The popular television show: The Biggest Loser features overweight individuals who sign up to compete to win a large sum of money by losing the highest percentage of their weight (originally amount of weight) over a period of up to 100 days. Contestants are periodically eliminated throughout the competition for failing to make satisfactory progress. The Biggest Loser is marketed as a show that is “paying it forward” by motivating individuals, families, and communities to get healthy. But do they get it right? I decided to watch and see for myself.
On the surface, promoting fitness and health are things that should impress me, and initially I found their message to be intriguing. Although I found the title to be a little degrading to the contestants, I looked past it and tried to keep an open mind. Almost immediately I was impressed with the fact that they were approaching the solution from both sides: exercise and nutrition. In order to see real results both areas need to be addressed, and in my experience fitness pundits typically primarily focus on one area or the other. Contestants on the show are exposed to advice and challenging situations regarding both fitness and nutrition, which I think is absolutely great. As I continued to watch I noticed a much more prominent message developing – that real change is possible. It is possible to completely change your physical and emotional framework (regarding fitness at least). The biggest loser does not blame genetics, promote surgery, or advertise fantastic weight-loss pills. They push increasing exercise and nutrition management as their methods for instituting change, and I could not agree more.
As I watched the contestants progress and their message develop over the episodes I was confronted with some inconsistencies. In order to get their message across the trainers take dramatic measures at times. They regularly employ temptation, profanity, and ridicule in order to motivate the contestants. While I am sure this helps with ratings, I know that these methods are not necessary to produce results and the situations often felt demeaning to me. I also found some of the challenges (particularly the food challenges) to be degrading and counterproductive. Is consuming large quantities of unhealthful and calorically-dense foods an appropriate punishment for losing a challenge? The training staff also sets their physical performance expectations pretty high, which can lead the contestants into some medically-tenuous situations. Contestants are regularly injured, and some take chronic injuries home with them. Also the nutrition information is almost exclusively focused on calorie content. I recognize portion control as the prevailing factor in promoting long-term weight management, but I also know that there is more to the story. Nutrient content, not caloric-density, is most crucial to promote overall health and wellbeing.
Most importantly, The Biggest Loser fails to facilitate institution of a plan to create realistic, sustainable habits. Many of the show’s contestants benefit physically from the trials and tribulations they endure during filming, but revert to their former habits (and their former size) immediately upon returning home. All in all, I think that the show is attempting to convey a positive message, however overall treatment of the contestants and their taste for the dramatic sacrifices any integrity that the show might otherwise have.