Thursday, January 9, 2014

Lose the Loser

I have long had issues with the popular weight loss TV show, The Biggest Loser. That might be surprising to some people given that my college education was primarily fitness related. Sure, the show gets people to lose weight and eat healthier, but I think if you talked to many professionals in the exercise science industry they would agree with me on at least a few of the issues. Why am I writing about it now? Well, it's the new year. That means plenty of empty resolutions about diet and exercise that probably won't last more than a month. Why do you think those resolutions don't last? I believe it's because of all the false ideas about weight loss that media and shows like The Biggest Loser give to people. I want people to know the truth, the science, and the heart; and give people true motivation for weight loss and nutrition that will last the whole year through.

Here's the first problem. The Biggest Loser gives people wildly unrealistic expectations about weight loss. The suggestion for healthy weight loss is 1-2 lbs per week MAX. If contestants on TBL don't lose more than 5 lbs a week, they are considered a failure. So what will the average viewer think when they have worked extremely hard with their exercise and diet but have only lost a pound in the last week? What they won't think about is that contestants on TBL have doctors, nutritionists, and personal trainers that monitor them constantly. The average person is doing great if they have just one of those professionals helping them towards their weight loss goals. Now I know that at the end of every show they say something about the fact that the contestants are closely monitored and the average person shouldn't expect the same results, but let's be real here. When someone is standing on the scale and the reading isn't what they want it to be, are they gonna think about the contestant who lost 10 lbs this week, or that black screen with the little disclaimer on it at the end of the show?

Another problem is that they don't bother to tell viewers that it can actually be UNHEALTHY to lose as much weight as contestants on the show lose. I know, I know, losing weight can be unhealthy? Sounds a little backwards, but it's true. When the body loses weight, it affects all the body systems: heart and blood circulation, digestion, liver and kidneys, etc. If this happens too rapidly, body systems don't have time to adjust, and you will be much more likely to gain the weight back when you go off your "diet". Now there are some exceptions here. Weight loss should really be talked about as a percentage of body weight. So let's say it's suggested for an overweight or obese person to lose 5-10% of their body weight. That means that a person who weighs 200 lbs should lose 10-20 lbs over 3-6 months, and a person who weighs 300 lbs should lose 15-30 lbs over 3-6 months. So an extremely obese person could potentially lose more than 1-2 lbs per week and still be ok because they have a higher percentage of body fat to lose from. Numbers aside, the point here is that people shouldn't give themselves a number weight loss goal based on what they see on the show because it may not be what's healthiest for their body.

Allright, here's the big one. The biggest problem with The Biggest Loser is that they use shame, guilt, and outward appearances to motivate their contestants. Sure, it works for awhile, but who wants to keep doing something that's making them feel bad for what they couldn't lift today, or feel guilty for running 1 mile instead of 2? Well that's exactly what TBL is doing. Unless the contestant loses some extravagant amount of weight, whatever they did that week and no matter how hard they worked, it wasn't good enough. "You only lost 3 lbs? Well that's not enough, you didn't try hard enough, you could have and should have given more. You are a failure." Who wants to hear that week after week?

        So then where should our motivation come from? The plain and simple answer is from God. God wants us to be healthy. Our bodies are temples for His Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). He calls us to obey and serve Him, so we should prepare ourselves to do whatever He has called us to do. However, that doesn't mean that everyone should be able to to 30 push-ups and run a 5 minute mile. Think about some the side affects of being overweight and sedentary that can be overcome by just applying simple changes to diet and exercise: cardiovascular disease, fatigue, type 2 diabetes, cancer, back pain, etc. Will these health issues hinder your service to God? Maybe, but maybe not. Ultimately, your fitness and nutrition goals are between you and God. No one else can tell you what you should do.

       Ok, so what does that look like in your day to day meals and work-outs? First of all, take everything to God in prayer and be reading or meditating on the Bible as much as possible. During a work-out try to devote your mental focus to a specific Bible verse. Take the focus off of yourself and how much you can or can't do, and give that to God. He won't shame you or make you feel guilty, rather, He will give you joy in those times. What's better motivation than that?

My point in all of this is please please please don't take your diet and exercise information from The Biggest Loser. If you do, it will leave you feeling empty and discouraged. Instead, know what's realistic for you and seek God's will and grace in these areas of your life, because that's where you will find happiness and success in diet and exercise!


  1. This was truly enjoyable, Jenna. You've really thought this out and I appreciate strong critical perspective. Reality TV can be easy to criticize, but I really appreciate the sound reasoning behind what your saying. I read your other posts on the soup and orchids. You're a great writer! Loved how you're able to make things relateable and informative without being condescending. Will look forward to reading more!

    1. Thanks for the feedback, Hannah. I have never thought of myself as much of a writer (and still don't), but sometimes it's nice to get things off your chest! I'm glad you enjoyed reading!