Sunday, January 06, 2013
Before all the Biggest Loser fans start hitting me over the head let me say this is not about Biggest Loser bashing at all, although sometimes this would be tempting.
As I have learned in the last year, many practices that people hear about on the Biggest Loser when it comes to diet I would seriously question, but it is hard to tell what is part of the ad for a diet food and what the contestants actually eat.
The show has appeal to a lot of people, and I have to admit that I still enjoy watching it, in particular now, that Jillian Michaels is back. We can legitimately question her kick-a$$ approach but I still get the sense that she cares about the contestants and will take care of them far better than some of the coaches in the last two seasons.
This is also not about the fact that many Biggest Loser contestants gain a lot of the weight back, this happens for the majority of people on most weight loss programs so this one is no exception but actually has better success rates than many.
Now to the real issue:
Is the Biggest Loser really mostly about losing weight? I am talking, just for the purpose of this blog post, about the results the contestants are getting, not the lifestyle changes they are making which are of course more important.
The weight loss numbers are often very large but what strikes me as just as important is the obvious huge gains in lean muscle mass. So while the numbers on the scales are advertised every week on the program, the gain in muscle mass is largely ignored until closer to the end of the season, when the increased muscle mass is becoming very obvious even to the casual observer. Even then it is not quantified on the show.
We all know, of course, that people on The Biggest Loser spend a lot of time exercising, probably at least 4-6 hours of some kind of physical activity on most days. This is the way to run a reality TV show and get results from one week to the next that will keep viewers entertained. And this is where the problem lies.
Many people now conclude that the weight loss goals on the show are attainable only for everyone who is willing to spend that much time exercising. THAT IS SOOO NOT TRUE. It only takes much more moderate exercise during the weight loss process, maximum of 1-2 hours of low-level cardio and some strength training with a little bit of sprinting thrown in for many, to get all the same benefits. Some people will even have to do a lot less when they first start out to prevent damage to their spine and joints.
But exercise is important. It is not just about burning calories but about all the other positive changes that occur in the body, most of them related to hormones that regulate sleep, energy levels, appetite and stress. Jillian Michaels herself made an effort to explain the basics of this in her book: "Master Your Metabolism". While some of what is in the book is now outdated by newer research the basics are still true: Exercise helps a lot to help our whole body function better. Building muscle, incl. healthy heart muscle, even at the level that is not visible for a long time under a lot of body fat, is a huge contributor to overall health, including both physical, emotional and mental health.
Therefore I want to argue that there is indeed a reason to watch very overweight people exercise. If all of the Biggest Loser viewers get out of their chairs even during the commercial breaks and move around a bit and do some exercise this can start good habits that continue on the other days of the week. We don't have to go for big numbers on the scale but be satisfied with the knowledge that our bodies are healing whenever we move.
So please join me tonight in checking out the show and seeing what they have changed. If they can make exercise fun for kids, then I'm excited about it, because this has the potential to change many lives for many years to come, if not then I may try to think of something more motivating to help the youngest of us who need positive examples.