Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Biggest Loser: My Take

I'm now on Day 2 of my weekend resting marathon, continuing to lie in bed (a little grammar note: you lie, not lay, in bed--maybe one day I'll bend your ears with an explanation of that common error...) and trying desperately to avoid total frustration!

For better or for worse, we have a TV in our bedroom, a leftover from my many months of convalescence from two surgeries a few years ago. In the past day and a bit, I have been spending too much time watching TV. This morning, I decided to swallow my bile and watch "The Biggest Loser", more or less from start to finish. In my opinion, it was disgusting.

TBL is an entertainment program that thinks it's rendering a public service. The media is all abuzz with America's obesity crisis so it's not surprising that an enterprising network soul decided to cash in on the hysteria and create TBL. Ooh, what fun! Pitting people against each other, tears, fake praise ("this guy is like a brother to me, the best person I've ever known...but here's your name--oops, your head--on a platter and you're out of here"), anger, insults and the promise that finally, you, the fat slob, will come out of the fatsuit and emerge as a beautiful swan.

I've got to digress here. TBL reminds me so much of a character in the Archie comic books. I don't remember her name and I don't know if she's still part of the Archie cast of characters, but does anyone remember the ugly, fat girl? I remember an issue where this girl was somehow transformed into a gorgeous, perfectly coiffed and dressed slim girl. Then, just as suddenly, the beautiful body burst apart and out emerged the ugly, fat girl that everyone knew and (didn't) love. The transformation had been real, but only temporary and the poor girl had to go back to her miserable, fat existence.

Of course, this is not the message that TBL is trying to transmit. However, that is precisely what will no doubt happen to a number of the contestants and viewers. Instantaneous just doesn't work. And by "instantaneous", I mean the length of one TV season. Creating a radical change by taking people out of their normal environment and imposing a totally unrealistic regimen of diet and exercise on them will yield quick results...quick and usually fleeting.

I was also horrified to see how destructive it is to a person's self-esteem to "only" lose a pound or two in a week. On the episode I just watched this is exactly what happened to two of the women contestants. I think that one must never forget the influence of monthly hormonal fluctuation on women's weight loss. It can never be overstated. I saw two women crushed by their failure. OK, maybe they were "asked" by the producer to look so crestfallen, but this is not healthy, either for them and for viewers, who I suspect often know little about the factors that make for consistent and permanent weight loss.

Superficial and psychologically violent--TBL is a big winner for the network and its advertisers. Is it a significant player in helping people to reach better physical and psychological health? I think not.


  1. I have never seen "The Biggest Loser" and frankly have never really felt the urge to do so. Just listening to what other people said the show was about was enough to turn my interest off.
    I appluad your brutal honesty in saying exactly what you thought and how you felt about it. Now I might have to watch the show just out of morbid curiosity. If I do I'll get back to you on that.
    As for the Archie comics character, I read those all the time as a kid, this woud have been in the late 70's. But this particular character does not ring a bell. Very interesting though. Would you happen to remember when this character made an appearance?

  2. Amy, I just went to Wikipedia, and I can't find that character either. Maybe she only appeared once, but I clearly remember that story line.

  3. I've never followed TBL to any extent. I saw one episode and just found it to be very painful. Hope you are getting good rest and will be feeling better.

  4. Personally I can't see the appeal, but a lot of people watch it, including people trying to lose weight. Some claim that it inspires them, and they know it's unrealistic, but it gives them hope. OTOH, I've read the take on it from various personal trainers who hate it, because it gives people crazy expections that just don't work for people. I've watched it a few times, think it's degrading to viewers and participants alike, but apparently I'm not their viewing audience.

    Hope you're hip is okay and you can get out of bed soon

  5. When visiting my daughter one day I was forced to watch about 20 mins of TBL. I was repulsed. The trainers were abusive, the exercise levels extreme and unsustainable and the competitiveness (tossing people out for underperforming for example) was far too reminiscent of Survivor. But I think that reality television is a waste of time and subsides to the lowest common denominator. Needless to say I have not had the slightest desire to watch it ever again.


  6. I hate TBL. Firstly, their exercise regime is insane. Unless one is a pro athletic, who can work out 8 hours a day. In the real world, people work. I am not saying people can't exercise but, in order to maintain good health, one has to do it reguarlary and continue to do it. So often, people go to the gym like mad for a few weeks, only to give up a few days later.

    Losing 1-2 lbs a week is healthy and sufficient. No one needs to lose 13 lbs in a week.