Continued Worries about The Biggest Loser & Its Spawn


I think The Biggest Loser just ended for the season.  I don’t watch the show but it’s kind of hard not to hear about it.

I don’t watch it for reasons that Edward P. Tyson, MD, a physician who specializes in treating eating disorders, outlined recently in a listserv discussion.  I know his concerns aren’t news — we’ve blogged about this subject before, but as the show continues, I think it’s important to continue to share our concern.  Especially as it’s spawning new shows.

Here’s some of what Dr. Tyson has to say about The Biggest Loser.

“I do not follow this show as it makes me cringe to see what they do to the persons who agree to be on the show, but the winner of The Biggest Loser ($250,000 grand prize) has been chosen.  HE LOST MORE THAN HALF OF HIS BODY WEIGHT IN JUST 18 WEEKS, losing 260 lbs and going from 526 lbs to 264 lbs in 18 weeks.


That translates to 14.7 lbs/week, or a net loss of 51,400 calories a week (or 7,350 calories per day)!  If one calculates net calories burned and using, say, 350 lbs as the weight of the male, then that 350 lb male would have to run over 33 miles per day (every day) to burn those calories from running (assuming also that the calculations from “Energy Expenditure of Walking and Running,” Medicine & Science in Sport & Exercise, Cameron et al, Dec. 2004, are reasonably correct).

From what I know of dramatic weight loss I have seen in my patients and from what I have read, severe weight loss is dangerous and fraught with multiple medical risks, especially cardiac, and I suspect that is the case whether it is for a TV show and $250,000 or because of an eating disorder.  I also am assuming that a number of these persons are not especially cardiovascularly fit to begin with.”

Dr. Tyson then went on to question whether any of the experts charged with overseeing the health of those who choose to participate in The Biggest Loser have any expertise in eating disorders.  And to worry that the newest rendition of the show, one that focuses on families, will include children in their treatment.


I don’t intend to watch the show in any of its renditions, but I do share Dr. Tyson’s worries about its impact, both on the health of their participants and also on the health of the millions of Americans (and worldwide as I guess it’s watched elsewhere, too) who desperately want to lose weight.  Quoting Dr. Tyson again,

“I am very concerned about the health risks posed by that kind of demand for weight loss in these subjects–not to mention the impression the public may develop about this method for weight loss (unproven for lasting effect, to my knowledge).”

From all the conversations I “overhear” about the show on Twitter, and from the popularity of the show, I know my and Dr. Tyson’s opinions about it aren’t the most popular.  But popularity isn’t always the best goal.


We should know — it took a long time for the non-diet, intuitive eating, healthy living approach to healthy weight loss that we helped pioneer almost 40 years ago to become as widespread as it is today.  Our goal wasn’t popularity — it was to truly help women end eating and weight struggles, and to learn how to take care of themselves.  In the days of the quick fix approach, which while still prevalent has fewer subscribers these days, it was sometimes tough to keep going.

Do you worry what The Biggest Loser teaches us about losing weight?

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About the Author

Marsha Hudnall, MS, RDN, CD

If you’re looking for an embodiment of dedication disguised as obsession, look no further. Marsha is a registered dietitian who has spent the last four decades working to help women give up dieting rules and understand how to truly take care of themselves. Her mission in life is to help women learn to enjoy eating and living well, without worries about their weight. She encourages women to embrace their love of food, which you might call being a foodie. If so, it’s appropriate because being a foodie means you pay attention when you eat. That’s a recipe made in heaven for eating well. Marsha is the President and Co-Owner of Green Mountain at Fox Run.

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