Friday, November 26, 2010

Biggest Loser "Where are they now" show was blew some smoke screens

Lately the reality show, "The Biggest Loser" in which they sequester several clinically obese people, put them through grueling workouts of 5 hours or more a day and greatly curtail their food intake to effect quick weight loss, has come under no small amount of criticism.

It has caused a hue and cry among personal trainers and especially exercise physiologists who feel that the training given on the show is not only somewhat sadistic but sheds a negative light on personal trainers in general who try to teach people a healthy lifestyle.

Possibly what is most upsetting to the producers of the show (which apparently has versions in several other countries besides the USA) is the fact that the ratings of the show now in its 10th season, have fallen drastically, which can be a death knell for any TV show.

So tonight, NBC aired a show which promised to catch us up with what former contestants on the "Biggest Loser" are doing now and did they regain the weight, but actually seemed more of a "damage control" effort to try and convince the viewing public that what is done on the "Biggest Loser" is really a good thing and has changed lives.

Injury on the show has apparently (and rightly so) upset the public so the show dealt with that issue. The 9th season featured as the first challenge, a 1 mile run for clinically obese folks who had not exercised in quite a while and ended up with one of them, Tracy Yukich collapsing and being air lifted to the hospital where she remained for a week or more.

Dr H went to her home to visit and they relived the incident where she collapsed. Tracey's eyes filled up with tears when she watched the video and she commented that she thinks about this every day. She also said, "here I was 37 years old and almost - well gone."

Tracy is slim now and writes cheerfully on her facebook fan page that:

The Biggest Loser has changed my life. I never dreamed I would be at my college weight again. I am so grateful for all that have touched my life and helped me through this journey.

Tracy's website claims that she collapsed from heat stroke but that she was in the hospital for two weeks after, seems there might have been more wrong. Tracy uses her Biggest Loser fame and that she's kept the weight off, to do motivational speaking now.

On the catch-up show we watched on Wednesday night, they didn't say what happened to Tracey. The only explanation given by Dr H was that she was so fat, she had fat everywhere. Tracy weighed 250 lbs at 5'2" which while clinically obese, wasn't exactly the largest contestant either.

In researching this, I found out that likely what she had was "Rhabdomyolysis", a condition of muscle injury where the muscles break down releasing a chemical which injures the kidneys and can cause kidney failure.

The outcome of this illness (which also can happen with statin drugs by the way) is unclear according to the NIH:

The outcome varies depending on the extent of kidney damage. Acute kidney failure occurs in many patients. Treatment soon after rhabdomyolysis begins will reduce the risk of chronic kidney damage.
People with milder cases may return to normal activity within a few weeks to a month or more. However, some continue to have problems with fatigue and muscle pain.

According to another article, Tracey was restricted while on the ranch for any workouts, even in the pool so while she may be training for a marathon now, she may still have residual damage to her kidneys.

Quite a bit more than the "heatstroke" claimed.

Another contestant in that same season, Abby, got an early injury to her tibia and was also restricted from the grueling workouts and challenges.

Injury in the contestants was not really discussed in Wednesday's show though, which was filled with praise and emotionally filled statements of how the "Biggest Loser" was changing lives. Dr H. actually claimed that this reality show had found "the answer" to obesity and should get the Nobel Peace Prize. (Yes he said this with a straight face!).

Another problem which has cropped up is Ryan Benson. He was the season one winner who told all on his Myspace - about how he dehydrated himself for the final weigh-in using techniques he'd learned in wrestling and how he re-gained 30 lbs (just water weight) in the week after the finale.

The show ended with featuring the 9 winners of the "Biggest Loser" in a healthy Thanksgiving dinner (which although everyone oohed and aahed about how great the food was, it didn't look real appealing to me). Ryan Benson was at the dinner and said how he re-gained all the weight because he'd gone back to his old habits and how he was so inspired at seeing the other winners, some of whom looked a lot heavier than when they won the show. Erik Chopin claimed to have lost the 122 lbs he regained and although he looked a bit slimmer than he did when he appeared on the Season 9 finale, he didn't look anything close to how he looked when he won the show.

The show was supposed to convince us that those who had been contestants on the "Biggest Loser" had had their lives changed, had gone on to make careers of motivational speaking etc and how they were living the dream. But it was unconvincing. Some of the contestants in telling about their lives and their experience on the "Biggest Loser", wept while they were talking, suggesting they may still be emotionally damaged from the experience.

Out of some 200 people who had been contestants for the show, only 35 were "caught up with" and most of them were from seasons 8 and 9. But 35 had not kept off all the weight. As we know, Ryan Benson was back to his original weight and Erik Chopin was somewhat up in weight. A couple more had obvious regains. So that leaves only a few like Tracey, Alli, Tara, Mike who had kept it all off. About 7 percent or less of those who had been contestants on the show.... Hardly as Dr H claimed, a "cure" for obesity.

Will it work to save the show's dropping ratings? Only time will tell. That several have spoken out against the training and other issues (like Kai who was not mentioned at all) is hard to blow a smoke screen over. Emotionally and physically injuring obese people is not really acceptable in any circles, not even the most fat phobic ones.


vesta44 said...

I think there's only so much people can handle when it comes to watching other people being bullied, even on TV. And that's the biggest problem with Biggest Loser - it's not motivational, it's not inspiring, it's out-and-out bullying.
I also think that a lot of people who watched this show are beginning to realize that they have fat friends or fat family members and they really wouldn't want those friends/family members treated that way. When it becomes personal, it's harder to watch and people begin to tune out and turn off. I'm actually surprised the show lasted as long as it has. It should have been shut down long ago simply because of its unhealthy and harmful practices, all done in the name of ratings and making a buck for shady practitioners (I don't care how many certificates Jillian Michaels has in personal training, she needs a few in empathy and compassion as well).

QueenMaryFan said...

What concerns me is that you are guesstimating a diagnosis for Tracey, and guesstimating the % of successful weight loss over the long haul for the show -- I think although you may have fair points, you are not being accurate with facts.

Sue Joan said...

@QueenMaryFan, my apologies, I typically cite my sources and notice I did not cite the source for Tracey's possible diagnosis... that will teach me to not write these blogs at 3 am in the morning... ** sigh ** I cannot remember the source but in searching again, I find that several have opined this - it should be noted that Rhabdomyolysis can be caused by heat stroke which they admitted she had. Also Dr H said her muscles were breaking down (why they kept her in the hospital) and that is very distinctively a sign of Rhabdomyolysis. So there is good evidence of it. I did use the word "might" but she was just too indisposed to be simple "heat stroke" (was in the hospital for 2 weeks). In today's search, a person who is a marathoner said it was insane to expect any untrained person to up and run a mile let alone one who was clinically obese.

But as to the possibility of regain, that's kind of an accepted figure. Even for something sensible like Weight Watchers and the "Biggest Loser" is far from sensible. What kind of concerns me is that they used to do weekends with management types to help them be better managers - it was called "EST" and sequestered them from any outside contacts - i.e. put them under very similar conditions however, the process was actually stopped by a law as the management types became emotional messes even in a short weekend. We can see the contestants on the BL become emotional messes - all of them, male and female are crying a lot and on the catchup show, some of them who had been living off the ranch for a while, still exhibited signs of emotional upset, which leads one to suspect they have sustained some permanent emotional damage from the show. Additionally, the training "methods" on the show have been very much criticized by a large society of exercise physiologists who feel they are too emotionally and physically battered. Again, catching up with the contestants in various articles and interviews suggests that at least some left the ranch with permanent physical damage. I think if more folks exercised regularly, they would be more aware of how easily one can get injured for life, doing too much or exercising without caution. For example, my hubby, in one weight training session in college, injured his shoulder for life. I got injured many times but developed tendonitis in several spots from pushing it too much and I never pushed it to any degree like they push the candidates on the BL. Because most folks watching the show do not exercise regularly, they are not aware of how much those exercise injuries can hurt a person... for years after. If you look in my blog I actually included an opinion from an exercise physiologist about the training methods which are considered draconian by any expert I've talked to. Check out this guest blog by Laura Gideon an exercise physiologist on the "Biggest Loser" training methods:

The dieting done on the show is somewhat extreme also - even Bob admits that in his book on the "Biggest Loser" program which I read - He says that people should remember the BL is a competition and the public should diet more conservatively than the show contestants do. Some of the contestants have admitted to starvation diets, liquid diets and worse to make the scale figures - people do funny things for a quarter of a million bucks. So although a healthy lifestyle is taught to them on the show, they may or may not follow it and evidence is, many regain when they get off the show. But just about every study has suggested that about diets also.

Thanks for reading my blog and thanks very much for pointing up my negligence in citing my source(s) about Tracey's diagnosis! I do appreciate it when folks keep me on track!