Make “The Biggest Loser” Work For You

3 January 2011

I am watching the “Biggest Loser: Where are They Now?” show.  I don’t tune in religiously, but I do pay attention to what’s going on with the various players.  It’s hard not to.  I’m sort of obligated to tune in: the show is such a topic of conversation, and it’s certainly tied in with what I’m about.  I’ve also run a couple of “Biggest Loser”-esque contest/incentive events at a health club.

While I like many things about the “Biggest Loser” concept, TV show, my own program, and other programs like it that people organize and run themselves (groups of friends, co-workers, church groups, families), several aspects of the model give me pause.  So I have to say a few things, and I know you know these things, but I’m duty-bound to say them anyway.

The show has a lot to offer: motivation, inspiration, and probably several other “ations” that make it so compelling.  Beyond the inspiration and drama that keep us coming back every week, the show also offers some good advice and tips about healthy living.  I especially enjoy it when the topics include healthy cooking techniques, portion control, and battling cravings.  That stuff is really important, and I love seeing those issues addressed on national television.  The show also makes no effort to hide how difficult it is to change one’s lifestyle – the “reality” style, by definition, allows the cast of characters no privacy, no secrets, and nowhere to hide.  There they are, with all of their (and our) weaknesses, fears, temptations … and successes.  Which is fun, and good TV.

I wish there were a way that the show could throw more focus to changing eating habits.  A disproportionate amount of air time is devoted to heart-exploding workouts and silly challenges.  I completely understand that dangling someone off a cliff is much better TV than talking to them about why they should drink water instead of Mello Yello, or why they should eat breakfast every single day.  However, the weight loss struggle is 70 percent what you eat, and 30 percent how you are physically active.  Maintenance of weight loss, on the other hand (which is even less sexy than talking about eating), is 70 percent being active, and 30 percent what you eat.

I believe that’s because when you’ve gotten to the point when the weight loss is a permanent lifestyle change that is completely incorporated into your being, then eating right is more effortless.  It’s never easy, but it becomes more of a second nature.  Then staying active needs to step to the fore to keep you interested, challenged, and growing.  So the show paints an unrealistic ratio of working out to eating right.  All those crazy workouts they do?  They couldn’t do them, and live, without proper fuel.  So maybe the hours they waste on drama and buildup could be spent talking about real issues of hunger and eating issues?  Maybe?

But the trainers aren’t psychiatrists or registered dietitians.  They’re celebrities – and trainers, sure.  Besides, as I’ve said, eating right isn’t the action-packed TV that folks are looking for.  I hope, though, that people watching the show don’t get the impression that all they have to do to lose those 150 pounds is to hire a trainer who makes them do wacky things.

We must always remember that “The Biggest Loser” is, first and foremost, showbiz.  Yes, it has higher principles behind it than, say, “Big Brother.”  But at the same time, the show is created, edited, and constructed to get you to watch.  Period.  And so, inherently, it is not realistic.  The contestants on the show are sequestered away on a ranch – they’re away from their jobs, their families, and all of the stressors and distractions that can derail us as we try to make healthy changes.  They’re working out a lot, and often.  They’re under the supervision of dietitians, personal trainers, and physicians.  All that, and they still struggle!  No wonder those of us on the other side of the screen have such a tough time of it!  That, alone, should teach us that the battle to lose weight goes far beyond the simple mantra, “eat less, exercise more.”  The mind is as important, if not more important, than the body – particularly for those of us facing quite a bit of weight to lose, and quite a few changes to make.

I admit that the show has done a better job in recent seasons of getting to the core issues behind unhealthy habits, and it’s done a much better job of talking about how to continue the “journey” (I’m getting pretty tired of that word, even though I overuse it myself).  The winner from the first season has gained all of his weight back, I think in part because at the beginning, they really didn’t know what they were doing with the show.  It was a cool, exciting idea to see how much weight someone could lose – like the “Bachelor” shows that see how fast two people can convince themselves they’re in love.  But as the seasons wore on, it became clear that the producers got a grip on the impact they were having, and the importance of being more responsible and thorough.

Remember, too, that even though the Losers see huge weight losses every week, that rate of weight loss cannot (and should not) continue.  Safe, lasting weight loss occurs at a rate of one to two pounds per week.  That’s the truth.  More than that, and you’re losing water, and probably muscle.  I guarantee you that the folks who lost 15, 20, and more than 20 pounds in the first week of the competition did so simply because they started from a place of utter inactivity and complete dietary chaos, and were thrust into a Boot Camp like none other.

So, enjoy the show.  Learn from it, talk about it, let it motivate you to make changes in your life, or your family’s life.  Let it be a wake-up call to you to get moving.  But don’t let the show lead you to set unrealistic expectations.  Remember to set your own goals that fit into your own life, and take your own steps to get there!

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