The television show “The Biggest Loser” has little to do with health and fitness, and is far from reality. What it is, is a big business that generates about $100 million per year, business that exploits people and spreads false hope and misinformation about what constitutes a healthy lifestyle.
The Wednesday November 25 edition of the New York Times featured a front page story on the alleged reality, fitness show, “The Biggest Loser.” One of the key issues highlighted in this story indicates there’s very little reality involved with “The Biggest Loser,” in that over 200,000 people audition for the show via videotape submission or open casting calls. If this show was real in any way shape of form, the producers of the show wouldn’t have to pick a handful of contestants, but would take any overweight person, and certainly wouldn’t need to conduct casting calls.
According to the Times story, doctors, nutritionists and psychologists not affiliated with the show question the methods used on “The Biggest Loser,” and point out that rapid weight loss can cause more problems than it solves. As I mentioned in the previous installment of this story and as included in the Times story, season one winner Ryan Benson suffered myriad problems as a result of his severe regimen, including urinating blood as a result of self-induced dehydration, and now weighs about the same 330-pounds he did before appearing on the show.
Dr. Charles Burant, a professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan and a director of the Michigan Metabolics and Obesity Center says, “I think the show is so exploitative. They are taking poor people who have severe weight problems whose real focus is trying to win the quarter million dollars.” J.D. Roth, an executive producer of the show says the show is extreme and, “It needs to be extreme.” He goes on to say that he believes the show is a public service and inspires people to be healthier.
Clearly many former contestants, as well as fitness experts and medical pros, would disagree with Roth’s assessment of his show. Kai Hibbard lost 118-pounds in season 3 and agreed with Ryan Benson, saying that unhealthy behaviors were rampant among the contestants on the show.
Hibbard said contestants drank as little water as possible . She finished the show at 144-pounds but wound up weighing 175-pounds 2 weeks later simply because she started drinking water again. The Times article goes on to say that the winners of the first 4 seasons have gained back at least 20 percent to their season-ending weight.
Add to the mix the unprofessional treatment of the contestants that’s doled out by the show’s fitness experts and the questionable training methods they prescribe, and you have the makings of a disaster. Dr. Burant says he’s waiting for the first heart attack to happen.
Considering this season’s first show featured a one mile run that sent 2 contestants to the hospital, this heart attack could happen during any 6 hour workout. It’s no wonder “The Biggest Loser” has contestants sign documents limiting their ability to speak to the press and waivers that basically give the show carte blanche to run contestants through the ringer. And getting a peek behind the scenes it’s clear that obese, out-of-shape people exercising for up to 6 hours a day under extreme circumstances isn’t reality, isn’t inspiring and isn’t healthy.