“The Biggest Loser” Exposed As Dangerous

“The Biggest Loser” Exposed As Dangerous

By Ann T. Barnes, Psy.D., R.D.

 Season 15 winner of “The Biggest Loser” Rachel Frederickson, created quite a controversy as she revealed her 155 pound weight loss in just over seven months.  This astonishing weight loss appropriately caused gasps by many who recognized that perhaps the amount of weight loss was “a bit too much”.

Kudos to “main stream” media, as the February 24, 2014 issue of People Magazine addressed the concerns about the rapid weight loss and questioned the medical veracity of the reality TV show, “The Biggest Loser.”  The People article highlights the concern that Ms. Frederickson’s final weight of 105 pounds at 5’4” tall places her at a Body Mass Index of 18, which is below what is considered normal.   She admits she was “a little too enthusiastic” as she exercised for six hours a day to lose 45 pounds in the three and a half months prior to the finale.  In the article, Ms. Frederickson is adamant that she is healthy, and the show’s producers state emphatically that contestants are closely monitored by a team including doctors, dietitians, psychologists, and trainers. Interestingly, Frederickson’s trainer on the show acknowledged his concern disclosing, “We had the conversation about getting her body back to a place where she has energy and muscle mass.”

The real problems of obesity and eating disorders are best addressed with evidence- based treatment.  The People article shines a light on the horrors of the “Biggest Loser” whereby the winner is awarded $250,000 for rapid weight loss. However, the article does not go far enough.  Contestants engage in a reality show by living at “The Ranch” and participate in a program that is far from the reality of living life.  The Ranch’s methods do real damage to individuals who are contestants or watching at home.

Some argue the show touts the importance of accountability, instills hope and inspiration, and hard work.  In truth, “The Biggest Loser” promotes unrealistic, unsafe and emotionally abusive methods.  The competitive nature of the show encourages extreme, rapid weight loss (e.g. 100 pounds in seven weeks) which is known to be medically unhealthy.   For example, rapid weight loss can lead to severe muscle wasting, loss of bone density, gallstones, stress fractures, and cardiac complications.  Vulnerable individuals can be triggered into eating disordered behaviors due to the intensely competitive nature of the show.  The show engages in significant body shaming attitudes and increases negative weight bias and “Fatism”.  Who recalls the trainer, Jillian Michaels, screaming and name calling at a contestant only reinforcing that self-worth must be associated with body size and appearance?  Bullying is not considered an ethical treatment intervention by health care providers who practice evidence-based treatment protocols. What message does achieving a size zero (as did Frederickson) send to our girls and woman?  Ironically, how many equate being a size with being a success?   These anti-weight messages ultimately become further ingrained in the cultural psyche, which both maintains and creates eating disorders.

“The Biggest Loser,” provides an overly simplistic answer to addressing the treatment of obesity, fueling the notion that weight loss is easy and once attained is “the” solution to one’s problems.  The treatment of obesity is complex and is often complicated by the presence of emotional eating or binge eating disorder.  It is believed genetics plays a large role in causing obesity, up to 30%.   The remaining 70% involve interplay of age, lifestyle, medical conditions, and culture, which are the targets of a bio-psycho-social treatment approach to obesity and eating disorders.   Thus, treatment is not easy but there is help and hope especially when the treatment focuses on individual respect, fostering an affirming belief in self-worth, and body acceptance at any size.

 

Resources

Kantor, L.S., and Teicher, R. Why NBC’s Hit Show “The Biggest Loser” Is Dangerous. ANAD.  2013 (117):5.

Tauber, M, Gomez, P, Lewis, R, Chiu, M, et al. “The Biggest Loser Controversy. Gone Too Far?” People. February, 24, 2014: 77-80.

 

 

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