Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Biggest Loser Critique

I've written about The Biggest Loser in the past, usually positive comments. But last night's opening episode has left me feeling at loose ends. For several reasons. Yes, the people are huge. Not really sure if, as the trainers seemed to indicate, this is a reflection of our ever expanding waistlines or just a good way to get us reasonably fat people (ha!) to be scared that we might end up like them (!) if we don't do something now. And the "doing something" would be to buy all The Biggest Loser stuff that they now advertise on the show and on the web site.
Here are my issues (and I'd like to know if you agree or not)
1. I don't quite understand why the contestants, whom we know are very fat, have to expose their bodies. I know they are exposing themselves in many ways--by telling their stories, by letting us see them cry and sweat--but I'm not sure it's fair to ask them to dress down for us. That's so sensationalistic to me. It's not like we don't realize that someone who weighs 476 pounds is very fat! Or do the contestants not care? Because I keep myself covered up thinking no one will know how fat I am! So is it just me?
2. So little attention is paid to nutrition when we know from research that exercise helps more in weight maintenance than it does in weight loss. It's the calories, stupid.
3. How about a little on camera time for the dietitian? We see the doc talking to them about their health. Why not show the dietitian counseling them about their diets?
4. You know, I like Jillian. I do. Bob, not so much. But this berating has got to stop. If Jillian talked to me that way, I'd smack her across the face. I don't care what they agree to, the level of criticism (and the tone!) rivals Hell's Kitchen's Gordon Ramsey. And that's not a compliment!
5. I was appalled that they asked these unfit obese people to "run" one mile without giving them water to carry. No wonder one man was dehydrated and one woman passed out. That's no way to start an exercise program. I work out daily and I wouldn't attempt running in the sand for one mile.
6. I know it's a competition. I know people have to go home. I don't much like the partner thing. Maybe that's because I'm a loner. But I wouldn't want to depend on a stranger the way they've asked these contestants to do.
7. I'd like some discussion about why some weeks people don't lose as much and what the initial weight loss consists of. The heavier people will always lose more at the beginning. They burn more calories just getting out of bed. Most of these people have probably been eating a high sodium diet so switching to healthier foods and just the usual glycogen storage loss you'd see on the first few days of a diet are the reason for the big losses. Lots of water. Water is heavy. Lose water and you see big losses on the scale.
8. Women? They have to contend with hormones. Some weeks they are going to retain water regardless of how much they drink, how little sodium they consume and how much they exercise. Just one of the wonders of being a woman.
Instead of allowing the contestants to hate themselves on national TV for not losing tons of weight each week, how about some science to explain why not.
But, mostly, I want the trainers to stop shouting. Just stop. Please. A little Marine type counting and cajoling, maybe. But stop picking on these people or I won't be able to watch the show. And I'll miss the triumphs if I don't watch.

And lastly, bring back even the contestants who've gotten fat again. Let's talk about it. And does the "show" abandon them after it's over? Or do they continue to support them in some ways? Does 24 Hour Fitness (is that the one?) give the contestants free memberships in their home towns? And if not, why not? Wouldn't someone want to offer a meal delivery to help them stay focused? I mean, come on. Let's help these people who bared their souls (and their bellies) to help us.


Alison B., "Runbuggy" said...

I was thinking the same thing last night - the dietitian really needs to make an appearance this season. I do and don't like Jillian yelling. When she was screaming at Shay (?), the 476 lb. woman, she said something to the effect that she needs to stop feeling sorry for herself and stop playing the victim. I agree that if Shay keeps feeling like "boo-hoo, poor me", she'll never get to her goals. BUT, a lot of the yelling is over-the-top; good for ratings. And I also agree - yes, let's bring back the contestants that aren't keeping the weight off. Not that I like to see people fail, but to show the world that Biggest Loser is a controlled environment and weight loss IS hard work when you're on your own!

Nicole M., MS, RD, LD said...

I agree with a LOT of what you wrote. I'm a huge BL fan, I find it super inspirational and I can't imagine a better "head start" for people to impact their lives in a very powerful way.

I agree with you about the dietitian (of course) and the need to explain some more science. Most American's know more than we probably care to admit about dieting, exercise, etc. However, there are a LOT of myths out there, why not take that time to set the record straight?

Regarding hormones, I don't know. It almost seems like it would be enabling the women to concede failure for a bad week. Most women have battled with a week of whack eating/weight gain since puberty, it's nothing new. Among all else exposed to America, my menstrual cycle can probably be spared.

As far as the screaming, I couldn't agree more! I actually like Bob. I would choose Bob as my trainer -- we're much more compatible so far as I can tell. I do understand tough love, but each season has gotten more and more profound in the language and verbal abrasions and I'm just not sure how much more effective it's become.

Anyways, that's my $0.02. Love the show but think down-playing the trainers a BIT and adding in an RD would make that show a lot more credible for all, especially the contestants. I mean, we're RD's, we cost nothing compared to Bod Pod's and MD's! ;)

Great post!


Jacqui said...

Great post! I have wondered since I started watching 3 seasons ago why on earth the women have to wear those sports bras to the weigh-in while the men can wear their t-shirts. It's insulting and exploitive. Everyone just leave your shirts on!

As for this season ... I just don't know. Their backstories are SO SAD, that I don't think weight loss is going to fix it. For example, the poor woman who's family died in a crash. Even if she loses 100 pounds and looks fabulous -- it's not going to give her a "second chance" at life with her family. I love a good second chance story, but these are so serious that I just don't know ... I guess we'll just have to watch and see!

- Jacqui

Luella said...

I do not support this show. It is sensationalistic, as you say, but that's the whole premise of the show. That's their marketing gimmick. Just like with media portrayals of transsexuality, they want to put these people's bodies on display for others to gawk at. It doesn't help obese people in general because it just continues the tradition of sensationalizing obesity and weight loss instead of actually trying to be educational - or respectful, for that matter.