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Great (but Unrealistic) Expectations

Sunday, December 02, 2012

I'm a reader of the works of Charles Dickens and of English literature in general. I've chose to spend some of my waking hours reading famous works of literature in my adult life and it has been an enriching experience. If you've not read "Great Expectations", I encourage you to do so. It is quite a good story. It is also chock full of excellent quotations. One that has stuck with me for years is:

“Take nothing on its looks; take everything on evidence. There's no better rule.”

Good advice.

You see, it's easy to be sold on "the brochure". That glossy promise of perfection, success or satisfaction. Marketing and advertising efforts are all about enticing us to trade our hard-earned currency for the item in that commercial, website advertisement, that cologne sample in the magazine.

"Not going anywhere?" Grab a Snickers bar.

Hum-drum in Hoboken? "It's better in the Bahamas."

Tired of that flabby midsection? The Ab Roller will give you washboard abs.

The advertising game is a bit like fly fishing.

In fly casting, the idea is to convince the fish that the bit of string, feather, tinsel, beads, and - most importantly - the hook is a tasty morsel. The person casting the fly tries to catch the attention of a fish by creating the illusion of a bug or other prey. Sometimes the fish bites. Fish aren't that smart. They can be "sold" on the "brochure" often enough that fly fishing is a successful enough (and fun) way to fish.

If it wasn't, we'd stop fishing that way. Obviously commercial fishermen don't fly fish. But that's a different story for a different time.

Similarly, if those peel-open cologne samples weren't effective, they'd stop putting them in magazines. If the Snickers ad wasn’t effective, they’d pull the ad campaign.

The "brochure" is sometimes spot-on and truthful.
But it is often a lie.
A cheat.
An exaggeration.
A distortion of reality.

We "buy" the brochure - that is, we buy into what it says - because we WISH it to be true. We think that it is POSSIBLE and LIKELY to be true.

We really want to believe it.

We're not bad folks or fools for this.

We're just relying on "the looks" and not on the evidence.

Does the Ab Roller REALLY produce washboard abs?
Maybe not. Particularly not if it ends up sitting in the closet waiting to be sold at the next yard sale.

Is it REALLY better in the Bahamas?
But not on my two visits, honestly. On one visit my wife and I were stuck in a cab with a cab driver that was trying to sell us drugs.

Advertisers expect us to do this - to buy what they are selling, particularly the traveling snake oil salesmen type.

Take smoking.
A vile, repulsive habit that smells horrible and trashes up our world. I see cigarette butts all over the side of the road at intersections.
But more than all of that, it isn't a healthy choice to make.
At all.

Advertisers know that Marlboro County isn't a real place with picturesque sunsets and a strong cowboy atop a trusted horse.
They know that inhaling smoke isn't a safe or wise thing to do.
They know that smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema and shortens lives.

But they know it lines their pockets to sell an image.
Strong cowboy on the range.
Young folks enjoying time by the pool.
“You’ve come a long way, baby.”


Advertisers also know that a 1700 calorie Burger King meal is high in fat, salt, sugar and calories.
They know it is highly palatable.
They know it is a contributor to obesity when consumed routinely along with other bad choices.
They know it isn't as healthy as hundreds of other lunch options.
They know it is more than half - MORE THAN HALF - of most folks' total daily calorie requirements.
They know that folks don’t read labels and don’t read nutritional information.
They also know that folks will buy it.

They are counting on it.

Sometimes we're not that much different than the fish I mentioned above, are we?

We see the ad for the expensive golf club and think it's going to significantly improve our game.
We believe that when we're at Olive Garden, we're family... or at least special.
We think the Tony Little Gazelle Freestyle is the ticket to fitness because Tony's fit.

We do this because we'd LIKE to BELIEVE it is true.


We've got a problem.
And they've got a solution.
Even if we don’t really have a problem.
Even if their solution isn't much of a solution.

Advertisers know this.

They are counting on it.

We must use our brains, folks, to contrast the “brochure” and reality.

Because the brochure, if we buy it, changes how we think about things.
How we decide what is good, bad, reasonable.
It modifies our thinking.
Often in ways which are unhealthy or just plain wrong.

And here, gentle reader, is where you and I may part ways.
I think you may disagree with me from this point forward.
At least I anticipate some of you will.

I want to say that it has been terrific having you stick with me for this long into the post. Brevity has never been my strong suit.
There are a lot of other posts you could have read. I’m honored you spent a little time in my neck of the woods today.

Thanks for reading my post.

I mean that sincerely.

You see, I'm totally OK with your disagreeing with me about the rest of this post.
Civil, intelligent folks can disagree about things.
I recognize that you and I might not see eye to eye here on anything I'm about to write.
We probably have different opinions about lots of things.
Heck, you might think Dickens is a hack and a bore.
You might hate fishing. You might think it is cruel.
You might believe that the Big Bertha club *will* improve your game (despite most golf guys will say that the short game is where they need the most work).

At any rate, it's been fun.

And now the tie in to the title of this post.

I'm not a fan of "The Biggest Loser."

Oh, I'm a fan of weight loss and a fan of folks making positive choices.

I'm just not a fan of the unrealistic expectations that it puts in heads of many people.

These morbidly obese folks head off to a campus ("the ranch") and are essentially in a bubble for some number of weeks.
They work out 4-6 hours per day. At least.
They don't deal with real-world problems or situations.
They aren't taking the kids to school or running errands.
They don't have to deal with office temptations - Betty's homemade cookies, the monthly birthday cake for all the birthdays in the office, the "lunch bunch" wanting to go out to eat.
They stick to an ultra-low diet. REALLY low.
They exercise like crazy.
They sweat and eliminate every last drop of fluid they can from their system so that they can lose as much weight as they can so their team wins the weigh-in.

They put up insane numbers.

10 pounds, 20 pounds, and one person lost over 30 pounds...

in a week.

And you and I sit home and see that.
We see so-and-so blubbering on camera about how she feels like she let her team down because she "only" lost 6 pounds.


Ridiculous and sad.

This is irresponsible television in my opinion for a number of reasons. But I want to focus in on just one here.


I'm currently 124.1kg - that's about 273 pounds for you non-metric folks.

My doctor encourages me to shoot to lose no more than one kilogram per week.

I believe the standard advice is 0.5 - 1 kilogram (1 to 2 pounds) per week.

Now, if I sit down and watch the show and I see "Chuck" losing 10 pounds a week and a grand celebration happening over a 10 pound loss and then I see "Sue" step on the scale and "only" lose 1 pound and her team is disappointed - and surely they are from the standpoint of being vulnerable for elimination from the game, what am I to take away from this?

Yes, yes I *get* that they work out a LOT more than folks do at home.
Yes, yes I *get* that they are at the ranch.

My point is that you've got maybe 20 folks there who are obese.

But watching the show are millions of overweight or obese folks.

We see what they can accomplish and forget that these folks are working out more in one day than many folks do in a week.

And I think we get these expectations that we can lose just as quickly.

In fact, I know this is the case for some folks.

A young guy - 370 pounds or so - and I exchanged some emails at one point about his weight loss. In standard "broken record" fashion, I encouraged him to focus on getting his eating under control and to shoot for a max of 2 pounds per week lost. I also highly encouraged him to see his family doctor. 370 pounds is a LOT of weight and obese folks should be in consultation with their physician.
This guy was very "gung ho" (I think that's the term) about weight loss but also believing he could drop "at least" 5 pounds per week. He talked about the guy on Biggest Loser and how he thought he could do just as well.

He was taking all sorts of steps - limiting his calorie intake to well under 1000 calories per day, working out for hours a day and at one point doing something called the "cabbage soup diet" - all in an effort to cut 5 pounds per week.

Of course he lost some weight. And then stalled. And then put much of it back on.

Been there myself.
Other than the cabbage soup deal... I've been on some crazy diets but not that one.

Beyond Biggest Loser, TV infomercials claim all sorts of things about how their products will solve our weight loss problems. They show us the lady that looks like a model and the guy who looks like a track star and carefully insert their "Results not typical." disclaimer to cover themselves.

Not typical?

How about showing me the "typical" - which I'd guess would show an obese person throwing their product into the trash after it didn't live up to their expectations.

You and I need to have REALISTIC expectations.

If you've got 100+ pounds to lose, it would be REALISTIC to lose 1-2 pounds a week if you are setting a reasonable calorie target and being honest with yourself and tracking your foods.

Trying to lose 4 pounds a week (Because...Hey! if I can lose 2 pounds, why not 4?) isn't so realistic. It might leave you lightheaded, tired and sick. When I've tried in the past to lose massive amounts of weight as fast as possible, that's how I've felt. I'm probably not alone here.

Sure, the Biggest Loser might inspire someone at home to start making some changes. I hope folks do. Honestly.
I actually think the trainers care about these folks a LOT more than the producers do. At least it seems that way to me.

But the GRIPE I have with the show is that it sensationalizes rapid weight loss by folks in a bubble under constant medical supervision.

It isn't reality.
And if we use it as a measuring stick for our own weight loss, we may be very disappointed when we can't keep up with these folks.

Back to the quote from Dickens.

Evidence shows that the most successful folks losing weight and keeping it off do so by changing their minds - changing how they think about food and learning to control what they eat.
Evidence shows that a slow, steady weight loss is the most successful.
Evidence shows that those who can make their good choices into a lifestyle will be successful.

At least two of the "winners" on the Biggest Loser were able to lose incredible amounts of weight and then put it all back on. I was sorry to see that. Both of those guys had incredible changes to their physical appearance.
But looks don't mean much... it is likely these guys never changed their brains. The evidence leads me to believe that's the case.

And the evidence is clear from my own 25 years as an adult, trying this and that in an attempt to lose the weight.
Each time *I* put the weight back on. All of it.
I never changed my brain.
I never learned how to control my food.
I had expectations - unrealistic ones - that I could just go back to my old ways since I'd dropped the weight.
I was wrong.

I want to encourage you to do the following if you haven't done it already:
-Consult your physician
-Set a reasonable net calorie target
-Be honest with yourself about what you eat
-Track everything
-Drink your water
-Get up and move if you're able
-Trust the process

You are strong enough to do this. I'm sure of it.

Make it a great day!


Member Comments About This Blog Post:
PMRUNNER 12/4/2012 2:15PM

    Slow and steady may get results but it doesn't make for "good telly". Consumers want entertainment, not safe/sensible/responsible.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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ELAYNE39 12/4/2012 1:43PM

    While I find BL an okay show to watch, you are right. It isn't based on everyday weight loss and sets unrealistic expectations. There are many things that need to be worked through to lose weight and keep it off. Two that BL misses are the premise that you can't take weight off one way and expect to keep it off another. If you go back to eating the way you were, you will go back to the weight you were. The second thing BL misses is the concept of sustainability. You have to devise a weight loss and maintenance program that you can sustain in the long term. Not many people can work out 6 hours a day for the rest of their lives or live on a 1000 calorie eating plan. Also, in general weight loss plans are simple - eat less, move more. It's the everyday decisions that are hard. It's the inner dialog that derails many a good weight loss plan. BL does not address the need to get the inner dialog in order.

Keep posting!

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CHOOSE2LOSE2014 12/4/2012 12:05PM

    You are 100 % rite on this..I have compared myself to the biggest loser and Ive always been upset with the show when they act like 3 pounds isnt enough weight lost..

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LOVESTOWALK49 12/4/2012 10:11AM

    I've watched BL. I didn't like that Jill often says only weight loss matters. In real life, it all matters. The people on that show become fit from having all that time to exercise with a personal trainer and medical staff. They go from being couch potatoes to athletes, but that doesn't matter. According to Jill, only the weight loss matters.

I fear that people at home, watching BL, will try to workout six or more hours a day without the help of personal trainer and medics watching. Even in such a controlled environment injuries happen. I wonder how many injuries are caused by people at home trying to work out at the levels showed on BL.

I wish that the importance of exercise and healthy diet was focused on, not the sensationalism of the huge numbers on the scale. People can get healthier by eating like the contestants on BL, fruit, vegetables, fish, lean meat. Even the advertisement for breakfast cereals on the show don't discount that a small, low fat breakfast can help start one's day. Exercise is great, but you don't have to do it six hours a day to get a benefit. One hour a day is enough.

The improvements in health in the contestants seems to come from the change in diet and exercise. Maybe we can take home that message.

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GINGERHAWK 12/3/2012 1:14PM

  Love your no held punches approach to blogging. I don't have to agree with all the points, but I appreciate hearing your perpsective as it gives me the chance to think about things in a different way. Keep sharing!

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DEBRA0818 12/3/2012 6:50AM

    Another way to look at the Biggest Loser show is vulnerable people with self-esteem issues serving themselves up for a voyeuristic culture as entertainment. But, that's a reality show for you. What makes the BL so different is that it encourages and reinforces a mindset that extreme, rapid weight loss is healthy because health is measured by weight. It isn't. Health is measured by cardiac markers, fasting blood sugar, range of motion and other things. Does weight count? Sure because it often brings real health markers into normal and even excellent ranges. But, "being thin" does not mean "getting healthy" especially if it's achieved in an unhealthy fashion and the weight piles back on.

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RG_DFW 12/2/2012 10:15PM

    Good blog

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_BACK2BASICS_ 12/2/2012 9:56PM

    You are right, it was a long blog. I watch the BL and the mindset some of the contestants have about losing so much weight within a week's time is frightening sometimes. And as you mentioned, the statements. "I only lost three pounds this week." and how upset they get! My goodness, it's a loss!
I do like how they have had them return home, prior to the end, to see how they will make it with family around, and the temptations, and other obligations.
I do however, feel an incredible compassion for the struggles these people are going through and get a sense, that even if they don't become the Biggest Loser, that at least they have hope that their lives no longer have to continue with them being as morbidly obese as when they first arrived on the show. I have never been as overweight as just about all of the contestants, but I have been overweight most of my life. For me, aside from some entertainment value, it reinforces I need to take steps to make sure I never let myself get to that stage.

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1935MARY 12/2/2012 9:37PM

    Hey Matt this was great. So true of ads. I Have watched biggest loser a couple of times when nothing else was on. I knew in that this was not healthy. I wished there were a magic pill you could take and wake up and be thin, but the thing is it took years to get my self this way and it will take time to make it right. Although I do get discourage from time to time , but i am not going to be a quitter . You wouldn't know what you might had accomplished. There is to many what might have been now. Have a great tomorrow as I hope your today has been

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BROOKLYN_BORN 12/2/2012 9:03PM

    Matt, we don't have a lot in common either in past experience or present status, but I totally agree with your no nonsense, no excuses philosophy and completely support your realistic approach. Oh wait, I see we're both in Virginia. I'm at Smith Mt Lake.

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CATTUTT 12/2/2012 8:59PM

    I agree with you about Biggest Loser. Great post!

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DALID414 12/2/2012 8:58PM

    I've watched The Biggest Loser stuffing my pie hole with food the whole time! I was clearly only watching it for entertainment purposes.

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GOOSIEMOON 12/2/2012 8:54PM


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