The Biggest Loser & Why I Can’t Support It

It should come as no surprise to anyone who reads my blog that I do not support or agree with the show “The Biggest Loser” (TBL). I recently shard this article on my personal Facebook wall and it generated a discussion about the show. I decided to write a more thoughtful response here on my blog as to why I find the show so problematic.

1. Our culture is one of extremes and I can think of no other TV show that reflects such extremism better than TBL. Four years ago I attended a talk given by Cheryl Forber who was actually the dietitian behind TBL. The diets designed for the contestants to follow meet the criteria for an eating disorder. My colleague has a very close friend who was a contestant on TBL and reported to her that she spent 3 days prior to the weigh in starving herself, exercising to exhaustion, and sitting in the sauna for a couple of hours to lose as much weight as possible. What is it about our culture that finds this entertaining rather than concerning?
Lesley Kinzel, author of “Two Whole Cakes” says it beautifully: “The reality is that fat people are often supported in hating their bodies, in starving themselves, in engaging in unsafe exercise, and in seeking out weight loss by any means necessary. A thin person who does this is considered mentally ill. A fat person who does these things is redeemed by them…A culture that supports weight loss by any means necessary is a culture that supports eating disorders. It is a culture that supports the sickening and weakening of us all…”
2. TBL’s focus on weight-loss at all costs actually supports a culture of weight bias and discrimination. Please consider reading the compelling research that is being conducted at The Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. Research clearly shows that weight bias is rampant in ALL medical settings and actually INCREASES THE LIKELIHOOD OF CHILDREN AND ADULTS WITH OBESITY to engage in:

  • Unhealthy weight control behaviors
  • Binge-eating episodes
  • Avoidance of physical activities (where stigma often occurs)

We have ZERO compelling evidence that a weight-focused approach actually helps people lose weight. ALL of the long-term clinical trials of weight-loss interventions result in a J-curve two years post-treatment (ie people end up heavier 1-2 years after the intervention). I learned this from Dr. Lee Kaplan (who is an obesity researcher at the MGH Weight Center) at my certification for weight management given by The Academy of Dietetics and Nutrition.
3. TBL promotes a pattern of exercise and eating that is both eating disordered AND unsustainable. In fact, dieting (significantly reducing calories while following a plan someone else gives you) is actually the #1 predictor of future weight gain

 (scroll down to “studies related to intuitive eating”). The #1 predictor of future weight gain! Why are we doing this to ourselves? 

(I cannot specifically comment on the long-term outcomes of contestants participating in TBL because to my knowledge, reliable data does not actually exist.)

4. We live in a weight OBSESSED world, which is supported by our medical system and our capitalistic economy. If you are interested in a different perspective, I highly recommend that you check out a few articles:
Association of All-Cause Mortality With Overweight and Obesity Using Standard Body Mass Index Categories: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis
Men and Women with Intuitive Eating Scales had lower BMIs
Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift

Often, people say that they find the show inspirational. This makes me question- what in particular do you find inspirational? I have built a career that is the anti-thesis of TBL and have counseled dozens of women who are trying to heal from the trauma of overly restrictive eating and excessive exercise. Don’t confuse what I am saying- I am all for supporting behavior change for health. I just don’t think that yelling, screaming, excessive exercise, starvation diets, or humiliation create permanent lifestyle change…no matter how entertaining you might find it to be.

4 thoughts on “The Biggest Loser & Why I Can’t Support It

  1. I love your posts! I am not overweight, but have learned so many great things from you that have help me with my body image. Plus, it has helped me feel more confident about raising my two girls to have a healthy body image as well. Thanks!

  2. I share you point of view completely. I don’t and can’t recommend this approach. Your article is well written – so well written I wish I’d written it myself! I will definately share it.

  3. Exactly! Watching people diet, exercise for hours, and be humiliated about their weight or actions does not set a good example for everyone watching. I’m a dietetic intern currently in Boston – and was wondering if there were any events that you knew of or ways to get involved for national eating disorder awareness week next month.

  4. Thank you for writing this. I thought I was the only one with this view towards TBL, I have gotten into many arguments with people who believe the show “empowers people to lose weight” or “they’re working to better their lives”. I thought I had this viewpoint simply because I come from an eating disordered background. However, the more I think about TBL, the more I realize the show is complete degradation. The contestants do not get the education or emotional support to actually live the healthier life that the show touts as their mission. They are taught to feel shame for being fat, for eating, for not working out as “good” as the guy next to him. Thank you for such a well written article that points out what I have been thinking in a much more eloquent manner.

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