Friday, August 22, 2008

Biggest losers - the people or the show?

In this month's TIME MAGAZINE was a short article about "Reality shows which aren't really reality" in reviewing a movie about teens.

That phrase struck me because they've been really hawking the new season of the TV show, "THE BIGGEST LOSER". And somehow, for no reason I can fathom, this show is wildly popular.

I not only cannot understand fat people volunteering to be on this show and apparently losing much of their dignity in front of TV cameras but I cannot understand why people watch the show because the dynamics of dropping someone every week often for no apparent reason or the cameras showing these people fighting with each other or wincing during the hours of grueling exercise, all tend to annoy me to the point where I cannot stand to watch the show.

Worse yet was when I did some research on the show and found out that the way they lose so many pounds a week was that they worked out for 5 hours or more a day and were sequestered on a ranch somewhere with personal trainers who appear as if they got their training from the Spanish Inquisition or any other place of torture. They appear to enjoy seeing their clients suffer untold pain to race for the biggest weight loss of the week.

Susan Powter tells us that the body can only process 2 lbs a week of fat so guess what folks who lose 7-10 lbs a week are losing? Muscle tissue, bone mass and organ meat. Not exactly what I would call healthy.

How pray-tell, are these folks going to have a chance to keep the weight off when they get back into the real world and have to do other things besides starve and work out for hours a day? And will the sore muscles and somewhat sadistic personal trainers render them sour on exercise for life? (Studies have shown that moderate exercise is a very good thing!)

One of the "biggest losers" did take an interview a while ago and he said when he had to do real things like work, he ended up re-gaining a significant amount of weight. I suspect that's the fate of most, if not all of the folks on that show. Kind of a no brainer if you think about it. After all, if we lived in the Amazon Jungle without refrigerators, cars and fast food, we'd all be slim. And a large number of us would also be dead.

In 1900 when people worked 12 hours a day for 6 days a week and didn't have refrigerators or fast food or real tasty food (let alone time to eat it) there was little to no obesity. But the average lifespan was 45 years. Now despite the "deadly obesity epidemic" our lifespan is 78 -80 years. Big difference.

Does anyone care about the health of these people which probably is seriously threatened by this type of regime suffered on "The Biggest Loser" show?

Are people aware of the fact that people occasionally die on these reality weight loss /get fit shows?

For example, a gastric bypass patient was picked to be in the Fit TV show "Ship out and Shape Out" She was a pretty lady named Jennifer who had a kindly sweet personality. She had lost a bunch of weight with her surgery but was still over 200 lbs and wanted to lose more. Her personal trainer mentioned she had "health problems" (likely from the bypass). She did not participate in all the exercises and those she did participate in, seemed a big strain on her body. And about 6 months after the show was first aired, she died. (I found that out because when the show re-ran, they had a memorial to her in the credits).

She wasn't the only person on the show who suffered. An over 40's man almost had a heart attack on one of the hikes they took (you cannot just suddenly be fit - you have to work up to it). He got all red in the face, and half collapsed. Not surprising, he didn't show up for the reunion of the group, 3 months after the show was finished filming.

And "Ship out - Shape Out" was tame and conservative compared to the horrors they put the people through on the "Biggest Loser" show.

5 percent of the population can keep their weight off after losing a bunch of it.
95 percent of the population thinks they are in this 5 percent.

Maybe people watch the "Biggest Loser" show because they dream of the weight just dropping off. The same reason, people ignore all the friends who regained or got sick or died with weight loss surgery, ignore the warnings in release forms and hop on the table to have a gastric bypass. They only think about that first year when the weight is automatically dropping off because they are too injured and sick inside to be able to eat much or have an appetite. They don't seem to think about what the 2nd and 3rd year will bring or the 20th year when they might have re-gained most of their weight but still have another set of co morbidities from the weight loss surgery. I've talked to many older post ops who say they are taking more meds now than they did when they were very overweight. But 200,000 people have this surgery yearly (in the USA), seemingly ignoring all the evidence (and the non guarantees from the medical profession about what life with weight loss surgery will really be like or even the expectations of retained weight loss which are not much better than dieting).

I think it's the same thing which inspires people to watch the "Biggest Loser" show. It's a rationalization that a daydream is reality. A rationalization that becomes so strong in some that they are willing to play Russian Roulette with their lives and future rather than face reality. A bit like the movie, "The Matrix" where the reality of humans lying in a bed, having their energy slowly zapped by a machine was totally different from the world the machine created for their brains and how some individuals, when faced with the reality of a somewhat, desolate world, willingly became prisoners of the machine again. "The Matrix" although having a less than great, plot line, was so deep in meaning and significance as to our generation that I've found several books written about it.

Reality shows which are not really reality. Time Magazine said it well. But when that non reality becomes a motivation for people to take insane chances with their lives, it's time to stop and re-think the whole schema.

Maybe the "Biggest Loser" is not the group of people thus tortured for several months for the delight of the TV audience or even the show itself but those who watch the show and begin to believe the myths spewed out therein.

Not a new thing of course. Hitler stated "Say something over and over and people will begin to believe it" Doubtlessly, he would have loved modern communications and manipulative media like TV - scary to think of what he would have done with these powerful tools.

He also said "It is very good for rulers that people do not think" and that was in the 1930's.


Anonymous said...

I hate hate hate, and hate, the Biggest Loser. It's no different than a TV show, exploiting images of those who are outsiders suffering for the amusement of others.

It's the farthest thing from health. They just want to have fat people on there so they can run them until they puke, and then tell them all they can live on is vegetables.

Ok maybe I'm exaggerating about the food, cause I've never watched the show. It's beyond me why people want to watch shows where other people are suffering with no relief.

Like shows where they switch the kids' parents, and the other parents are abusive to the kids and the kids are crying, and nobody to help them. I mean, how can someone watch that and not want to strangle the producer of the show. Televised child abuse, I can't say it more clearly then that.

Just..makes me want to scream.

Sue Cherry said...

I actually am a fan of The Biggest Loser. They feed them A LOT of food and it isn't just veggies. They are very closely monitered by doctors and if there is any condition that may make the exercise levels dangerous to them, they are not allowed to participate in the show. Yes, there is a lot of harsh exercise and I know in my heart that I could not work out at that level. If you've ever watched the show then you would know that they also have therapy to find out why the weight was put on in the first place. Agreed, some people are just bigger then others and there's not a damn thing they can do about it. BUT, some people can lose weight and do better in lives because of it. There was one woman on the show who ate continuously to try and forget about being sexually assaulted numerous times in her life. They focused on exercises that would give her the power to defend herself so she could at least try and insure that it would not happen again. They dealt with her self hatred through talk therapy, hugs and shared stories and tears with Jillian, the "somewhat sadistic trainer".

Anyway, I'm sure my views won't be very popular here but I had to say it. I'd never go on the show, but only because I don't have enough faith in my own strength. Not because the show is that horrible.

Oh yeah, and people have died while sitting on their butts watching soaps. Does that mean that we should outlaw sitting around?

Wiski said...

I wrote a blog about The Biggest Loser some time ago...check it out here.

Also, check out this article.

SueW said...

Wiski, no one can access the myspace blog - you have it set to private so only your "friends" on myspace can see it. If you want to share it here, go for it.

The blog about how this one person regained it all, was interesting but I noticed that the writer of the blog still thinks the show could work to help people keep off the weight. That just goes against every study we have in the last 40 years including some by Stanley Heshka who is on the WeightWatchers scientific committee. Only less than 5 percent can keep it off and that's even with a sensible program like Weight Watchers - fad diets (like "The Biggest Loser") not only have a bad reputation for weight being kept off and having a situation where MOST of what people lose is NOT bodyfat but good muscle tissue, bone mass and parts of organs, but also as early as the 1960's they knew that fad diets tended to really mess up the body and cause a lot of problems later on (one of which is ruining the gall bladder). For example Neil Solomon in THE TRUTH ABOUT WEIGHT CONTROL, published 1968, stated that fad diets were like trying to run your car on French perfume. It might run for a while but pretty soon, he continued, the engine would get so gummed up that it wouldn't run at all.


SueW said...

Sue Cherry, (good name... Sue!) :) They COULDN'T feed the folks "a lot of food" because there is no way they'd be losing 8-12 lbs a week if they were not fasting. Of course, the producers of the show try to put a "healthy veneer" on the program - like they didn't get to be producers by being stupid. :) But the fact is, that program is anything BUT healthy. In fact, it's EXCEEDINGLY unhealthy and I would bet if they haven't had people die or get sick, they will by and by. Those shows will never air of course. Like one of the Dr Oz shows, "YOU ON A DIET" put a 50 year old guy on a very sensible diet and sensible exercise, like 30 minutes a day and the guy had a massive heart attack and required a bypass and how they spun past that one is they said "well, if he hadn't been on a healthy program, he would have gotten sicker". Well, to Dr Oz's credit at least they DID air the show.

However, there was a "BIG MEDICINE" show which featured a gastric bypass patient who had had a large regain - I knew about the show because I saw the previews on it.... well, it never aired. hmmm.

Another thing on "Big Medicine" show was in one show they were going to send this very large guy home because his insurance wouldn't pay for the WLS so they brought a small gurney and of course, he didn't fit and he was screaming in pain etc. Well, some folks expressed concern about him on the message boards about "Big Medicine". So this large guy got on the message board (the guy in the show) and said "Don't worry ... none of that happened - that was all staged. I never went home from the hospital - that was all staged! Remember this is TV - not all you see is true!"

Same thing on the "The Big Loser" - you cannot believe everything on TV - a lot of it IS staged... but that those people are losing THAT much weight weekly, they cannot be on a healthy program.... and most of what they are losing cannot be fat as the body can only process 2 lbs of fat a week...

I respect that you like the program and that's fine - it's entertainment but the thing that really bothers me is I feel that the fat people are NOT respected or shown in a respected manner. But that's just me - no one is disrepecting anyone's choice to watch it.


Jakalin said...

I remember a time when flicking through the TV channels, I spotted this man pulling a bus, and he was running!!! How amazing was that! Well I sat back thinking I might be watching one of those ‘worlds strongest’ shows (I am totally strange, love watching the wood chopping races too), when the next thing that happened was two women started pulling the same bus. My god I had trouble pushing the car the other day when we had to jump start it, how strong they must be to pull a bus.

Then it went strange on me, they started saying how sad and weak they were… What the? They were on Biggest Looser and you can’t be excited that you were pulling a bus, and some of them running, no it was a sad thing that they were overweight and not all of them could RUN easily while pulling a bus, which of course THIN people would be able to do!?!

Not one of them (that they showed on the TV anyway) was excited that they have the strength to pull a bus. I just found the whole format of the show strange that they could only celebrate weight loss as the only true achevement you could hope for.

Anonymous said...

That is interesting about Big Medicine. I am a fan of the Discovery Health channel, for other shows like Mystery Diagnoses, Mystery ER..and the emergency room shows, which are very inspiring. I don't know how they can manage someone in such fear and pain, without wobbling in fear and anxiety themselves like Jello.

Whenever they say, "This surgery will change their lives forever" in reference to Big Medicine, I think "Yes, it will change their lives forever. Inflicting an illness in someone, would change anyone's life forever. I'm sure being crippled by constant regugitating of food and other noted side effects of bariatric surgery would change someone's life forever."

It's more ominous to me, than how they're trying to spin it as positive. Oh and how bout the segment of fat people with horrendous lighting. Seriously, you put some thin supermodel in lighting like that and they'd look like crap too.

Anonymous said...

"Oh yeah, and people have died while sitting on their butts watching soaps. Does that mean that we should outlaw sitting around?" - Sue Cherry

People have also died running, or from other forms of exercise. Does that mean we should outlaw exercise?

Talking down to fat people like they are stupid children, who don't know that exercising is good for them is nothing new. Please take your obnoxious mothering of adults somewhere else.

Laura Gideon said...

Thank You for this commentary on the Biggest Loser - which I deem The WORST show on television. I am an Exercise Physiologist and Fitness Trainer with a Master's in Exercise Science, multiple certifications in fitness & nutrition. This show is Appalling and sends the absolute WRONG message to a public which has very little knowledge of what proper training is or proper nutritional intake. This is hyped "infotainment" at it's worst! I have worked very hard for 28 years in the fitness industry and I am so ANGRY that a show such as this with "Hollywood" trainers devalues the industry and career I am so passionate about. THANK YOU for writing and posting this!

DanJenks said...

I used to be larger, never 400-500 pounds but larger and the biggest loser might just be some tv show but it encourages a lot of people to get out there and change there lives. To Violet yoshi these people arent suffering there changing there lives obesity can kill you and its amazing that there is a show like this were people can get the help they need and inspire others. All of the contestants are actually on great diet plans and are being pushed just fine they might look like there suffering but it is actually saving there lives and giving them longer lives with there families. They all have world class trainers, they are all under doctor supervision. Anyone on here talking mess is probably obese, because I am an avid runner and fitness freak and they are all eating perfect portions good food and great diets.

SueW said...

Obesity does NOT kill you, Dan Jenks - lifestyle is what determines health - at least that's what all the studies say. How the contestants eat is suggested but not monitored. Some of them have confessed to doing things like eating nothing but diet jello for a week in order to get a good weigh-in. The work outs are not appropriate for their size and level of fitness - as a fit person yourself, I'm surprised you didn't know this. I was never even 300 lbs (267 was my highest weight - I'm 5'6") but I also lost 112 lbs on a sensible diet and exercise program reaching "goal" in March 2010 and keeping off the weight ever since. So I know a lot about exercise (started my fitness program in 1994) and the way those trainers exercise those contestants is neither healthy nor conducive to them realizing the good benefits of exercise.

Sue Joan