When The Biggest Loser is back with new episodes, I avoid the TV like it has the plague. I’ve never watched an entire episode of the reality show, which is currently casting for its 17th season. I don’t own any products connected with the television show or its personalities. That’s because I do not like The Biggest Loser. Not even one bit.
My reason is very simple: The Biggest Loser is not helpful. It’s hurtful and humiliating for the contestants and for everyone who is struggling with their weight.
The reality show, which started in 2004, purports to help morbidly obese individuals lose weight in a dramatic way. You’ve probably seen images of the winners as they stand up in front of their fellow contestants and weigh in. (It reminds me of the way you weigh livestock at an auction. They act like these people aren’t humans, I’ve thought to myself.)
In the years since the competition began, the show has become a multimillion-dollar brand, producing myriad weight loss-related products from protein powders to exercise DVDs. It’s a business now, not just a show, and it’s successful. Very successful.
But to what end? Last year, one winner lost more than 60 percent of her body weight during the competition. When she came out to take her victory lap, she was pelted with questions and accusations. There was no way she was healthy, critics said. My thought: How has any of this been healthy?
Contestants’ bodies don’t benefit much either. One study found that the profound weight loss dramatically slowed the participants’ natural metabolism–by 504 calories, in fact. That means, thanks to this metabolic impact, participants would still need to eat dramatically fewer calories in their weight maintenance period than a person at the same weight who had not dropped pounds in the dramatic, forceful manner contestants on the show do.
Then there’s the impact on the people who watch it. One study found that shows like The Biggest Loser promote bias and discrimination against overweight and obese individuals. What’s worse, people with lower BMIs who were not trying to lose weight had significantly higher levels of dislike toward overweight individuals after viewing the shows.
So then does the humiliation and shaming directed toward obese people actually motivate them to get healthier? Research says no. “Fat shaming” does no one any good, least of all people who are overweight.
If anything positive can be said about The Biggest Loser, it’s this: It creates conversation. It also allows people like me to say, “That would never work for me, but here’s what has.”
Inspired by my colleagues who took part in an experiment we called The Social Diet last year, I’m halfway through my own weight-loss journey. A dramatic weight loss story it has not been. Jillian Michaels would not be proud of how long it has taken me to lose the weight I have.
But you know who is proud of me? Me.
It has never been easy, but it has absolutely been worth it. Humiliation and fat-shaming didn’t make me decide to do this. I wanted to be healthier. I wanted to feel better in my own skin. You can’t quantify how much my self-esteem has grown the way you can pounds lost on a scale. You won’t catch me in a sports bra and shorts on a scale in front of a crowd of people soon either. And that’s OK. This is for me, no one else, as all weight-loss journeys should be.
So tell me: Do you agree? Or do you find these types of shows inspiring?