Biggest Loser, Big Turnoff?

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Far from being the motivational boost it’s touted to be, The Biggest Loser’s depictions of exercise may make people less likely to get up off the couch. 

According to a new study, after watching a seven-minute clip of a show from The Biggest Loser’s ninth season, study participants had more negative attitudes about being active than participants who watched a clip from American Idol.  (I’m assuming the American Idol clips had nothing to do with exercise, which brings me to the point that this information comes from a press release; the study will be published in the January 2013 issue of the American Journal of Health Behavior.)

Tanya Berry, Canada Research Chair in Physical Activity Promotion and lead author of the study, explained it this way.  “The depictions of exercise on shows like The Biggest Loser are really negative. People are screaming and crying and throwing up, and if you’re not a regular exerciser you might think this is what exercise is—that it’s this horrible experience where you have to push yourself to the extremes and the limits, which is completely wrong.”

Even if you are a regular exerciser, watching the show could have undesirable effects, too.  No matter the study participant’s current level of exercise or weight, attitudes about exercise after watching the show worsened.

The researchers plan to study attitudes after watching episodes of Biggest Loser that feature participants who have lost weight and are now enjoying exercise. While we can expect to see more positive reactions to positive depictions, I still wonder how helpful such episodes are to the average person, given the extreme measures employed to get BL participants to that point.

Of course, tying it all to weight loss in the first place is the big miss in our book.  Weight loss can be an outcome of getting more physically active but if we focus on weight loss as the reason for doing it, we set ourselves up for on-again, off-again efforts that don’t do much for us in the long run.

You’ve heard it from us before, but it bears repeating:  Make exercise about feeling good.  That’s a much more immediate benefit and it helps make exercise intrinsic — a motivation that does get you off the couch and engaged in behaviors that help you feel your best.

What are your plans for being active this weekend?  Alan’s going hiking; I’ll get in a couple of good walks before Sandy hits.  And there’s also that yard I still haven’t completely cleaned up yet.

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