The Biggest Loser Debate
Every Tuesday night 8 to 10 million Americans watch The Biggest Loser on NBC. The show is so popular that it is now a “lifestyle brand” selling books, DVDs, video games, home-delivered meals, and supplements. Yet, many health and fitness professionals don't like The Biggest Loser. What's behind their discontent and disconnect?
On The Biggest Loser (TBL), extremely obese contestants compete to lose weight for a $250,000 prize. Contestants who don't lose weight are eliminated. It’s basic reality TV - ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances - with tension, bickering, backstabbing, breakdowns, jaw dropping revelations, and genuine tears - all set to really bad music.
The health professionals’ gripe (which I share) boils down to this: TBL is unrealistic and dangerous. The weekly weight loss goals are so excessive that (it is rumored) contestants dehydrate and starve themselves for the weigh ins. The extreme workouts are way too much too soon for very out-of-shape people - and the contestants do get injured in view and behind the scenes.
And then there’s issue of torture by the trainers, which is why I can't watch. I just don't invite harsh words into my happy home. (I'm odd like that.) But TV loves a dominatrix in a sports bra, and contestants say the abuse is for their own good.
And, finally, why is there not more emphasis on healthy eating? Especially since research shows that overeating contributes more than inactivity to obesity. I see the players going on about out-of-control “cheat days” and salivating over processed food locked behind closed doors. Shouldn't those disordered thoughts and behaviors be addressed? And where's that high-protein, low-calorie diet the contestants supposedly follow? It's too conspicuously absent for this dietitian.
Let's face it: Viewers love the "intimacy" of reality TV and fans want a chance to cheer and boo. Followers say TBL sends a positive message that weight loss is possible through hard work.
But BJ Gallagher author of “Why Don’t I Do the Things I Know are Good for Me? offered another explanation for the appeal to the Metro New York newspaper. She said that viewers watch TBL because they:
- feel good when they compare themselves to the contestants
- secretly delight in seeing others fail
- can express their contempt for overweight people in a socially acceptable way
After their stint at TBL, some contestants maintain their lost weight but others do not - just like in real life. A special, 'Biggest Loser: Where Are They Now', will air on November 25, 2009 - on Thanksgiving eve!
Is TBL "thinspiration" or "fatxploitation"? Why do you watch weight loss reality TV?