Tonight marks the season premiere of NBC’s The Biggest Loser – and after 9 years and 15 seasons, I’ll officially be calling it quits with Bob, Jillian and Dolvett. I’ve watched, on again and off again ever since it first began back in October of 2004 with Caroline Rhea as host. At that time, I was six months into my own weight loss journey and about fifty pounds lighter than my heaviest weight.
I had just made it into Onederland (that magical place where your weight starts off with a wondrous 1 rather than a terrifying 2). Back then, I found the show to be motivational and inspiring. I strongly identified with the contestants, having known what it was like to struggle with obesity. I cheered for them, cried with them when things got tough and marveled at their extraordinary transformations.
I kept on watching as I continued to lose weight, hit my own goal, struggled with maintenance and losing the baby weight after the birth of our youngest and beyond. Some seasons I’d watch with more interest & regularity than others, but with each season I’d find myself less and less motivated & inspired by the show…and more troubled. But I’d still tune in every so often. Not this season though- this is the season I’m officially calling it quits with BL. Even the Velvet Teddybear and presence of a local woman, Chelsea Arthurs, will not get me to watch. Wondering why?
Here are the top 10 reasons I won’t be tuning in tonight:
10.) It’s become an open circus of infotainment/advertorials. Have you noticed the huge uptick in product placements over each season? Subway, Quaker Oats, Ziploc bags, Extra chewing gum- if you’ve got money to spend pimping out your product, hop on board the BL product placement train because there’s space for everyone. And yup, they’d be happy to get a contestant to exclaim, “boy, this [insert product name here] is [insert appropriate adjective here].” It’ll just cost you a little extra; even more if you want Bob or Jillian to be mouthing the words.
9.) It vilifies exercise. As someone who didn’t even begin to exercise until AFTER I had hit my goal, I think one of the big things that scared me off from exercise was the depiction of workouts in Biggest Loser. The workouts looked brutal, especially for those who were already out of shape to begin with – and the vomiting??? I already had a strong phobia regarding vomit, so much so that any time I’ve ever felt sick to my stomach, I would rather lie completely still for hours on end rather than vomit- so just the implied connection between “tough workout” and puking was enough to make me say “thanks, but no thanks” when it came to physically challenging myself. Thankfully, I’ve shaken off my fears regarding exercise and have grown to love pushing myself physically. And you know what? Pushing yourself doesn’t mean you need to spend 6 hours in the gym ending up with you puking into a garbage can. Exercise can and SHOULD be fun for you. Not an unpleasant & torturous chore.
8.) It sets up unrealistic expectations for weight loss and disappointment at small weekly losses. This is something I’ve come across as a fitness professional- folks expecting double digit losses each week OR shame and disappointment at a mere 1-2 pound loss each week. Those of us who’ve lost a significant amount of weight typically have done it over the course of 1-2 years, rather than the 4 months it takes to film a season of the show.
7.) Too many of those vying for a spot on the show see it as their only and/or best shot at weight loss. I think the first big crack in my “relationship” with the show was when a contestant (whom had auditioned multiple times over several years) finally nabbed a spot on the show. In the years it had taken for him to get on the show, he could have already started his own path to fitness and likely would have already hit his goals by the time he was actually cast. Biggest Loser is not the be all/end all when it comes to weight loss and that’s a very good thing- because if it was, only about 30 people in the U.S. would be successfully losing weight each year. Think about that.
6.) It doesn’t teach contestants habits that are easily followed in the real world. Living in a television bubble for four months,where every portion of food is carefully tracked and monitored, every physical activity is planned and recorded to maximize weight loss, where you’re under the supervision of fitness & medical professional and protected from the stress & commotion of family life, work life and well, regular life-life, doesn’t set the proverbial table for continued success. Maintenance is tough enough when you’ve done the grunt work of weight loss on your own (no personal trainer, nutritionist or 6 hours to spare for workouts), but I imagine it has to be tougher still for those who’ve lived under the Biggest Loser bubble for 4 months.
5.) The cringe-inducing fatsploitation intro segments. It’s disturbing to me how this never really bothered me while I was still fat and the show first started. If you’re wondering what I’m talking about- look for the segments introducing contestants. You know the stuff- the footage of each one eating huge portions of cake, pizza, you name the junk food, then followed up with a sequence showing them shirtless in front of a mirror looking sad as they squeeze their fat rolls. I didn’t live my life as a fat person eating an entire cake. I didn’t spend a lot of time in front of mirrors (much less crying in front of one) and I certainly didn’t squeeze my fat rolls. I already knew they were there- I didn’t need to squeeze them to make sure or shame myself.
4.) The primary focus is weight loss and the number on the scale. Past contestants have revealed they’ve actually fasted & purposely become dehydrated to get the lowest possible number on the scale during the competition. Scary stuff! There is so much more to the process & how eating smart & moving more benefits you than the 3 digits that pop up on that scale. My absolutely favorite parts of the show have been when Dr. Huizenga has shared what, in my humble opinion, has been the more significant & positive changes brought about by exercise & better nutrition- changes such as lower cholesterol levels, reversal of diabetes, lower blood pressure, improved glucose tolerance, a lowered risk for cardiovascular disease and being able to ditch the blood pressure & cholesterol-lowering medications.
3.) It fosters good cop/bad cop stereotypes of personal trainers. This one didn’t really hit me hard until I earned my personal trainer certification and was hit with the question, “Are you a Bob or a Jillian?” Digging deeper with the asker, I learned that this meant she viewed personal trainers as falling into 1 of 2 camps. Either you were more empathetic & soft with a Yoga teacher persona (like Bob) or no excuses & in your face with a drill sergeant persona (like Jillian). Sigh. I’m neither Bob nor Jillian. I am my own unique self, just like most personal trainers. The best ones out there will come up with a routine that works best with YOU, your personality, your schedule, your goals. And you know what? Your success will be because of you and your efforts, not whether you were trained by a “Bob” or a “Jillian.” So stop looking for one. Find a Simone, Evan, or yes, even a Petrina. Just make sure they know their stuff and will view you as a person and not as a dollar sign.
2.) I’ve discovered the show Extreme Weight Loss…and I think it’s just plain better. It’s more of a real world scenario in real time and, as someone who’s been out there in the real world losing the weight in real time (which can be oh so slow), I think it’s much more helpful to get a clear picture of what it’s like to struggle over the course of a year on your own. And yes, the participant’s results may not be as jaw dropping sometimes as those on Biggest Loser finale, but they’re still amazing and probably given my reason #1 below, more apt to keep the weight off than their BL counterparts. I hope there are more shows that pop up depicting real life weight loss stories- that even follow them along the path of maintenance.
1.) It’s not provided a path for lasting weight loss for its contestants. And this, my friends, is the biggest reason I won’t be tuning in tonight as BL 15 kicks off. The rapid weight loss in the bubble provided by show producers doesn’t bode well for BL contestants. It’s been reported by various alumni that 85 to 90% of participants regain most, if not all, of the weight that they lose. Why? Those who experience a significant weight loss typically have what’s called a “metabolic adaptation”- whereby you wind up burning fewer calories at rest following your weight loss than you did before. However, BL participants who were tested as part of a study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, were found to have metabolisms slowed by an average of 504 more calories than would have been expected simply as a consequence of losing weight.
As someone who’s lost 100 pounds and struggled to keep it off, I’ve learned the hard lessons of metabolic adaptation. I have to eat smarter & work harder than someone who weighs the same as I do now but has never been overweight & obese. It’s just par for the course and I’ve accepted it. I can’t imagine how difficult it must to be have the cards stacked against you 504 calories higher each day.
And that is 10 reasons good enough for me to say goodbye to Biggest Loser, for good. What about you? Will you be watching?