So, The Biggest Loser kind of stepped in it, eh?
Say what you want about the newest winner of the weight loss reality show, but this “scandal” about the amount of weight Rachel lost over the length of season 15 has exposed us to some of the skeletons hidden deep within the Biggest Loser closet.
And if I’m honest, I’m kind of surprised they stayed hidden this long.
If you’ve never seen the show, let me give you the plot line in a nutshell.
People that are overweight/obese go out to the “ranch” in California where they work to lose the most weight. Each week there’s a weigh in, and the individuals that have lost the least amount lobby their peers to stay on the show. Each week, one contestant is eliminated by a vote amongst their “teammates”.
At the end of the season, the person that ends up with the greatest percentage of weight lost is the winner, and takes home a check for $250,000.
Full disclosure, I used to watch the Biggest Loser regularly. The show has gotten stale to me, so I haven’t watched it in a couple of years. I’m making the assumption that the show really hasn’t changed much in the years since I last regularly tuned in.
The Show’s Dirty Laundry
On the surface, the show sounds very happy and uplifting.
People come together, form community, eliminate distractions, overcome excuses, work out, learn to eat better, improve their health, and lose weight. What’s not to like?
If you’re super successful during your time on the show, you could win some money. But even if you don’t “win”, you’ve still learned life lessons that you can carry with you when you get back to the real world.
But for some, and especially those that have made the finale (which airs live, 3 months or so after the last taped episode airs), the transition from the ranch to the real world is a rocky one.
For the finalists, all of a sudden the temptations are back in your life, as well as the distractions associated with work, friends, and families. The multiple hours of daily exercise that were easy to do on the ranch suddenly become onerous tasks to undertake.
And then there is the pressure from the production staff of the show. They bombard the finalists with emails asking about caloric intake, exercise, and looking for updates on how much weight has been lost.
Former finalist Kai Hibbard spoke out regarding her time at home between leaving the ranch and the live finale. “I got to the point where I was only eating about 1,000 calories a day and I was working out between five and eight hours a day…And, my hair started to fall out. I was covered in bruises. I had dark circles under my eyes. Not to get too completely graphic, but my period stopped altogether, and I was only sleeping three hours a night. I tried to tell the TV show about it, and I was told, ‘Save it for the camera.’”
“Save It for the Camera”
To me, that’s the most damning statement that I’ve seen in the last 48 hours.
If a contestant wants to do anything for the money, I can accept that.
Is disordered eating healthy? No.
Is 5-8 hours of daily exercise healthy? No.
But if know it’s not healthy, you’re doing it for the $250,000 anyway, that’s on you. I’d say that learning to live a healthier life in the real world is more important than the money, but I don’t have a quarter of a million dollar carrot dangling in front of me. Unless you’ve been in those shoes, I don’t think you can fault the contestants for going too far in order to win.
But for a TV executive to tell you to “save it for the camera”, now I’ve got an issue.
It almost sounds to me like they want the drama, because they know it will lead to ratings. Now, I’m not naive enough to suggest that ratings aren’t important, but the Biggest Loser will get ratings without pushing people to dangerous levels.
Hair falling out and bruises all over? That’s not drama. That’s dangerous.
Heaven forbid, but if a Biggest Loser finalist were to die between leaving the ranch and preparing for the finale as a result of the combination of over-exertion and caloric restriction that seems to be promoted by the show’s producers, what would their response be? Save it for the camera?
I sure hope not.
Maybe We Needed This to Happen
Are there lessons to be learned from this?
I think so.
- “Reality” Isn’t REAL–When the Biggest Loser contestants get on the scale every week and are losing 10+ pounds, viewers think that it is possible (maybe even realistic?) for them to achieve on their own at home. It’s not. I used to just remind my clients that the show’s contestants had nothing to do every day but workout. They weren’t working. They weren’t parenting. They weren’t maintaining the home. The were just working out and eating healthy food. While that is still the case, we also now know a little more about the encouraged dehydration and possible disordered eating leading up to each way in.
- It’s Not as Supervised as We Think–One contestant released the waiver that has to be signed before participating on the show. One passage reads “No warranty, representation or guarantee has been made as to the qualifications or credentials of the medical professionals who examine me or perform any procedures on me in connection with my participation in the series, or their ability to diagnose medical conditions that may affect my fitness to participate in the series.” This is a far cry from the disclaimer that airs at the top of the show: “Our contestants were supervised by doctors while participating in the show, and their diet and exercise regimen was tailored to their medical status and their specific needs.”
- There Really are No Shortcuts–As more and more contestants speak out regarding what they did on the ranch to achieve the weight loss, the results that are seen on TV become less amazing. But my problem is that the show doesn’t train the contestants for maintaining their weight loss after the show. The shortcuts that are utilized during the filming aren’t things you can continue to do for the rest of your life. You can’t live in a dehydrated state forever and be healthy. You can’t workout 6-8 hours per day, and maintain a job and healthy relationships with those around you. You can’t only eat 1,200 calories a day, every day, for the rest of your life. All those things can help you lose weight today, but I want my clients and my readers to lose weight today and keep it off tomorrow. Skip the shortcuts, and if it takes two days to see the weight loss, that’s ok. Better to take longer to reach your goals, but do so safely, than take unnecessary risks to speed the rate of loss.
It’s Not All Bad
There are plenty of issues with the Biggest Loser, as there are with all “reality” TV shows, but I’m not here to try and demonize the show.
The show has inspired lots of people to start taking control of their health, and that they are capable of doing so if they are willing to put in the work. And that’s a huge achievement.
The ball is now in NBC’s and the Biggest Loser’s court. Instead of ducking the controversy that has been stirred up since Tuesday’s finale aired, they need to face it head on and possibly make changes. They need to remind the public that the show is meant to inspire weight loss and healthy living for all, and do something to eliminate the “game playing” from the show. Maybe take the money prize away, and instead allow fans of the show to vote for the winner. Or maybe make weight loss percentage a piece of determining the winner, but not the only factor.
But the fact remains, that as long as the structure of the show remains the same people will continue to push boundaries, cut corners, and take unnecessary health risks in the name of winning the “prize” money at the end of the season. And sadly, the contestants will continue to struggle after the leave the show and are faced with being back in the real world.
What are your thoughts on the finale fiasco and/or the show in general?
Will this hurt the show in the future?
No such thing as bad publicity?
I’d love to hear what you have to say.