Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Why I Hate The Biggest Loser (But Watch It Anyway)

Kicking off its 10th season last night on NBC, The Biggest Loser was once the one show on television that I hated to love. Now it has become the one show I love to hate. 

As someone who has done what the contestants have done, I can relate to what they are accomplishing.  You get to a point, as I did, where you can't see the forest through the trees anymore.  Losing 100 pounds seemed like such a monumental undertaking that I just kind of gave up on myself.  In its early seasons, TBL inspired me to believe that it was even possible for me to lose that much weight. 

On the other hand, I immediateley dismissed the show's concept: "Of course, anyone can lose weight when they have 24/7 personal trainers, a fridge stocked full of healthy food, and no pesky distractions like jobs or families!"  Oh, and if that weren't enough,  they also have the incentive of winning lots and lots of money.  Who couldn't manage to drop a few pounds under those circumstances?!

In the past few seasons, TBL has added "at-home" players, obviously in response to viewers who felt the same way I did about the lack of real-ness in this "reality" show.  So these new "at-home" players still had daily distractions and temptations, and only the incentive of winning lots and lots of money.  Still not anything like real life, but getting a tad closer.

The flawed concept of TBL isn't the reason I hate it though. Because it feeds on ratings, over the years it has strayed further and further outside of the realm of reality and now plays to the extreme.  Watching a trainer scream and swear at a contestant for 4-6 hours a day while he/she suffers through agonizing weight training sessions and arduous speed drills on a treadmill isn't teaching anyone anything educational about losing weight.  In my opinion, this extreme method that the contestants are put through is for the purpose of boosting ratings and isn't an appropriate or sustainable way for most people to go about trying to lose weight.  When I started my weight loss plan, I began with a healthy diet 4-5 days each week, and a half hour of walking on a treadmill.  No 4-hour workouts, no gym, no trainer.  Just walking and eating right.  I lost 85 pounds within a calendar year.  Yes, it's possible.  No, you don't have to suffer like that to do it.

The extreme nature of TBL has gone one step further in the past few seasons in a way that has really, really gotten under my skin.  The contestants run a full marathon at the end of the season, which, I'll concede, most of them are probably ready to do.  However, TBL's portrayal of marathoning is inaccurate, if not downright irresponsible.  Never once has any trainer on TBL mentioned the need for an altered higher-carb diet while training, nor do they even mention any sort of training plan at all.  During the marathon, you never see the contestants take in any calories during the run (what, wouldn't GU be a sponsor?), and after the 26.2 mile trek they are shown standing around without anything to eat or drink!  They couldn't show someone having a banana? 

While surely one can attribute most of this to creative editing in order to make the show seem more extreme, I think it sends the wrong message to would-be marathoners.  While not impossible, it is unlikely that you could complete a marathon--without risking injury--without proper fuel before, during and after a race.  When someone has the nerve to tell me that running marathons is bad for you, I always respond that running marathons without following a proper training plan, including diet and cross-training, is what's bad for you.   Any sport is bad for you if you don't take the necessary steps to avoid injury.

Despite it's many flaws, I will still watch TBL anyway.  I absolutely love watching these stories play out about these brave individuals who want nothing more in life than to find their way to healthy, and will do whatever it takes to get there.  Their stories reminds me of my journey, even though I didn't get to do it at a secluded, posh ranch in California and I did it all without any hope of financial gain. When it comes down to it, the show isn't all bad.  If you want to lose weight, though, or if you want to run a marathon, don't look to a reality show for tips.  Talk to someone who's done it -- in reality.

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