I am shifting the focus away from cooking today to talk about television. Not television in general, but The Biggest Loser specifically. The show has a lot of fans and I really can't understand why. (If any of my readers happen to be fans, perhaps you can enlighten me) I tried watching the show a few times and ended up very confused and disappointed. I can't understand why so many people would enjoy watching a show that promotes such unhealthy tactics, negative body images, and prejudice against overweight people.
For those who have never seen The Biggest Loser, the premise of the show is to take a group of obese individuals and help them lose weight. Every week people are voted off and the person left standing at the end is crowned "The Biggest Loser." It is not the concept of the show that I find harmful, but it is the methods used. From the very beginning contestants are pushed beyond their limit with countless hours of grueling physical activity. In the first episode of season 8, the contestants had to run a mile. One mile might not sound like much, especially for those who are runners, but for someone who is overweight and out-of-shape it's a major challenge (If I recall correctly, one of the contestants ended up being hospitalized during the race). I think any fitness expert would agree that this is dangerous. Asking anyone to go from little to no exercise to such levels of intense activity can be harmful to one's body. It amazes me that more contestants have not gone into cardiac arrest during the first few episodes. And aside from being dangerous, it is unrealistic to tell viewers that this is how to lose weight and get healthy.
Another fault that The Biggest Loser has is that it puts too much emphasis on exercise and not enough on healthy eating. There seems to be more focus on diets and "good" foods vs. "bad" foods. I can tell you firsthand that labeling foods "good" and "bad" is a horrible idea. Doing this does nothing but set people up to have incorrect perceptions of food. I believe there have also been challenges on The Biggest Loser where the contestants had to guess which food items had less calories, which is another bad thing to put emphasis on. Teaching people to focus on calories does not teach them about healthy eating. Healthy eating is more than counting calories and cutting "bad" foods out of your diet. It's about balance and moderation. It's about choosing foods that are good for your body and provide nourishment, but still allowing yourself to have the foods you enjoy. Obsessing over calories and depriving yourself of "bad" foods is not the way to get healthy. Trust me, I've been there. Supposedly, contestants are also encouraged to restrict their food and water intake prior to weigh-ins so that they get better results. Since when is it okay to promote starvation and dehydration as a healthy weight-loss method?
My biggest problem with the show is that it promotes negative body image and low self-esteem. I think the way the contestants are treated is terrible. Too often we see Jillian Michael's screaming at the contestants, telling them they're not doing "good enough" and dropping an occasional F-bomb. I don't know about you guys, but if I had someone screaming at me like that I wouldn't feel motivated, I would feel like shit. Is it really necessary to bully the contestants in order to encourage them? I am also appalled at the way weigh-ins are handled. Contestants are weighed on giant scales, the final number looming overhead for everyone else to see. Then the contestants are either glorified or berated depending on what they achieved that week. Losing 10+ lbs in a week (which is not healthy) is applauded, while losing only 3 lbs is a disappointment. And you don't even want to see what happens if someone gains weight. I recall one horrific episode in which a contestant gained 2 lbs. The trainers were outraged and everyone else shook their head in disappointment at the 2 lb gain. 2 lbs is not a big deal! A person's weight can fluctuate between 1-5 lbs every day due to how much they eat, water retention, etc. It is completely normal for a person's weight to fluctuate a little from day to day. Shouldn't the trainers know this? Shouldn't they know that 2 lbs doesn't mean anything? I felt bad for the contestant. It was as if everyone in the room forgot that they lost a huge amount of weight in the previous weeks. All their previous success didn't count simply because they gained 2 lbs. This kind of behavior is outrageous. Losing weight and adopting a new lifestyle can be very difficult for some people. Instead of criticizing contestants for gaining or not losing enough, they should be applauded for all the hard work they've done. The Biggest Loser does nothing but encourage contestants and viewers to obsess over their weight and develop an unhealthy relationship with the scale. Telling people that gaining one pound is likely to make people feel bad about themselves whenever their weight goes up. And why is it that contestants are only told how amazing they look once they start losing significant amounts of weight? What is wrong with telling people that they shouldn't hate their bodies, no matter what they look like? I think it would be a lot more encouraging if the contestants felt good about themselves throughout the entire process, not just at the end. The show is supposed to be about making people healthy, isn't it? Why then are they completely forgetting about the contestant's mental health?
It's possible that some of my observations may be incorrect. Maybe things are different for contestants when they are off-screen. But even if that is true, what good is it doing to only show the negative side? It is very disappointing because The Biggest Loser has potential to be a good show. There is nothing wrong with teaching people how to get in shape, eat better, and be healthy; but I feel that the show does not actually do any of these things. I could keep going on and on about other things I find wrong with The Biggest Loser, but this post is already getting pretty lengthy. I just hope that anyone who watches it can realize how unrealistic the show is and how bad it can be for one's physical and mental health.