Several months ago I wrote a blog post about why I am not a fan of the TV show The Biggest Loser (TBL). Last week I heard that first lady Michelle Obama might make an appearance on the show to promote her (in my opinion) misguided but well-intended Let's Move campaign. And when I heard this news, my heart broke.
I'm going to get right to the point. TBL stigmatizes fat people. Stigmatization leads to discrimination. And when people feel stigmatized their physical, mental, and emotional health declines. Just to prevent any confusion, I want to clarify a couple of things:
- I support the pursuit of health
- I support making lifestyle modifications that lead to more nutritious eating and physical activity
- And most importantly- I support behavioral changes that are EFFECTIVE and not harmful.
And this is why I cannot support TBL. It is entertainment that is harmful because:
- Research is clear, TBL increases anti-fat attitudes and weight stigma
- All the research we have indicates that when viewers watch TBL it doesn’t actually lead to positive behavior change such as increased exercise
- Contestants on TBL actually experience a severe drop in metabolism, burning fewer than 504 calories on average.
- A recent study showed that as many as 90% of contestants on the show purportedly regain all their lost weight
- Contestants on the show are at risk of developing eating disorders since they are asked to engage in severe over-exercise while consuming a semi-starvation diet
- TBL advocates for such extreme behaviors that actually put people at risk for future weight gain
Please consider joining with me to oppose the first lady, Michelle Obama, from appearing on TBL. You can:
- Share this blog post or video
- Sign this petition
- Share these pins on Pinterest
- Commit to boycotting the show
Metabolic Slowing with Massive Weight Loss despite Preservation of Fat-Free Mass
When Science Met the Biggest Loser
Weighing in on NBC's The Biggest Loser: governmentality and self-concept on the scale.
No clear winner: effects of The Biggest Loser on the stigmatization of obese persons
The effects of reality television on weight bias: an examination of The Biggest Loser
Learn More About the Health Consequences and Research on Weight Stigma
Metabolism, simply defined, is the energy your body uses up to keep you alive. Our culture is kind of obsessed with speeding up metabolism. Miss Jillian is only one of many examples I could have posted here. And you want to know what's crazy, the same culture promotes ideas that actually slow your metabolism down! Seriously.
Take the example of dieting and exercise. Turns out cutting your calories quite low and adding exercise on top of it actually slows your metabolism down. Don't believe me? Check out these studies that illustrate this phenomenon over and over again.
Thompson et al. Effecs of Diet and Diet-Plus-Exercise Programs on Resting Metabolic Rate: A Meta-Analysis. Intl J Sport Nutr. 1996(6):41-61.Resting
Metabolic Rate (RMR) decreases significantly when an individual participates in a diet only program....exercise…does not return RMR to baseline levels.
Gornall J and Villani. Short-Term Changes in Body Composition and Metabolism with Severe Dieting and Resitance Exercise. Intl J Sport Nutr. 1996(6):285-294."..
4 weeks of resistance training did not prevent or reduce the decline in fat-free mass and RMR observed with very low calorie diets"
DEUTZ RC et al. Relationship between energy deficits and body composition in elite female gymnasts and runners .MEDICINE & SCIENCE IN SPORTS & EXERCISE. 2000.
Study indicates that starvation, famine, or energy restriction may cause a reduction in energy metabolic rate and a relative increase in fat storage from the limited energy consumed.
Martin CK, et al. Effect of Calorie Restriction on Resting Metabolic Rate and Spontaneous Physical Activity OBESITY Vol. 15 No. 12 December 2007.
The results of this study indicate that Resting Metabolic Rate adapted or decreased beyond values expected from changes in weight and body composition as a result of energy deficit that was achieved through a food-based diet (25% Calorie Restriction) after 3 months and a food-based diet plus structured exercise (25% total Calorie Restriction) after 6 months. Additionally, Resting Metabolic Rate decreased beyond expected values at month 6.
Doyle-Lucas AF, Akers JD, Davy BM. (2010). Energetic efficiency, menstrual irregularity, and bone mineral density in elite professional female ballet dancers. J. Dance Med. Sci. 14(4): 146-54.
This study was conducted on 15 professional adult dancers and 15 non-dancing age matched controls. Despite having a similar fat-free mass, dancers had a significantly lower resting metabolic rate (RMR) as well as lower RMR relative to fat-free mass. Energy intake was significantly lower among dancers compared with controls and the authors conclude alterations in RMR may be an indicator or low energy availability (nothing new) and that larger scale studies are warranted to investigate this possibility.
Want to know the best way to support a health metabolism?
- Moderate exercise
- Eat enough to fuel yourself during the day. This means honoring, rather than ignoring your hunger.
- Get plenty of rest
…but I never push. (As it turns out, attempting to push, force, control, insist, or fix people just doesn’t work – and it wastes a lot of energy).
However, I have noticed that almost all of my clients that have sustained any semblance of longer-term recovery, balanced living and wellness have one thing in common: a mindfulness practice. They do something, consistently, that involves A) being in their bodies and B) being in the present moment. Yoga just happens to be one of the easiest and most accessible ways to accomplish this, but is – by no means –the only option.
So why does it work?
Okay, first we have to go back. Way back. As lovely as it is to run around in our designer heels and fancy cars, we have to remember that our ancestors were cave people. We developed, biologically, from these very primitive and less sophisticated ancestors. Parts of our brain are primitive, and as sophisticated as our thinking can be, we still have our limbic system, firing away, in a similar fashion to our ancient relatives.
Imagine that you are a cave person and your survival depends on your ability to A) eat and B) not get eaten by a saber-tooth tiger. Imagine that you are out in the sunshine on a beautiful day, with the sun shining on your face, and feeling the soft breeze blowing in your cave person hair – and then BAM!!!!!!!! You hear a rustling in the bush. Immediately, you are prepared for danger because that sound may be a predator. You’re ready to run, or to fight – sending your parasympthatic nervous system into fight or flight response. Adrenaline pumps, and stress hormones are shot into your bloodstream so that you can survive.
Okay, so what?? We’re not cave people any more, so how does this apply to me and my life today?
Science has shown that our brains continue to demonstrate this negativity bias. In a split second, even when there is an infinite amount of positive stimuli to attend to, our brains with naturally, automatically, and because of evolution, zero in on the perceived threat, the “negative” experience, the rustling in the bushes.
And at one time, this saved our lives.
As the psychologist, Donald Hebb, put it: “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” Our thoughts, feelings, memories and behaviors leave behind lasting impressions on the brain – a lot like the grooves created by a stream flowing down a hill. These grooves are pathways, of sorts, that create the lens in which we perceive reality – both ourselves and the world. So very simply, our brain grooves set us up with a lens to perceive our reality in one of two ways: views that make us suffer, or views that lead us to happiness. Your experience matters.
As the intersection of science and Eastern philosophies continues to develop, the exciting news is this: there is a scientifically supported rationale for being nice to yourself. If your experience matters, this creates a substantiated argument that creating and experiencing more wholesome, calm, joyful, pleasant, and satisfying experiences will change your brain.
This is where yoga comes in. While there are many ways to access the elusive and healing “present moment”, we typically don’t learn them. We are top-heavy learners, relying on our rational minds, our intellect, and our reasoning to develop. We sit in desks and eat at scheduled times instead of moving our bodies and learning to trust our hunger cues. We learn to trust “what we are told” instead of our own intuitive sensations, essentially leaving the present moment behind over and over again to examine the past or to predict the future.
As Tara Brach points out, “the only place that is ever REALLY safe is this present moment.” And as for as our neurobiology is concerned, that is true. Whatever type of yoga class you sign up for, there is one unifying characteristic – breath. All yoga is (or at least should be) an exercise in finding the breath, yoking the breath to movement, and –alas- using the breath as a vehicle to come back to the present moment. That’s why yoga works. Eventually, the brain starts to change, and the cumulative effect of our nervous system registering the safety of this moment right now takes effect. I could sing praise for all the physical benefits of a regular yoga practice: joint health, muscle recovery, flexibility, and appetite regulation – but for me, the mental and emotional benefits have been profound.
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You have probably read something like this and other similar obnoxious advertisements at your local gym. And it annoys me every time. Can you imagine telling a child that they have to run 5 laps around the back yard to earn dinner? NO! Of course not. So why do we do that to ourselves? We often think in terms of:
30 min of biking for 2 pieces of chocolate
You can’t blame yourself for this type of thinking. It’s taught to you in just about every women’s magazine out there. But what would happen if we flipped our thinking?
2 pieces of chocolate for 30 min of biking
While I’m being a bit playful here, I’m serious about the principle. We have to start thinking about fueling our bodies for our busy days and physical activity rather than burning off our food and the associated guilt from eating. From a psychological and emotional perspective it is totally unproductive because it fuels the notion that eating is bad and is a sin that must be “atoned for.”
Why don’t you try turning your food/exercise equation on its head and let me know how it goes!
At the moment I have a book project I’m developing (in my brain for now). It’s geared towards helping people repair their relationship with exercise. If I was to write such a book, what would you want covered?