With the latest season of The Biggest Loser having ended and the controversy surrounding it, what can we learn from this show?
1) Reality TV is not real life. I think most of us know this, but it’s always good to say it again. Reality TV is not reality at all. And in terms of The Biggest Loser, losing weight on national TV is about ratings, Big Food product placement, suspense and drama. Many of the contestants over the years leave the show not knowing how to eat, how to juggle daily life and sadly, struggle to keep the weight off. Losing weight has become a show and a game with which to play the numbers. This is not health.
2) The number on the scale doesn’t reflect true health. I’ve said this many times before but the number on the scale does not equal health. The scale doesn’t count good or bad blood work, fat or muscle ratio, take into account height and gender and also hormones/emotional health. If you really want to weigh yourself, find a dunk tank or a BodPod. This will measure the body fat and muscle ratio. And be sure to follow up with blood work. You can starve yourself and fit into your skinny jeans but have high blood pressure, high cholesterol and an eating disorder. Health is in blood numbers versus numbers on a scale. Another benchmark of weight is how your clothes fit. They are a good indicator if you are gaining or losing weight. Jeans a little tighter? Time to figure out what’s going on and do something about it today and not waiting for tomorrow.
3) People need to learn how to eat. Another big problem with The Biggest Loser is that they do not educate the contestants nor the viewers how to eat. The trainers have to plug the shows sponsors (i.e. product placement). (Do they cringe just as much as I do?) For example, the Nature Valley Bar they promote is made with:
- GMO soy protein isolate (GMO soy has been known to disrupt hormones among the many health issues)
- 2 GMO vegetable oils (harmful pesticides are sprayed on rapeseed crops-turned into canola oil-which is an industrial oil; a lab-made unhealthy oil causing inflammation, heart disease)
- GMO whey (antibiotics, hormones, rBGH & rBST which causes a host of serious health problems like increasing risk of breast, prostate, colon, lung, and other cancers)
- GMO corn syrup (the unhealthy kind of sugar which leads to many diseases including obesity)
- Fructose (bypasses the liver and turns into triglycerides)
- GMO rice maltodextrin (a filler which causes bacteria to collect in the gut and leads to weight gain and other unpleasant issues)
So instead of teaching contestants and viewers how to read and decipher ingredients on a label, they simply say “eat this”. Lesson: real food is not points or a 100 calorie bag of potato chips (Subway) or GMO dairy yogurt cup (Yoplait which is owned by General Mills) or GMO Nature Valley Bar (also owned by General Mills). Contrary to what some want you to believe, all calories are not created equal. 200 calories from an organic apple and a tablespoon of organic almond butter contains essential vitamins and nutrients that your body needs. But reduced calorie/fat free/sugar free/Big Food products are made with artificial ingredients, chemicals (BHT, food dyes-made from petroleum and coal tar-to name two) that are simply not a part of healthy living and eating. The ingredients in these products cause a host of health problems not limited to cancer, stroke, tumors, heart attacks, weight gain, diabetes.
(Note: the Food Pyramid and My Food Plate is a very poor example of how people should eat. But that’s a topic for another day.)
I wish there was a show that taught people how to eat and cook with real food. (Anyone want to help me start one?) Real food is what our bodies need to fight disease and live well!
4) Wellness and healthy living is a life long journey, not an isolated 6 month-starve yourself-workout-8 hours-a-day process. I applaud all the contestants for wanting to get healthy and stepping on the scale half naked. However, being whisked away from their previous toxic life of Big Macs, 3 large pepperoni pizzas and 5 liters of soft drinks a day to water and working out 8+ hours a day- they have no choice but to lose weight! The show is about drama so they have to produce it this way. But viewers need to remember that healthy living is not being sheltered on a ranch but instead living healthy day in, day out. It’s stopping cold turkey from soft drinks, fast “food”, Big Food products. It’s about trading in those unhealthy excuses for healthy habits. Shopping at local co-ops, farmer’s markets, local natural health food stores. It’s walking around the block today and tomorrow walking around two blocks. Then by the end of the month walk 10k steps per day for the rest of your life. Your health journey begins right now! Healthy living is a 24/7, 365 deal that never expires. Sign up for it today!
5) People don’t need to get on a show to start living healthy. Many people view The Biggest Loser as their one shot in life. I’ve even heard of a woman who was trying to gain more weight (gasp!) just so she could be on the show. A show can't and won’t save their life, getting serious TODAY about their health will.
6) Skinny does not equal healthy or fit. Muscle and fat both weigh the same. 5 pounds of muscle just takes less room than 5 pounds of fat. Outward appearance (i.e. skinny) is not a reflection of inner wellness- from emotional health to blood work numbers. Our society puts a ton of emphasis on image- a major part of why eating disorders exist and happen. A size zero does not necessarily mean a person is healthier than a person in a size 6. People need to learn that health is mind+body+spirit and that muscle and good blood work trumps fat any day.
7) Life is not a game or a competition. The Biggest Loser is a competitive game show. It has to be in order for people to watch it. In today’s world, life has become who can one-up someone, who has the most credentials (and a lot of debt to go with it), the biggest house, fancy clothes and a shiny diamond to go with it, moving up the corporate ladder and getting ahead (are we merely pawns on a board game?) No, life is not a game. Life is about people and helping each other. Instead of viewing others as our cutthroat competition, why not see our fellow human citizens as people to join us in this journey?
What can we learn from The Biggest Loser? That wellness is not just about the numbers, it's about mind+body+spirit. Because what goes on inside our head is just as important as the number on the scale (or how our clothes fit).
Cover photo credit: Steven DePolo