The premise of The Biggest Loser is pretty straightforward. Take a group of morbidly obese Americans, isolate them on a ranch and put them through a rigorous diet and exercise program/competition to see who can lose the most weight and win the curiously backhanded title of Biggest Loser. With approximately 34 percent of US adults classified as obese and an additional 34 percent classified as overweight [source CDC], you would think that anything that inspires people to lose weight would be a positive thing. I’ll talk about the positives in another post, "Why I Love The Biggest Loser," but today, let’s look at what’s not to love.
- Screaming trainers. I chose Dancing with the Stars over last night’s premier of this season’s The Biggest Loser, but when I did flip through during a commercial break all I saw was my number one dislike: all three of this season’s trainers screaming at their charges. Seriously? I didn’t hear a single “good job” or “way to go,” only “move it,” “faster” and “don’t stop!” Screaming, belittling and humiliating have no place in a workout, and a responsible trainer knows how to work with you to motivate yourself. If this is your only exposure to personal fitness training, you’re getting a massively distorted—and negative—view of what it’s like to work with a personal trainer.
- Miserable workouts. Yes, your workouts should challenge you and occasionally push you to your limits. But if your workout leaves you crying, vomiting, gasping or fainting—and you’re not a competitive athlete—you’re doing it wrong. I realize that a healthy, moderate-to-vigorous workout doesn’t make for exciting TV, but a workout that leaves people drenched in sweat, slobbering and sobbing doesn’t make sedentary viewers want to sign up and give it a try. Maybe if people saw workouts that were enjoyable and made them feel good they’d actually want to get off the couch and get moving.
- Strategy. Because the show is ultimately a game, a different contestant gets voted off each week, and the person voted off is not necessarily the one who’s performing poorly. The strategy of winning often involves forming alliances and voting off your biggest competitor. So the viewer never really gets to know who the biggest loser would be on a consistent, level playing field. The gamesmanship makes for more engaging TV, but distracts from the real point, which is preventing the chronic illness and early death of morbidly obese contestants.
- Unrealistic weight loss. Yes, the more you have to lose, the more quickly it will come off in the early weeks, but 10-20 pound weight loss in a single week is unhealthy and unsustainable. Weight loss at a rate of 1-2 pounds per week is generally considered safe and is much more likely to be sustainable through healthy lifestyle changes over time. The Biggest Loser sets viewers up with a ridiculously unrealistic expectation about what they can achieve in their own lives.
- Shirtless weigh-ins. Even a size XXXXL t-shirt doesn’t weigh so much that it needs to come off for the weigh ins. Those shirtless weigh ins seem to me like just one more way to humiliate and shame the contestants who must already carry around so much body image baggage. It’s hard enough carrying around the extra weight and emotional baggage. Can’t we at least let the contestants keep a little dignity?
As I mentioned at the start of this post, I have a love/hate relationship with this show, and today’s post is only about the hate part. Tomorrow we’ll see why I love The Biggest Loser. What do you think about the show and others like it? Share your thoughts in the comments!
(photo credit: tiarescott)