The Biggest Loser: Just A Fat Camp With Big Ratings

By Cindy Bishop on 07/28/2009
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Every week I talk to a surprising number of women who have either applied for The Biggest Loser, or have seriously considered it. It just goes to show that otherwise intelligent women will still consider doing just about anything for the promise of big weight loss.

They acknowledge it might include some serious humiliation, starvation, and the occasional need for a defibrillator, but hey, we’re women, we can put up with just about anything if the pay-off seems worth it! (Think childbirth and four inch heels).

So what’s wrong with spending thousands of dollars to sequester yourself on a fat farm or spend your vacation at an adult weight loss camp ? Well, for one thing, who wants to go anywhere that refers to ‘fat’ and ‘farm’ in the same sentence? (Much less camping under any circumstances).  Ok, maybe that’s just me.

I suppose the possibility of losing a significant amount of weight in a short period of time under any circumstances is incredibly alluring – at first. But it’s important to remember what all the research suggests. Deprivation leads to over-eating, a bigger waistline, and a tougher road to hoe.

Here’s a link to an interesting 2007 article written by New York Times Fashion and Style editor, Elizabeth Weil. She addresses the undermining impact of a weight loss camp show for adults that creates unrealistic expectations for an audience of millions.

Any Biggest Loser fans out there? I’d love to know your thoughts about the show and why you get pulled in – even though you know it’s not good for you!
*Paula Schwartz contributed reporting in the New York Times article.

14 Responses (Add Yours)

  • Thanks for the post and link.

    Interestingly the NYT story you’ve linked to specifically refers to a former winner Kai.

    A few weeks ago I blogged about Kai and her experiences since leaving the ranch.

    Bottom line?

    Reality and reality television are two very different things.

    Regards,
    Yoni

  • Christina says:

    I find The Biggest Loser to be mind-numbingly boring, but if there’s a second season of Dance Your Ass Off, I’d apply. Mostly because I love to dance and $100,000 is nothing to sneeze at. On the other hand, I don’t think they’d cast me because I’m not a “good story.” I know how to eat and I eat well (I could probably tone down the portions and sweets a bit, but not too much), so they couldn’t have the ‘you’re actually eating 5000 calories with that one bowl of ice cream, you stupid fatty!’ that weight loss reality shows love.

  • Marsha says:

    I’ve never watched the show although all the conversations about it over the years (how long has it been on anyway?) makes me think I should have, given the area I work in. But just haven’t been able to bring myself to do it. Most of what I’ve read convinces me it’s the same ol, same ol. Sad that even though it is nothing new, it’s gotten such attention. Not sure quite what to say about that.

  • I have mixed feelings. I have to say I’m still a fan of the show. I think they do a lot of really stupid and hokey and borderline dangerous things, but I DO think that Jillian (more so than Bob) recognizes many of the underlying issues that the people face, and helps them deal with them. I think that many people have NEVER been conscious of their food intake and have never attempted physical exertion or exercise in their lives. The most moving thing to me is to see how many of them are introduced to themselves as powerful, strong people. These things can move me to tears – to watch people who can barely walk on a treadmill, to becoming runners (albeit probably some of them too quickly) and really really strong and fit. I think it takes a certain kind of personality to be able to withstand all the crazy drama, but I also believe that for some incredibly overweight people this CAN be the chance of a lifetime, to get a new life. I’m still on the boat with this one.

    I do think they ought to offer contestants follow-up support after the show.

  • Cindy says:

    Yoni, thanks for sharing the link to your blog. I look forward to reading more. I agree, the whole concept of reality TV is like some kind of parallel universe…with few discernible parallels.

    I’ve watched the BL final results shows a couple times and I would agree that the transformations pull at your heartstrings. I have posted about this very thing in the past. But I will say, after blowing my nose a couple times, I always worried about what would happen to these people when the cameras turned off and the high-powered celebrity personal trainers went home. Something tells me ‘after care’ doesn’t make for big ratings.

  • I follow several of the most recent contestants on Twitter and they seem to be staying on track for the most part, participating in fitness things, not going overboard, dealing with challenges like The Rest Of Us. I’ve been reassured by this.

  • I no longer watch TBL, but I do confess to a nostalgic tug for the early seasons. I didn’t watch the original run but caught re-runs on the Style Network. At the time I was easing into exercise, but I hadn’t done anything about changing my eating habits. Seeing those contestants working out so hard inspired me to investigate hiring a personal trainer of my own, which I’d thought was too expensive. I had no desire to work out as hard or as frequently as the contestants, but I needed to learn how to work out more efficiently. Best thing I’ve ever done for myself.

    The show has become far too commercial and overly dramatic for me these days, but I can’t say it didn’t have a very positive influence on my life.

  • Gina says:

    Everyone seems to be really obsessed with Jillian (the personal trainer on the show) who has her own book all about how to loose weight. She isn’t an RD and I really don’t think she even has any background in nutrition. People who aren’t even trying to loose weight seem to take all sorts of advice from this women. I don’t get it. The show is really stupid, but for those who succeed I don’t think it’s such a bad program. Of course, only one person succeeds per show, the rest are left out in the cold all alone. For those who succeed, they still don’t have the support they need to succeed when they get home. A real weight loss program needs to include the entire family.

  • Sagan says:

    I don’t watch TV so I’ve only seen about five minutes of this show… some people seem to be inspired by it, but I think it can also be just as dangerous as looking at airbrushing and all. We start to get frustrated when we can’t do the same things that people do on TV.

  • I agree with you…kinda.

    I’ve never been a fan of the show and only ever watched about one episode. On the other hand, I think terms like ‘fat farm’ are so that people know what to expect and the show gives them a clearer picture of that.

    ~ jack

  • Jaime says:

    I watch too much tv. Something about reality shows with a competition twist draws me in. From Top Chef to Chopped to Project Runway, I am there. BL has never even remotely drawn me in though. Weight loss is not really about watching tv, is it? Information or inspiration may be a byproduct of watching someone else do the work and strive for results, but getting control of your life is about being a participant, not a viewer! *MHO* If I want to induce tears, there is always Home Edition Makeover-as sure to bring the tears as chopping an onion!

  • Cindy says:

    Great comments, all. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I still feel the show is a manipulation of the highest order, but if it works as the catalyst for some folks to take positive action in their lives — I guess there’s a silver lining.

  • Diane says:

    While Biggest Loser may be fun to watch, and I’ve watched it and rooted for the players, it is so unrealistic in real life. On the show they work out what, 8 hours a day? Who can do that in real life. I’ve lost 60 pounds over the past year. I exercise almost every day now. By losing slowly, I’m not deprived, I’ve made lifestyle changes I can live with and I won’t gain the weight back if I eat a brownie!
    Letting go of the unrealistic weight loss expectations the media throws at us was what finally helped me to actually lose weight.

  • Rahim says:

    Maybe they feel like tough torture is what they need. In some cases I’m that way. Occasionally I need to be pushed in a manner that might seem cruel to other people. Not abused, but just pushed. Maybe that’s what people who want to join the show think it’s gonna be about, and it’s just worth the humiliation.

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