The Biggest Loser: tv glitz or weight loss plan?


The Biggest Loser TV show is into it’s 12th “season” (2 seasons/year).  So where are all the thin people?  You’d think a TV show depicting the weight loss triumphs of extremely obese people would result in a lower obesity rate.  After all, the show provides a convenient road map for diet success:

  • live in isolation, away from all the food temptations of the modern world, preferably in a luxurious spa
  • have a personal chef, who prepares calorie controlled meals, so you don’t have to think about what you’re eating
  • have a personal trainer who is on your case every single day
  • not, apparently, have a job or family to care for
  • have a sophisticated gym right in your house

In fact the world obesity rate continues going nowhere but up, and the US is still the most obese nation.  Why hasn’t the Biggest Loser’s example transformed us?

A study presented recently at the American Public Health Association meeting criticized the Biggest Loser for depicting obese people as, well, obese.  Also for encouraging rapid weight loss and generally making extreme dieting look like a solution.  While some of the criticism is valid, I think they’re missing the point.  People want to lose weight, despite all the politically correct fat acceptance or Healthy At Every Size talk.  The real problem with the Biggest Loser is that it makes weight loss look out of reach to the average person.  The message is this:

  • To lose weight, you must have an army of personal minders and nags.
  • All responsibility for your weight, food choices and exercise schedule, is handed to other people.
  • Weight loss is not possible in the real world of work, family, daily life and daily temptations.

Portraying successful weight loss as a competition, with winners (who lose) and losers (who don’t lose) is an insult to healthy lifestyles and the people who make choices everyday to exercise and choose healthy food.  Portraying successful weight loss as dramatic loss in a short period is irresponsible.  Rapid weight loss rarely ever works.  And those pounds can come back very quickly, making the dieter feel even more like a failure.  It’s interesting that TBL doesn’t show us the current status of all former contestants, not just the few who haven’t regained every pound.

If you ‘re looking for examples of successful, long term weight control that works in the real world, the National Weight Control Registry has stories of real people losing weight and keeping it off with simple lifestyle changes.   The Biggest Loser is a tv show, not a realistic path to weight control.

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