I wanted to pass along some
excerpts from a blog written by Tom Venuto (Burn the Fat,
Feed the Muscle) since I whole heartedly agree with
his assessment of the show and the lack of real world
scenarios that they portray throughout.
The Biggest Loser – a reality show which is
essentially a race to see who can lose weight the fastest - is one
of the most popular in Television history. As fitness professionals,
many people ask us the burning
question: “How do they lose so much weight?”
Despite its worldwide popularity, The
Biggest Loser is controversial and responses to the show are highly
polarized. Most viewers seem to be either die-hard loyal fans who
defend the show tooth and nail or critics who loathe the program to
the point of disgust or outrage. Most fitness professionals and
personal trainers dislike the show, mainly due to what they say is
inappropriate training program design and extreme (teetering on
BIGGEST LOSER PROS
The Power of Accountability -
Accountability is one of the most
powerful motivational forces.
The Biggest Loser program uses all four levels of accountability
(1) accountability to self, (2)
accountability to a partner, (3) accountability to a group, and (4)
accountability to the public.
The Spirit of Competition -
The most impressive and dramatic body, health and fitness
transformations I’ve ever seen have come as a result of competition.
Competition is motivating and competition brings out the best
The drive of emotions - The producers of The Biggest Loser
have done a meticulous job with contestant selection by finding
individuals with touching life stories. If this program stirs up some
emotions in viewers that stimulate them to get up off the couch and
start a health and fitness program, then that’s a good thing. People
are not inspired to action with logic, they are driven to action
with emotion and only later justify their decisions and actions with
Hope and inspiration - Having inspirational role models
moves people from “What’s the use; I’ve tried everything and nothing
will ever work for me” to, “If they can do it, I can do it.”
The reality of hard work -
Unlike most weight loss programs
which promise results without effort, The Biggest Loser shows the
contestants busting their butts. Arguably the biggest loser goes too
far, replete with brutal training montages and plenty of crying,
screaming, puking and falling down. That’s television for you.
To think that spectacular and quick
results can be achieved without incredibly hard work is naïve. For
above average results, it takes an above average effort. For mind
blowing results, it takes a mind blowing effort. With effort and
hard work, amazing transformations can happen.
BIGGEST LOSER CONS
The Biggest Loser is judged on
weight loss, not body composition. There is no doubt that contestants
are losing huge amounts of fat – far above the average, which is
usually 1-2 pounds per week. Even obese individuals rarely lose more
than 3 pounds of pure fat per week consistently in a real world
The results on the show – often 10
pounds a week with 20-25 not uncommon for first and last week -
should not be surprising when you calculate the massive caloric
deficit achieved from 4-6 hours of daily training and physical
activity, combined with low calorie dieting.
What many fans seem to ignore is that
weight loss is not the same as fat loss. Body weight includes
muscle, bones, internal organs, water, glycogen and don’t forget the
contents of the digestive tract. The weight loss on The Biggest
Loser is deceiving. Much of the loss is water and can also include
muscle and other lean tissue.
Rapid weight loss competition
encourages physically dangerous practices. The network, the trainers and other
supporters of the show say they do not promote or endorse drugs or
any unhealthy methods of weight loss. Official statements
notwithstanding, the inherent nature of the show promotes dangerous
Biggest Loser season
one winner Ryan Benson said the following on his myspace blog: “I wanted to win so bad that the
last ten days before the final weigh-in I didn’t eat one piece of
solid food! I did “The Master Cleanse” which is basically drinking lemonade made with water, lemon juice,
maple syrup, and cayenne pepper. The rules of the show said we
couldn’t use any weight-loss drugs, well I didn’t take any drugs, I
just starved myself! Twenty-four hours before the final weigh-in I
stopped putting ANYTHING in my body, liquid or solid. In the final 24 hours I probably dropped 10-13 lbs in
just pure water weight. By the time of the final weigh-in I was
peeing blood. In the five days after the show was over I
gained about 32 lbs. Not from eating, just from getting my system
back to normal (mostly re-hydrating myself)."
It’s unknown whether any Biggest
Loser contestants have taken diuretics. As with many competitions, the greater the rewards and monetary incentives, the
greater the willingness to cheat. One thing that’s clear is that
even non-drug manipulation of water and electrolyte balance is
incredibly dangerous. Would you trade $250,000 for a kidney?
The Biggest Loser pushes
overtraining to the point of high injury risk. On the first season 8 episode, just
minutes after getting off the bus, the group of morbidly obese
contestants (weighing up to 460 pounds), were instructed to "race" 1
mile run down the beach. One of them collapsed just short of
the finish line, at first looking dehydrated and fatigued and then
progressing into looking seriously ill, incoherent and unconscious.
Later during the workout, contestants
were shown doing intense
cardio and calisthenics, lifting weights and performing plyometrics.
These did not look like beginner-level workouts and the form on some
of the exercises was sloppy enough to make a professional strength
and conditioning coach cringe.
The Biggest Loser has no relevance
to real world situations. The producers of The Biggest Loser
have created the perfect environment for success. Contestants have
personal trainers, nutritionists, group support, accountability, a
national audience, and a prize of
$250,000 and a potential platform to launch a motivational speaking
or fitness career.
The participants move out of their
homes and onto The Biggest Loser “Ranch” where they have no job
other than losing weight. There are no kids to worry about, no work,
no social obligations, no chores, nothing – just working out and
dieting. This is a totally artificial and controlled
environment with no relevance to the average person.
Shouldn’t contestants (and viewers)
be taught to exercise in a way that fits into a normal person’s
daily life, between work, family and social obligations? Achieving
health and fitness as part of total life balance is probably one of
the biggest missing pieces in the obesity crisis, yet you won’t find
solutions for that challenge on The Biggest Loser.
The Biggest Loser trainers are
walking a fine line between tough love and abuse. People
are motivated by different styles of leadership and coaching, but in
general, most people need to be pushed, not coddled, out of their
comfort zones and they will always perform beyond what they believed
they could accomplish when they are put under pressure.
On The Biggest Loser, normal rates
of weight loss are penalized and frowned on as failure. When an 8 pound weight loss is seen
as a failure, imagine what viewers at home will think about a
perfectly normal 1-2 pound weekly weight loss. Surely any clear-thinking person
realizes The Biggest Loser is a contest and at home they are NOT
going to drop 25 pounds their first week and 8-10 pounds every week
after that. However, more and more people are posting on forums
online and asking their trainers why they “only” lost 3-5 pounds
their first week or why they can’t lose more than 2 pounds per week.
When people get discouraged with
perfectly reasonable weight loss, it makes our job as fitness
professionals and health educators much harder. This is a big reason
why most trainers hate this show. The Biggest Loser teaches you
absolutely nothing about setting realistic goals. It actually
encourages the opposite.
The Biggest Loser does not teach
real-world lifestyle strategies. I haven’t watched enough of the show
to assess whether the participants are given any kind of nutrition,
exercise and health education that they can take home with them and
make a part of their lifestyles for the long term. Participants and viewers are not
learning about nutrition and training as a lifestyle, because the
inherent nature of the show only teaches them how to crash diet,
crash exercise and achieve short-term weight loss. I guess
there’s not much time to film nutrition education when 45 minutes of
the show is spent on the high drama of the weigh-in and elimination
The Biggest Loser doesn’t focus on
lifelong maintenance. Weight loss is easy. Whether you lose
1-2 pounds a week or 10 pounds a week, either way, maintenance is
going to be the true challenge. A study from Oxford showed that 80%
of weight losers will gain all the weight back within 3-5 years. A
report from the National Weight Control Registry suggested that this
relapse rate could be as high as 95%.
It’s not a foregone conclusion that
you’ll regain weight after a large and or rapid weight loss. Some
can keep it off. Most won’t, and if you lose weight rapidly, the
odds are against you. Without a plan for maintenance, the odds are
close to nil.
The Biggest Loser spotlights the worldwide obesity problem and
encourages people to do something about it, it falls short in many
The trainers and physicians get on
their soapboxes and tell the contestants how sick they are. But is
this show really about health? Depending on how you approach it, getting
skinny doesn’t always mean getting healthy – physically or
The Biggest Loser is just Television,
where the bottom line is ratings and sponsors. If you can, draw some
inspiration from the show, but not your education. If you watch,
then please recognize this show for what it is – entertainment; show
business. Nothing more. nothing less.
Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle