The “Biggest Loser” thin-at-all-costs message seems to have finally gone too far. This show made me cringe long before the recent “winner”carved herself down to a skeletal 105 lbs. As a fitness trainer and yoga teacher, I’m all about exercising with gusto and eating well but this spectacle drives me crazy. It also makes me want to grab a snack and watch. The show claims to tackle America’s obesity epidemic (everyone remember to panic!) by jeopardizing the player’s metabolisms. Capitalizing on our pervasive body dysmorphia, it parks millions viewers on their couch for an advertising feast. Like empty calories, these “health” messages leave us unfulfilled yet hungry for more. The show repeats these reality-based ideas:
- Opening with a public weigh in, fat shaming is the first step. The shackles of judgment thwart us all, regardless of weight. To change our habits, ask for help, and get out of our comfort zone the first step is shedding the shame.
- Our weight defines us. As the contestants are weighed each week, we are reminded to measure our self worth with the bathroom scale.
- The “ranch” offers a promised land of salvation. Instead of changing our obesogenic habitats, the show props itself up as a last resort. Luckily the desperate folks at home can be saved too! For $3000 they can sign up for a week at the Biggest Loser Resort. Health improves not when we escape, but when we reshape our home, family, and work environments.
- The fatties have the problem. By collapsing health down to obesity, the skinny folks are off the hook. We all live in an ecosystem of convenience food, stress, and minimal movement, yet the show blames the obese for their lack of control.
- The fatsos deserve punishment for their sloth and dietary sins. Exercise is taught as an atonement for all those muffins. Instead of inherently rewarding, running becomes a punishment.
- The gauntlet of grueling exercises implies that more is better and harder is better. Although the vomit may be entertaining, working out through pain and exhaustion is dangerous. Contestants are primed for future surgeries, cortisone injections, and pain medications. Instead, they could relearn basic movement skills, how to heal from injuries, and build a lifetime of activity.
- Restrictive dieting teaches us to ignore our hungers. Problem is, our metabolism has the memory of an elephant and the drastic measures aren’t forgotten. By feeding ourselves filling and tasty food, we honor the body’s innate intelligence.
- With fasting before a weigh in, dehydration, and overuse injuries, the shadows of extreme weight loss aren’t revealed. Breeding secrecy and disordered eating, what we don’t see may be as dangerous as what we do see.
- The cooking lessons boil down to celebrity-chef cameos and product plugs disguised as diet tips. Although it may be boring airtime, chopping vegetables may be the best exercise we can learn. Self care requires more time in the kitchen than the gym.
- In this warped “reality” of product placements, Subway appears as the healthiest breakfast available. Although making a veggie omelet requires the same amount of money and time, it doesn’t do much for advertising revenue.
- Mass-marketed recommendations sell a one-size-fits-all diet. To nourish ourselves, we need to understand our tastes, food sensitivities, and values beyond the prepackaged choices.
- Drastic weight loss primes the craving for the quick fix. Bariatric surgeries, diet pills, and extreme programs look more appealing when the folks on TV lose 20 lbs. a week. Instead of a sprint through the last-chance workout, let’s take small, consistent, and introspective steps for the rest of our lives.
- When the extreme workouts and diets don’t register on the scale, the trainers look baffled and the contestants look betrayed. If we subscribe to a calories-in-and-calories-out mentality, we reduce a complex metabolism to a simplified math equation. Taking care of ourselves is more complex and compelling than counting.
When the camera disappears and the show ends, what are the players and audience left with? (Reunion shows parade out a few hand-picked players but otherwise there’s a gag order on former contestants.) The “Biggest Loser” appears to promote long-term health about as much as “The Bachelor” builds long-term relationships.
Want a show about health? Come film me: an average-sized person dicing up a kale salad, sipping herbal tea, and trying not to scream at the TV. Despite my objections, I appreciate watching the players find support and uncover their suppressed emotions. I especially like the trainers being idolized as modern-day shamans earning millions. Where do I sign up?
But the fat shaming, short-term diets, and punitive exercise just don’t last. Our collective health issues reveal that we are out of balance. Extreme measures to achieve thinness only push us more out of whack. Calm, daily self care defies the commercial cacophony. As we pursue what feeds and moves us, we not only change the channel, we change the paradigm.