The season finale of The Biggest Loser was a really hard thing to watch. This was my first season watching the show. I really like Jillian Michaels and the other trainers on the show so I got into it and enjoyed watching a group of men and women work hard, change their bodies, and change their lifestyles. And, hopefully in the process, change the lives of their families and friends as well.
But after seeing Rachel win the title of Biggest Loser at a meager 105 pounds I started really thinking about how they are going about changing their bodies. How they are being taught some really bad habits that they not only may proliferate for the rest of their lives as they continue to be obsessed about their weight, but also teach to their families, children, friends back home. Is this the correct message that needs to be sent out into the world? Even Jillian and Bob are wondering what message is being sent at right about this moment:
What I like about the show
The show brings media attention to one of the biggest problems in America: Obesity. I have known a handful of people who have watched the show, taken an introspective look at themselves, and made the brave decision to join a gym, get a personal trainer, or modify their eating habits in an effort to be more health conscious. And if I personally know some folks who have become aware through the show, there are definitely thousands of others as well.
It shows what it is like to work with a personal trainer and be in a gym setting. For so many folks who have been sedentary their whole lives, the thought of working out at a gym or with a trainer is really frightening. Intimidating. But the show allows the audience, in the safety of their own home, a chance to see what it is like and become “familiar” with the setting of a gym. So if they were to get up off their bum and go join a club and hire a trainer, they won’t be entering some kind of alien world.
It digs deep and finds the source of bad nutritional habits. The trainers are so good with this aren’t they? I love watching Jillian dig into someone’s background and get to the bottom of each emotional crisis (there always is one, right?) and as it is resolved, the contestant is better able to commit themselves to the plan and their results. There’s also a lot of learning that goes into good dietary nutrition which they are trying to teach the contestants, but that mostly remains behind closed doors (thank goodness, I don’t agree with many of the suggestions they make on air to the contestants about diet). This highlights that not only do different choices have to be made in order to have a healthy fat-loss diet, but also behaviors have to change in order to make those changes sustainable.
It gives people hope. Yes, you can be that obese and lose 80 or 100 or 200! or more pounds and see significant changes not only in the way you look, but also in your risk factors for developing heart disease and diabetes. You can watch them on television week after week changing their lives, connect with a contestant who you identify with, and it will give you hope that that person who may be in a similar situation to you is making changes that you too can make.
What I don’t like about the show
Because it’s TV, the audience is focused on how each contestant looks. The contestants are very outwardly focused too, for that matter, but at least through this process they are able to recognize differences in the way they feel that is very difficult to convey to the world at large. It’s way too easy to get lost in the before/after comparisons and focus entirely on the change these contestants are making in their physique alone. It is inadvertently sending the message, especially to our impressionable youth, that skinnier is better. In fact, the skinnier you are, the likelier you are to win big! And with a finale show like we had this week, I’m just going to come out and say that this is a bad message all around. Rachel’s goal was not to be a 105 pound girl with the ability to kill someone with her bony elbow. Her goal was to return to her champion swimming days. She has not a chance in hell of doing this as skinny and weak as she is.
What about muscle?? I am imagining myself as a contestant on a show that focuses entirely on lbs on a scale. If my prize was a cool quarter million and I only had a mere months to make a major change, I would forget entirely about lifting weights (who can afford to have an extra pound of muscle at this point??) and focus only on mega cardio and limiting calories – the way these contestants are doing it. I would also not be drinking any water or eating any salt the day of the weigh in and maybe even the day before and also sit in a sauna for several hours prior to getting on the scale. This is not a fat loss technique, it’s a weight loss technique. In fact, on a week to week basis, the difference on a scale for the average person can be simply gained or lost water weight. So I can only imagine that these contestants are dehydrated, completely murdering their metabolism, and unwilling to gain any muscle. And the sad sad thing is that for sustained fat loss, you need lean muscle mass. The focus of the show should be on an increase in strength and muscle tone. The weigh-ins have GOT to go.
There is a better way. It’s so much less dramatic than seeing a once morbidly obese woman in nothing but spandex bike shorts and a sports bra step on a scale and watch it waffle back and forth for 20 seconds before it settles on poundage, but in order for the show to really teach the right principles of fat loss these contestants should be undergoing a body fat percentage test each week to determine their status. And I think their time on the ranch should be twice as long and there should be 2 weeks between testing instead of just one. No scales. Ever. Just measurements around the waist, thighs, chest, and arms, and a body fat caliper test. If the show was done this way, David would have won. And rightfully so. The message to the audience would have been healthfulness, not skinniness.
There should be more of a focus on food. Like I mentioned before, I’m glad that they don’t show a lot of this currently because I don’t agree with most of their suggestions. But, if they were to have a nutritionist who actually talks on air about making good choices with lean proteins and vegetables, and what the benefits are from limiting sugars, grains and other high glycemic carb sources, that would be so helpful to the average American watching the show. Part of the show (and not just one episode, a segment of every single episode) should be dedicated to cooking and preparing fresh foods. The audience needs to know that fat loss happens in the kitchen and not in the gym. And the small portion of fat loss that does happen in the gym happens while gaining muscle (aka: weight).
The show started more than a decade ago as they are on Season 15! The rules with eliminations and little technical things like that have changed over the years, but the principles taught on the show have not evolved with the times. I think there is still a place for a show like this, and a need, but the show producers need to really think about the message they are sending and know that with a few changes, the show can be more impactful and effective for their audience. And as I look at pictures of poor Rachel with her bony shoulders and knees, I can only hope that it was just for the win, and that she will lift some weights, eat a big-ole steak, and become the champion swimmer that she once was.