Monday, February 10, 2014

What's Wrong With "Biggest Loser", 2 of 3

This is part 2 in a series of three articles discussing the TV show "Biggest Loser".

If you wish to read them in order, you may start here.


As I said in my previous post, by now I'm sure you've all heard the media hype surrounding "Biggest Loser" and their most recent winner. 

Rather than discuss Rachel Frederickson's win, I have created this 3 part series to talk about "Biggest Loser" as a whole.  Or, more specifically, I want to spend some time talking about what's wrong with the show.  I know I've ranted about the show here and here, but this time I want to take a more logical approach.

There are a variety of things I could talk about regarding this topic, but to keep the discussion from getting too long, and to help keep myself on point, I am going to focus on three topics:

(1) "Healthy" Weight Loss - or, more specifically, what amount of weight is too much for a person to lose over a set period of time

(2) Why people watch this show - IE entertainment versus inspiration

(3) The mental impact of one's weight on their life

Since these are all rather weighty topics, I am going to roll them out one day at a time on this blog.  And I'm going to keep the discussion rather serious (sorry to those of you who enjoy my snarky or offbeat humor).

Today, I will continue with point #2 above.  You can read the other discussions by clicking on the link referenced at the top of this post.


Why Do People Watch "Biggest Loser"?

It never ceases to amaze me, whenever I get on a "Biggest Loser" rant, people look at me in wonder. Aside from my fellow fitness instructors at the gym, many of the people I know actually LIKE watching "Biggest Loser".

At first, to me it seemed mind boggling. Why would anyone want to watch this spectacle?!

But then... that's just it, isn't it?  The fact that you CAN watch the spectacle?

Think about it. 

Viewers get to see someone who has a terribly pitiful life.  They're fat, they're undesirable, and they usually have some sort of personal problems as well.  And to drive the point home, the producers prove how fat and undesirable these people are by parading them around in clothing that is pretty much underwear... and not just for the first episode.  Every week!

This in itself is totally unnecessary and degrading.  Don't tell me you can't see the weight difference in this clothing scenario (which is totally more uplifting and flattering for the contestant might I add).

Then, as if the underwear parade wasn't enough, there's more. 

Each week, these people are subjected to "training".  (Read - hours upon hours of exercise that anyone carrying so much excess weight should NOT do for fear of causing permanent damage on their joints and body overall).  All the while, as they suffer through to the point of exhaustion, they are yelled at and ridiculed if they can't keep up.

And, when these people finally do reach their exercise goals for the day, and get into an ice bath to rest their aching muscles (for example), they are further ridiculed for their physical appearance.  True story!  Just last season, Jillian spent a significant amount of time harassing Ruben Studdard for his back hair.  Because, you know, back hair is a fair reflection of your physical fitness and bodily health.

You'd think at this point, that would be enough fun at the fat person's expense.  But it's not.  After working out for hours every week, and being forced into the underwear parade, these folks are weighed in each week and compared against their fellow "Losers".  And it's not enough to lose a healthy 1-2 pounds.  Or even four.  We can only get excited if they loose 10, or 15, or more - more - more!!

And this is where I wait for someone to refute me about the "spectacle" and say:

"Huh?? They promote healthy life styles and fitness. Yea getting the results that these people do is not realistic nor as its not glamorous in the real world like it is "on the ranch" having trainers at your beckon call, cooks that make all your healthy food and no work to do to distract you from your goal....but it inspires people to want to lose weight which is never a bad thing."

So, wait?  This show isn't entertainment?  It's inspiration for those who need to lose weight?  (Yes, that was a true quote on a Facebook discussion I was a part of a few days back.)

Ok, let's test this "inspiration" theory.  Think about applying it to YOUR life.

                  (A) How many people do you know that watch "Biggest Loser"? 

Ok - for anyone who does watch, let's do a few more spot checks to see how this "inspiration" is working:

                  (B) Are the people who watch "Biggest Loser" overweight? 
                  (C) If they ARE overweight, has "Biggest Loser" inspired them to get active/lose weight?

And one last question for good measure:

                  (D) For the people who watch, what do they do while they watch the show for an hour? 

I'm willing to bet that 90%+ of the people you put through the above questionnaire have failed the "Biggest Loser inspires people to want to lose weight" test. 

In fact, everyone I know that watches the show basically admits with a grin that they often watch it while they eat dessert or snack.  Which is the exact OPPOSITE of what the show is "inspiring" you to do.

I personally have yet to meet someone who has truly been motivated by the show to get off the couch and go work out.  And you want to know why? 

"The depictions of exercise on shows like The Biggest Loser are really negative," said Tanya Berry, the lead author of a study on perceptions of exercise due to the reality program, in a statement. The physical-activity promotion expert at the University of Alberta added: "People are screaming and crying and throwing up, and if you're not a regular exerciser you might think this is what exercise is -- that it's this horrible experience where you have to push yourself to the extremes and the limits, which is completely wrong."

Don't try to argue with me at this point that there are people out there who HAVE been inspired by the show.  If they have, that's great.  I'm not trying to marginalize them.  But I AM trying to make a point here.  By looking at your life, I'm asking you to think about the average, every day impact of this show.  Those two or three people you've "heard about" being "inspired" by the show are the exception, not the general rule.

Furthermore, there's the impact that this show HAS had on the general populace that concerns me. 

Why?  "Biggest Loser" has been shown to skew the general public's perception of overweight people in a very bad way.  Here's why:

A study conducted in 2012 amongst college students progressed as follows. 

A group was divided into two segments, those who would watch "Biggest Loser" and those who would watch "Meerkat Manor".

"Before the college students tuned in, researchers tested their attitudes about obesity and obese people by having them answer several computer-based questionnaires.  They were asked, for example, how strongly they agreed with statements like, 'Fat people can lose weight if they really want to.'  They were also asked about traits they associated with being obese. Choices included positive things like being honest, sociable, and intelligent. Negative choices included lazy, undisciplined, and unattractive.  A week after taking those initial tests, people were asked to watch their assigned shows. Researchers tested them again after they finished the episodes.

As expected, 'Meerkat Manor' didn’t seem to change how students felt about obesity one way or the other.  But researchers say they saw small, but significant shifts in some attitudes after students watched The Biggest Loser.
'We saw an increase in dislike and an increase in perceptions of controllability,' says Carels.  'The dislike seemed to be a little bit stronger in people that were thin and not trying to lose weight'"
That's a direct quote from the study.  And that was with one season of viewing.  Imagine the damage that has been done with almost 15 seasons!

I could go on about this, but I think I would likely be wasting my breath.  At the end of the day, my point remains the same. 

"Biggest Loser" is not "inspiration.  It is entertainment. Entertainment that idealizes a scary and overly aggressive weight loss program for anyone who is overweight, all the while encouraging everyone to view overweight people as undesirable. 

That is not a positive and supportive way to get someone to make a healthy life change.  And therefore I cannot speak to it positively either.


  1. I couldn't agree with you more. All of these so-called "reality" and/or "competition" shows are purely just for entertainment. I find it ironic that they are labeled "reality" when a lot of the stuff couldn't be farther from reality. As the years go by, they just go farther and farther over the top. I have never watched Biggest Loser and never will. I've also never watched American Idol, The Bachelor, Survivor, or any of those types of shows. Blugh.

    1. Sometimes, I wonder if the reality will become real... that's the scary part! LOL, then I start to think about Idoacracy. Ever seen that movie?