Myths busted: The biggest loser inspiring or dangerous?
With the latest Biggest Loser now crowned, Catherine Saxelby reflects on its role in bringing awareness and understanding to the weight loss journey.
Most of us admit that The Biggest Loser makes for great TV. Every week, millions tune in to watch the deprivations, humiliations and emotional upheavals of the contestants – all of whom are struggling with obesity. But are the stories of these contestants an inspirational, positive influence on our own weight loss journey, or is it just wildly unrealistic TV?
When it comes to contestants’ weight loss, ‘wildly unrealistic’ is an appropriate description, in my professional opinion. For instance, the second week’s weigh-in showed that everyone had already lost around 7kg! Early large losses like this are common for those with a lot of weight to lose, but to expect the same each week is asking for disappointment. Moreover, dietitians recommend a slower, but more permanent, loss of only one kilo a week – too slow for TV, unfortunately. Life ‘on the inside’ is also wildly unrealistic. When you’re removed from work, family, friends and the temptations of the outside world, it’s much easier to ‘work’ at weight loss – but most of us won’t ever have that opportunity.
The intensity and duration of the exercise sessions has been questioned by health professionals, too. I imagine contestants would be health screened before being accepted – forcing unfit, obese people to exercise in such a fashion can result in injuries or heart problems. And what becomes of the people who are eliminated? It’s unlikely that they’d be able to keep up the rigorous routine without the benefit of the ‘bubble’ they’re living in, and all the support that comes with it.
For all its flaws, The Biggest Loser brings awareness to the difficulties of the weight loss journey. Weight loss is not just about what you eat and how much you exercise – there are emotional factors involved, too, which the show highlights. This season also had a ‘Master Class’ component, where contestants learnt practical lessons on portion size, cooking and creating balanced meals. They also spent time familiarising themselves with the calorie counts of foods, which is a revealing exercise, because they quickly learnt that fresh is always best when it comes to low-kJ foods.
The bottom line
Although the methods are extreme, The Biggest Loser does demonstrate how hard it is to lose weight and teaches contestants the healthy way to lose weight. To me, that’s the show’s greatest achievement.