At some point in our lives, each of us has probably watched ‘The Biggest Loser’ at least once. The race to lose the most weight brings with it a lot of emotions and many hours of exercise, with some of the winners losing well over 100kg. However, what is the real cost of the show?
While it may be hard to believe, there are some benefits and positive outcomes from The Biggest Loser. For starters, some individuals who compete on the show can make real, and dramatic changes to their lives. These individuals have previously tried to lose weight on their own, but have been largely unsuccessful. The show provides both support and advice that the participants may not have had access to without participating. By shedding their significant excess weight, they are able to have a new lease on life.
For people watching the show at home, they may feel inspired and more accountable. Walking into a gym, overweight individuals may not feel inspired or be able to relate to who they see around them. It can be intimidating as an overweight person to walk into a gym full of ripped and fit people, in turn making them more demotivated as there is no one they can relate to and they feel out of place. By watching the show they may become more conscious about their dietary and exercise habits, and they are able to see ‘role models’ who are in a similar situation to themselves who are being successful at weight loss. These factors combined may be enough inspiration to lead them to overhaul their own bad habits and pursue a successful fat loss journey.
With rapid and dramatic weight loss, comes quite a few drawbacks.
Firstly, the exercise the participants are asked to complete on the show is extremely intense and can cause injuries and illness such as rhabdomyolysis, a condition where your muscles begin to break down causing severe muscle pain. The participants on The Biggest Loser are generally individuals who have not performed exercise, particularly strenuous exercise, in a long time. This sudden increase in activity coupled with a high body mass can be a recipe for injury.
Unmaintainable Weight Loss
Another issue with the rapid weight loss encouraged on The Biggest Loser is it is most often not maintainable. The metabolism and hormones of the contestants are negatively impacted by the very low-calorie diets they are on in order to lose weight. As a result of these diets, the participants’ resting metabolic rate is often slowed, meaning they do not burn as many calories throughout the day before exercise. A slower resting metabolic rate will predispose the participants to regain the weight they have just worked so hard to lose. Additionally, once they leave the show they must go back to a regular schedule which can include structured work or education and other real-life commitments. This change in timetable provides a vast change from the whole-day exercise sessions the participants are exposed to on the show. Quite simply, the participants do not know how to assimilate back into normal, everyday adult life and balance their commitments with an exercise regime.
Unhealthy Body Image
Some anecdotes from previous participants on the show also reveal what really went on in The Biggest Loser household. Not only were participants often shamed by images of themselves decorating the house, but the competitive nature of the show encouraged dangerous methods for weight loss. By dehydrating themselves the participants could achieve rapid weight loss which was better for the cameras, but not their health. The focus on purely weight loss and not body composition does not reward individuals who started smaller than others and also does not take into consideration fat loss compared with muscle gain or muscle loss. The weight loss focus does not encourage a healthy, balanced lifestyle with fat loss and muscle gains, it promotes starvation.
So, What’s My Opinion?
It’s important to remember that the Biggest Loser is a TV show, and it isn’t true life. As mentioned above, the way the show is filmed can be manipulated to make people seem as though they are losing more weight than they are – and this form of editing is not unique to The Biggest Loser.
When embarking on a weight loss journey, remember that losing fat is not the only goal. Setting goals around cutting out bad food choices is a great way to gradually improve your eating habits without rebounding and binge eating. Setting performance goals such as learning to squat 60kg or running 1km can be so much more rewarding than hitting your target weight. Performance goals can be a much more encouraging way to motivate yourself through your weight loss journey other than purely aesthetic or weight-based goals. Also, the scale will fluctuate day to day, and is not always a reliable way to track your progress as gaining muscle may mean gaining the same amount of weight you just lost in fat. Taking photos, or even just noticing changes in the way your clothes fit you are much better ways of assessing your progress. Having looser jeans or starting to see your biceps pop soon become much more exciting than seeing the number go down on the scale.
It is also important to remember that because of the structure of the show, the contestants have a great support network. They cannot access the food they would normally eat, they are forced to exercise, and do not have to worry about real-life chores such as cooking a meal for the family, going to work, or getting children to various commitments. Therefore, it is important to take away from this that you cannot model your weight loss journey off what you see on TV. Being in such a controlled environment makes it easy to lose weight, and assuming that will work for you as well will not allow you to make realistic plans and goals. Instead, be inspired by the changes the contestants have made to their lives and allow that to fuel your decision to take your health into your own hands. Set yourself realistic goals and expectations, and organise your nutrition and training around your actual life schedule. The harder you make things for yourself, the less likely you are to follow through. Don’t expect the world from yourself, just get started!