An Exercise Psychology Student’s Thoughts on The Biggest Loser

The season premier of The Biggest Loser is tonight. As a professional in the field (or soon to be anyways), I have some conflicting emotions surrounding the show, that I want to share with you.

Biggest Loser Banner 2013The show has some positive qualities that make me supportive of it and excited to watch tonight.

MOTIVATION: I think that it can be inspiring for people who are also struggling with their weight. They see relatable people on TV losing weight and it causes them to think, “Hey maybe I can do that too!” The show has the capacity to reach MILLIONS of people- the impact it can have on people’s lives is huge!

REALITY CHECK: I think that the show serves as a wake up call for overweight individuals. While discussing the show with friends, numerous people have made comments such as, “I watched this HUGE person on TV with a myriad of health issues struggling to do basic exercise, and then I realized, ‘wow he/ she actually weighs less than I do’.” It has the power to make people realize that they may be in a more drastic situation than they realize.

PROMOTES NATURAL WEIGHT LOSS: I love love love that the contestants lose weight without diet pills, liposuction, or gastric bypass surgery. In an era where people are constantly on the lookout for quick fixes, and instant gratification it warms my heart to watch a reality TV show about hard work, and how that effort pays off in the end.

PROMOTES UNDERSTANDING: Finally, we live in a society where anti-fat bias is rampant. Without even realizing it people are judgmental of individuals who struggle with their weight and treat them differently and negatively. By showing the background story of contestants (WHY these people struggle with their weight), I think it can make us more sensitive and empathetic as a society.

Now that I’ve hit on some of the better qualities of the show, let’s talk about the things that make me less than enthusiastic about it.

UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS: I can’t say for certain the truth of this statement (I’m not a producer, nor have I spoken to one), but I have read that a “week” on the biggest loser is not necessarily seven days; their “weeks” are a longer time frame. This explains how the contestants are able to lose so much weight so quickly. While this does make for more dramatic television, it gives people unrealistic expectations. I can see a situation where  someone watches the show, decides that they want to get healthier, and makes dramatic lifestyle changes. Our theoretical friend is very diligent with his new lifestyle changes. At the end of the week he is excited to step on the scale, but he is met with disappointment. You see he has “only” lost three pounds (a pretty standard amount). He gets frustrated and gives up. I don’t know anyone who this has happened to, but I can see how it very well could give people the wrong idea about how weight loss works, and backfire.

UNNECESSARILY HARSH: It makes me cringe to watch the begining of the season. The trainers push the contestants to the point that they become physically ill. They do this because it makes for dramatic and exciting television. From a health perspective, there is absolutely no reason for workouts to be so intense that it causes nausea. Aside from the fact that I feel badly for the people on TV, I think that the negative repercussions are even more extensive. I imagine viewers at home, who would like to get into better shape seeing these bouts of exercise and feeling completely intimidated. As a result they don’t attempt to become more physically fit. On the other side of the same coin, someone could witness these intense workouts, and think “Well I need to push myself like that.” They workout at an extremely high intensity one time with the best of intentions. The next day they feel like total crap. They are sore, achy and miserable. They decide that they just don’t have it in them to exercise after all and end up not following through with what could be a life altering  experience. Along this same line of thought, why do the contestants have to wear nothing but spandex and sports bras? I’m sure it is humiliating for them. I wouldn’t want to wear that attire in public either. We could just as easily see how heavy they are in fitted tanks and more flattering pants. I know that it’s because the show wants for the viewers to see the physical changes, but c’mon.  

I could go on (looking at both positives and negatives), but I’ve mentioned the aspects that I feel most passionate about. As someone who works with overweight/ obese adolescents I am especially interested to see how they integrate the teens into this season. I started watching some of the teenagers’ audition videos, but then I started crying in Starbucks (red face, tears, the whole shebang), so I had to stop before I drew too much attention to myself.

I will be watching tonight. Will you? What are your thoughts on the show? Love it? Hate it? Do you think I missed any important points? If so, please share I would love to know your thoughts!


***Disclaimer: I am not associated with the show in any way shape or form. All of the above information is my own personal opinion. Others in the field may (and likely do) disagree. I am just a student and have plenty to learn about these topics.***




One thought on “An Exercise Psychology Student’s Thoughts on The Biggest Loser

  1. Layne, this is some great commentary. I love hearing others’ prospective on weight loss shows/fads. I am always sucked in by the motivation and drive of the contestants, but always seen disappointed when < 50% carry through with the "unrealistic" fast paced nature of change in his/her home setting. Keep up the great blogging!

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