Don’t try this at home, kids!
There has been some outcry about the latest winner – does she have an eating disorder, can she be healthy, does the show encourage unhealthy behavior? She may be a more extreme example, but those same questions can and should be asked about any of the contestants.
And forgotten in most of this discussion is that the show is nothing but entertainment. The contestants must show ridiculous, risky feats because the show must keep its ratings up – and apparently ridiculous, risky feats is what we want to see. It’s entertainment!
The problem is that real people are risking their very real health.
I admit I don’t watch the show. I have once in a while, but can’t follow it because it is just too disturbing. There is just way too much bad advice and risky behavior. Contestants are thrown into very extreme diets and workouts. All to achieve a certain number on a scale.
Several contestants have come forward after to talk about the unhealthy actions taken to try to reach a number: enemas, laxatives, dehydration…. And some have reported severe after affects: hair loss from malnutrition, or rapid weight gain when they again drank normal amounts of water. And then there’s the exercise. Hours and hours of very high intensity exercise every day for people who are out of shape and often wildly deconditioned. Over the years, many contestants have had to be taken to hospital, but it’s astounding to me that more contestants aren’t taken out with heart attacks!
Some of the trouble I see with the show is that a lot of people start to view it as reasonable. Too many hold the feats of the show up as a benchmark for themselves. And that’s what I find most dangerous.
The show has no sense of reality for most of us. We do not have a permanent staff of trainers, cooks, nutritionists, and medics who are devoted exclusively to our weight. It is not at all sustainable in real life – for us, or even for the contestants once they are on their own (which is why many gain back much of the weight).
There is nothing healthy about this show. True, obesity has huge health risks. But extreme, unhealthy diet and injury-inducing workouts do, too.
But maybe the most problematic thing about the show is it’s total focus on weight. It is not about body composition. It is not about being healthy. It is only about a number on the scale.
And all of this carries over into our lives.
I see this sometimes with clients. I’ve had clients (or folks who did not become clients) leave because I wouldn’t “make them lose weight” fast enough. It’s all about a number they’ve gotten in their heads, and a date on the calendar.
But I refuse to take that focus. I want to encourage sustainable changes, maintain a healthier weight, a sustainable lifestyle. I will not tell people what to eat – I am not a trained nutritionist or dietitian. I will encourage general, healthy eating patterns, but I will not dictate a diet. I will encourage people to move more, but in a progressive way. I will help people build strength to sustain greater activity with less risk of injury. I will encourage people to make reasonable, sustainable changes to their lifestyle that they can keep up, with or without me. In short, I will help people to get and stay healthy!
And weight is just one part of being healthy. I would much rather have someone end up a little heavier than planned, but strong and able to sustain an active life. I want people to feel good, be happy, and be independent.
Biggest Loser encourages none of those things – and I include a lot of extreme or celebrity workouts and diets with BL because they encourage some pretty unhealthy behavior and focus on only one aspect of health.
It’s fine to watch the spectacle as long as you remember that’s what it is – spectacle, entertainment. And nothing more.