Friday, January 16, 2009

Biggest Loser - revisited

As you'all know here, if I am wrong, I will gladly admit it. And people have written comments to show me the error of my ways and if I see merit in what they say, I am more than glad to admit I was in error.

I guess my humble blog has gotten the attention of one of the winners on "the Biggest Loser" show, second season, Pete Thomas. Thomas lost a lot of weight in a 9 months - 185 lbs and apparently if his blog is to be believed, he's kept it all off (but of course, Eric Chopin didn't tell his cyberfriends how much he had regained so that's why I say this with a grain of salt.... IF his blog is true).

Be that as it may, he is ANGRY at me. Very angry and has written a long comment which raises some issues that I think I should address in my main blog. So here goes:

Pete writes:

"You are doing such a poor job in your analysis. The media does want to see failure."
Ignoring the insult, (and to use Pete's phraseology, "it doesn't take a big leap in intelligence" to realize that ad hominem is a faulty argument tool), I feel Pete is very wrong. The media did NOT to this day, cover much about Eric Chopin's massive weight gain nor the weight gain of other "big losers". And there is a good reason for this. The media is driven and financed by the diet industry, a billion dollar industry of which "the Biggest Loser Show" is of course, a part (it sells products when folks watch the show unless they fast forward through the commercials like I do and not a lot of folks DO that). And the diet industry is pushing the myth that "all of us" can "get the body we always wanted" just by buying this or that diet when in fact studies have found (all of them have FOUND THIS, PETE) that 95 percent of people who diet to lose weight, regain the weight within 5 years! And the results of weight loss surgery are not much better - even with a permanent change to the body, 93 percent of patients cannot keep all the weight off! And most patients still end up in the severely to clinically obese zone and then WITH a new set of comorbidities. (the Swedish Obesity study and others). I've given these cites in some of my other blogs so won't labor through them here.

Pete gives as his reason for his belief that the media is highlighting failure as this:

"It does not take a giant leap of intelligence to see this. Look at the local news or national news – How much positive vs negative news do you see? The media thrive on success and more so on FAILURE!"
True, negativity and fear dominate the media EXCEPT when it comes to selling product and that means the DIET INDUSTRY so most of what we see on the media is SUCCESS to perpetuate the myth that "most people can successfully keep off the weight". As I mentioned before, I saw no mention of Eric Chopin in the news and a search of Google news I did right now, came up with the following message:

Your search - "eric chopin" - did not match any documents.
So I am wondering, Pete, if your theory is true and the media is highlighting failure in weight loss, why didn't Eric's appearing on the Oprah show even warrant a SMALL mention in the news?

And according to Pete's biography on his website, he's appeared rather often in this media which he says "highlights failure"

"He has appeared on ABC's The View, The 700 Club, and eXtra as well as being featured in People Magazine, Runners World, TV Guide, The Detroit Free Press, inTouch Weekly and Real Health."

Next Pete you are getting a bit confused here when you wrote:

"One successful author I know says ANY publicity is good publicity. He FRAMED BAD reviews of his book! Be assured – your blog qualifies as good publicity."
Doubtless you were referring to the saying sometimes attributed to Will Rogers but apparently said by many that "there is no such thing as bad publicity, only publicity".

First of all, I think you are overrating the nuisance value of my humble blog so if that's your worry, please don't worry... I'm sure no one on the show or in charge of the show would be convinced by this blog. First of all, the show is a cash cow and you will find that people _really don't care_ whether it's healthy or "right" if it's bringing in the bucks. First American TV principle... that you have not encountered this, leads me to wonder what planet have you been living on? :)

Secondly, actually there IS such a thing as bad publicity... Joyce Brothers said that and we can see that bad publicity helped greatly in defeating Sarah Palin in the recent election. Her name was on every lip so she got plenty of publicity, all bad.

And third, if you feel that my blog is good publicity then it should help your business of "motivational speaking" and thus, why are you so angry at me? I must say, you seem to be contradicting yourself a bit (well more than a bit).

So bottom line, my blog may be bad publicity for the show but as long as the ratings soar (whether people who watch it LIKE the show or not), the networks will run the show (and sell the sponsor's products). And people wanting to believe the myth that "all of us can have the body we always wanted" will continue to call you for "motivational speaking" right?

You then accused me of being ignorant so you wrote patronizingly:

"So let me educate you a little – Oprah called Eric – Remember! He turned her down initially. It is a known fact that contestants regularly turn down the media ‘When they start gaining their weight back’. You just don’t know that because your not knowledgeable enough on these things. So let me help you."
First of all, Pete, seems you didn't read my blog very well because I SAID that Oprah had called Eric previously and that he'd turned down the appearance (what he said on the "Oprah" show). Perhaps you might be the one needing help in reading things a bit more carefully. And by the way, Pete, in the statement of yours "Your not knowledgeable" I think you meant to say "YOU'RE not knowledgeable", right?

You further wrote:

"Oprah called a lot of us a few months back and those of us familiar with the process KNEW exactly where the show was going."
Have you counted the number of POSITIVE "amazing weight loss" shows Oprah has done? It way exceeds the couple of "weight loss problem" shows she's done.

"Misery loves company. My opinion - Oprah wanted company in her own struggles (or rather her producers choose to portray it as such)."
Aren't YOU assuming something about Oprah i.e. her being "miserable"? She's never been extremely large and she's sold a bunch of magazines and shows with her latest "confessions". And I do not see Oprah appearing on shows like "The Biggest Loser" which regularly humiliate people of size. Bottom line, there is no evidence that she's feeling miserable at all. Only that she's a very clever TV show host who knows how to get the audience's attention.

After that, you wrote:

"I will leave you to your ignorance on that one and I will just continue to laugh from a distance."
And I ask why you have to laugh at me at all and if life being so slim is so wonderful, why are you so angry? Happy people don't write angry, ad hominem letters like you wrote me. A psychologist might have a field day with your letter, Pete. :)

Then you ask:

"WHY is the type of weight loss on the show unhealthy?"

That you don't know, suggests you may be the one who lacks knowledge especially that you mentioned no one has shown you any evidence of this... incredible since evidence exists all over the internet and in many books that quick weight loss is unhealthy.

Your body cannibalizes organs and muscles with a quick weight loss and lowers your metabolism so that you will gain more quickly. Since you are apparently was unaware of the tons of stuff available written about this, you may be more amenable to watching a video than reading an article or book, so I will provide a video explaining the process:

I would also recommend Dr Linda Bacon's book, "HEALTH AT EVERY SIZE" which well covers obesity research.

Additionally, working out so hard and so long every day (and in most cases, high impact) is foolish and ASKING for injury... just ask the personal trainer at your local gym about this. Again much has been written about this on the medical and fitness sites... if you haven't yet seen it, you obviously do NOT want to see it. Because it's easy to find.

The show not only sacrifices health for audience appeal (no one wants to see someone lose slowly on a healthy program - that's boring) but also, it humiliates people of size. Again, if you do not see this, perhaps you don't WANT to see it and nothing I write will convince you...

One more thing you brought up ... you wrote:

"You believe that size does not matter and it is ok to be morbidly obese."
This statement is way too general. But I don't think I said this in any of my blogs. Fact remains however, that for every study which suggests a danger in being clinically obese, there is another study which suggests NO LINK between clinical obesity _alone_ and morbidity but rather other lifestyle factors instead... food choices, whether the person yo yo's the weight or stays steady and a host of things, even things like stress and anxiety.

Dr Rudy Leibel, probably one of the most respected obesity researchers, stated in a speech to the NIH that "there probably is some advantage to being of normal BMI but it is UNCLEAR whether someone forcing their weight to a lower range than their bodies want, enjoys that advantage".

Now, Pete, I have provided some sources and clarified what I have written and of course, I invite comment but if you DO comment, I hope you will do so more respectfully than your last comment as I feel insulting comments do little to enlighten folks who are reading this. Provide me with facts and cites and I will listen. Your anecdotal "I know all about the show" attitude is not really what I call unbiased observation especially since you apparently walked away with a tidy sum of money. I can understand that you do not like it when the show is criticized for being unhealthy or for exploiting fat people (although some of the Biggest Loser candidates have talked about that themselves), and while I understand your point of view, your anecdotal information does not qualify for scientific data. I hope you understand that.

Overall, I think we can discuss something, even disagreeing upon various aspects and still remain adult and civil, yes?


Cherie said...

Cheers for Sue! Wow, and Pete had the audacity to claim that you are ignorant. Thanks for speaking the truth Sue. Without insults even.

Rachel said...

Pete wrote, "WHY is the type of weight loss on the show unhealthy?"

Simple answer: Because it isn't sustainable. And this coming from someone who has sustained a significant weight loss of more than 100 pounds for five years. Given the health risks of yo-yo dieting and weight fluctuations, I say that instead of featuring those Biggest Losers, we need to instead feature those Longest Sustainers.

As well, past Biggest Loser contestants who admit to being severely dehydrated, fasting and overexercise and to peeing blood kind of indicate that the methods used by show contestants aren't all that healthy or safe.

Christine Sheikh, Ph.D. said...

Good response--calm, clear, and based in actual research. If Pete wanted substantiation of any of the danger of what The Biggest Loser does to its contestants, he could easily find it in the array of books, articles, and blogs providing that information. (Level-headed critiques of the thin=healthy paradigm are pretty easy to find when one starts looking).

Geez, Pete, I have a hard time believing that such an angry, defensive person can actually be much of a "motivator." Who ine their right mind would actually want this guy to come talk to their group???

Bri said...

Sue, I love you. The end.


Pete Thomas said...


I apologize if you consider my comments to be 'angry' in nature or disrespectful. Quite the contrary. I am anything but angry and I apologize if I was disrespectful.

However, my statements are what they are. Your analysis starts with and continues to use a faulty line of reasoning that stem from the error that you KNOW how the contestants lose weight. You see the result but you have no ideal of the make up of the diets or workouts and therein lies the problem.

And the video link you provide is a joke. I have seen this guy in the past and the thing that you and he both fail to understand is that the negative effects of 'quick' weight loss depend on HOW not HOW fast weight is lost.

That deals with workout 'program design' of which I have yet to find a study that mimics Biggest Loser style weight loss. Similar results yes. Similar design Never.

And since you are not educated on the design of BL style weight loss (which also varies by trainer) this is where error continues to creep in. That is why I asked the question about why was BL type weight loss unhealthy. And you went exactly in the direction I thought you would. Quoting commonly held facts about time that ignore type.

You cannot throw EVERY 'quick weight loss' situation into the same box. Especially when, as I mentioned before, you do not have access to before and after medical files to back up you guesses.

For example Catobolism happens when caloric intake is restricted BELOW a certain level and certain hormones like cortisol are released - ie starvation mode. Let me ask you, how many calories are the contestants on the show prescribed? Don't you see this is KEY to your premise? And without proper information you can only make poor assumptions. You simply do not have enough information to make good commentary.

You bring up the contestants working out so hard and so long and impact and asking for injury, yet again you have nothing to base this on except for minor workout clips from a two hour show. How much of the weekly workouts are high impact. How much of THAT is too much? Lack of information leads to error.

Ask the local trainer at your gym what type of injury an obese person will incur from 5 hours a day of walking on a treadmill (if any) and at what point will said obese person be ready to walk on a 10 degree incline or even run. They CAN'T ANSWER THAT. Why? Because they don't have those studies to reference or practical experience.

And instead of laying it all out for you and discussing workout routines, program design, the F.I.T.T. principles etc I will leave you to hold onto your assumptions. Your beliefs are yours factual or not. Over here, I will keep teaching people they can accomplish anything.

Pete Thomas

PS: Whenever you can't find something on Google - assume a spelling error.

Sue Joan said...


You say you didn't drastically cut the calories. Assuming you are telling the truth (which we really cannot assume, sorry) what is clear from the many blogs and interviews is that not ALL contestants ate moderately. For example, read THIS blog about the man who didn't eat any solid food FOR TEN DAYS before his last weigh-in:

Ryan Benson's blog He was also a winner of the biggest loser. He wrote:

*** I wanted to win so bad that the last ten days before the final weigh-in I didn't eat one piece of solid food! If you've heard of "The Master Cleanse" that's what I did. Its basically drinking lemonade made with water, fresh squeezed lemon juice, pure maple syrup, and cayenne pepper. The rules of the show said we couldn't use any weight-loss drugs, well I didn't take any drugs, I just starved myself! Twenty-four hours before the final weigh-in I stopped putting ANYTHING in my body, liquid or solid, then I started using some old high school wrestling tricks. I wore a rubber suit while jogging on the treadmill, and then spent a lot of time in the steam room. In the final 24 hours I probably dropped 10-13 lbs in just pure water weight. By the time of the final weigh-in I was peeing blood. Was this healthy? Heck no! My wife wanted to kill me if I didn't do it to myself first." He said he gained 32 lbs in the week after the show, just rehydrating etc.

I suspect this is a more usual story than the person who won the show (as you claim you did) eating moderately. Eating moderately simply does NOT take off weight quickly even if you DO exercise a lot.

Since you seem to discount everything which does not agree with what you want to believe I won't labor here to provide more cites etc. As far as the damage walking 5 hours a day on the treadmill does to your joints, that's kind of a no brainer and again, literature everywhere can inform you about that.

But I will say I hope you do not "teach" folks more without LEARNING more yourself because just your three year experience with exercise and keeping the weight off and the reality TV show does not qualify you as an expert in exercise and weight control and I am concerned that you are spreading -yet more- misinformation when there is so much bad information around already. I wish you the best and that you are NOT in the 95 percent who regain the weight within 5 years of the weight loss. However, it should be pointed out that the obvious stress you are enduring (likely from NOT being able to handle your stress using food) might actually be far more unhealthy in the longer run, than the extra weight would have been. And with a reasonable exercise program 4 or 5 days a week, a person can weigh very heavy and still be reasonably healthy and this is what the Cooper Institute studies and many other studies have suggested. Sue

Sue Joan said...

oh and if you search for "Erik Chopin" in the Google news, 2 hits come up in the news media. One of them in a tabloid which is NOT at all respected for telling the truth and the other on MSNBC, however in going to the latter link, I found nothing about Chopin but I did find a lot of positive stuff about "The Biggest Loser" and ads for their series of books, so again I ask, Pete, where is all the negative publicity about the "Biggest Loser" you claim?


Sue Joan said...

My search for "Erik Chopin" on MSNBC brought up one video about when Erik appeared on the "Today Show" right after he won the show and before he had regained any weight. So much for all the negative publicity Erik is supposed to be getting in the news media. :) To the other commenters, thanks for your kind words, interesting information and support! *hugs* Sue

Unknown said...

Is it not a wee bit hypocritical for someone to offer themselves up as a weight loss expert when said weight loss occurred on a TV show where you worked out hours a day, and had constant monitoring? How does any of this translate to the real world? I just don't see how pointing out weight regain, which is as common as water, makes Sue the purveyor of "the media's" desire to "see people fail."

Pete Thomas said...

And this is the crux of the matter

"Assuming you are telling the truth (which we really cannot assume, sorry)"

That gets to my whole point. No matter WHAT evidence you are given to the contrary you have a position that you are trying to push and no amount of facts to the contrary will lead you in another direction. You look long term at someones weight loss to measure failure rates (95%) and then you look short term (ie 10 days out of 7 months for Ryan Benson) to establish a faulty premise. Sad.

Continue to believe that people are destined to be overweight and unable to control our eating and I will continue to instill hope to the contrary.

Pete Thomas

Sue Joan said...

"Continue to believe that people are destined to be overweight and unable to control our eating and I will continue to instill hope to the contrary."

For a price, I'm sure and at least until you gain back the weight at which time you may change your tune! :)

And even if you do not gain back the weight, Pete, that proves nothing but that you are in the 5 percent who can keep it off.

But I know, you know better than the scientists who have spent a lifetime studying this because 3 years ago, you won a TV show, right? Kind of amusing actually. :)


wriggles said...

Continue to believe that people are destined to be overweight and unable to control our eating

The above doesn't follow at all from stating that diets don't work. It merely states that people aren't going to lose weight and keep it off using diets.

....and I will continue to instill hope to the contrary.

Instilling hope in lasting dieting success is instilling false hope as it is unlikely to be the case.

If permanent weight loss is to occur, and I have little doubt that it is entirely possible, it's not going to be through dieting.

RedPanda said...


This argument took place in January 2008, and yet, judging from Pete's site (as of September 2011) he still hasn't regained the weight.