustrated by the HUGE weight-loss numbers that contestants get (or don't get and complain about) every week. It sets "regular" people up for failure. I lost 120 pounds, but it took me 5 years to do it, and I still struggle to maintain a healthy lifestyle every day! I know 5 years isn't good tv, but I wish there was a more realistic way to show weight loss!
I use to watch Biggest Loser but can't get into it anymore.
I completely agree with you that most these people need to deal with their emotional issues in regards to food, which is what you don't usually seem them do on the show.
Also, people sometimes forget that these people workout for like 8 hours straight..of course they'll have those crazy weight loss numbers.
I'm with Joanna … I have a love/hate relationship. Love the people, love their stories, love their transformations (however short-lived).
But I hate that what they're really teaching is exercise bulemia. I hate that they make it seem okay for trainers to abuse their clients. I hate that they are setting an example that is completely unrealistic in the real world.
I also hate that the women are at a disadvantage, which I looked at statistically! http://weightmaven.org/2010/12/17/lies-damned-lies-statistics-the-biggest-loser/
Beth, I have to read the male/female post I was thinking about that. Yes, we don't need to be brutalized in the name of weight loss. We can actually do things dancing, walking, swimming in a leisurely manner and lose.
It's so hard for them to focus on everything that goes into the weight loss in these shows. so I often get frusterated. For instance, the MTV I used to be fat show… They were not showing the food part of one girls weight loss and my husband and I LOST IT infront of the tv! Especially when she was about to cry b/c her thin friend was eating a bowl of queso infront of her and she said she cannot have queso and was very sad. She ate plain chicken… no veggies for her "diet" and I wanted to jump through the tv and choke the producers/trainers/etc… bah.
yeah. so we don't watch those shows =) I miss working with my clients in FL and actually seeing their improvements one on one! so rewarding!
Jenn @ Peas & Crayons
I used to love BL and wanted to be on the show. Not that I could be a contestant, but the thought of a month of just healthy eating and exercise sounded wonderful. (I do fast forward through all the times they start weeping.) Every season I spoke to my trainer about it and loved discussing the latest insane exercise they were doing. It is like watching a train wreck. Last year, I went to a spa, BL ranch was down the block, and I never even considered it. After months with Lauren and training for a triathlon, I realized I had already created my biggest loser reality.
Thanks Randi, I would think the insane workouts would appeal to you.
I agree though, we all do watch a train wreck and a 400 pound person sprinting is just that.
I can't bring myself to watch the show…it's frustrating…I still don't understand why people who want to shake off some extra pounds chose to go to this kind of show…first I wouldn't allow myself to start think of losing weight only when I had gained so much weight; second when someone weights 400-pound, then chance is that his body might not function well and he needs a doctor rather than a show.
I have to admit that I've never watched a whole episode of TBL. It just doesn't interest me. The only "weight loss" show (in quotation marks because it really isn't focused on weight loss at all) that I've ever watched and enjoyed was Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution.
I find these shows inpsirational and sad at the same time. The few times I've watch BL I was amazed that the contestants could put their pride aside to get through their biggest challenge on national TV! And yet I feel sad that they are driven to this…clearly they feel they have no other options.
Anyway, the little bit of TV time that I have is now relegated to America's Next Top Model!
Ameena, at least you have standards (ha) ANTM. You would think that people feel they have no other options but people do anything to get on these shows despite some humiliation.
Have you started watching Addicted to Food yet on OWN? This appears to be–so far at least–an in patient treatment program where the patients are dealing with their emotional issues that have lead them to the relationships they have with food.
I hate the Biggest Looser. I feel that the way that the contestants are treated and the regimen that the trainers put them through is nothing but a breeding ground for a life of disordered eating. I agree with you, they need the psychological aspect to be made a bigger deal. I cringe at what these people must go through post-show as I can only imagine the re-entry to reality is a blow.