Motivation Articles

6 ''Biggest Loser'' Lessons to Unlearn

Leave This Advice in the Living Room

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TV can be educational. After all, I outlined eight great lessons you can take from NBC’s hit television show, "The Biggest Loser" and apply to your own healthy lifestyle program. I said it then and I'll say it again: I am a big fan of the show, and I love to see the wonderful transformations that take place in the lives of the participants. If you have watched it yourself, you know that the contestants come away with fit bodies, a healthier way of eating, and new way of thinking. While "The Biggest Loser" offers some great lessons and plenty of motivation, there are some other things about the show that are not ideal for the everyday "loser" and some of these things are downright unrealistic!

So as the newest season unfolds this fall, be sure to watch out for the unsafe, unrealistic, or too-good-to-be true tips, which happen from time to time. Combine these realizations with the other take-home lessons, and you'll have lots of great tips and motivation for your own weight loss goals!

6 Lessons to Unlearn

1. Their results are not typical. "Biggest Loser" contestants weigh in once per week. In the first few weeks of each season, the contestants lose massive amounts of weight. I am not talking about four or five pounds either. I'm talking about 15, 20, or even 25 pounds gone in a single week! Healthy weight loss guidelines, like SparkPeople's, state that up to two pounds lost per week is safe for adults. Occasionally, adults with BMI's higher than 30 can safely lose a little more than that. Losing two pounds per week on "The Biggest Loser" would send you home very quickly! Later in the show, everyone's weight loss slows down, and they're disappointed with four-, six- and even eight-pound losses. In reality, even these "small" amounts are more than what most people can expect. In real life, most dieters can lose up to two pounds per week. Remember the lesson from the tortoise and the hare: Slow and steady wins the race! You're more likely to keep the weight off that way (and not go crazy with exercise or dieting extremes during the process).

2. They put their lives on hold. Probably the single biggest factor that makes these folks so successful is that they spend weeks on the "campus" with NO outside distractions. They have no jobs, school, family responsibilities, last-minute meetings, errands to run, bills to pay, cell phones to answer or obligations to attend to. Their only focus is exercising and losing weight. When contestants finally go home, you can see the fear on their faces. They know how hard it will be to continue their diet and exercise plans when LIFE resumes. In the perfect environment—with trainers and dietitians and doctors overseeing every step, we could all be big losers. But weight loss doesn't require putting your life on hold. Sure it'd be easier, but it's pretty unrealistic and it doesn't teach you how to really deal with life and weight loss. Those of us who learn to lose weight and live in the real world are far better off—because we can build habits that really work and create lasting change.

3. They are often overtraining. Behind the scenes, participants are closely monitored by physicians and trainers to make sure they can hold up to the rigors of training. All, if not most, of the participants go from zero fitness activity to training every day for hours. In the controlled environment of the campus, they can rest optimally, eat optimally, and recover optimally. But this isn't a good training philosophy for the everyday person. In essence, they go from inactive to athlete, but that can be dangerous for many people, inviting injuries, pain, and health risks. The best bet is to start slowly increase the intensity, duration and frequency over time. Even then, no one person needs to exercise for hours a day. Allow your body the time it needs to adjust to workloads and remember that there is more to life than fitness.

4. They rely on trainers. At nearly every workout, Bob or Jillian tells the "losers" what to do, when to do it, how often to do it, and how long to do it. It sure would be easy to reach your goals if you had a trainer standing over you, motivating you, and forcing you to work harder than you would on your own, right? I believe in personal training (heck, I am a trainer!) but you don’t need a personal trainer to be successful. For my clients, I teach them how to exercise and then to let them go. A dependent relationship between client and trainer is not a good idea. SparkPeople has all the tools and resources you need to work out, get motivated, and lose weight on your own!

5. They give up their favorite foods. When voting in the elimination room, the contestants can be seen sitting in front of back-lit coolers full of treats, which represent their favorite foods. The show doesn’t come right out and say this, but it seems to imply that you must give up all “contraband” to lose weight. This is unrealistic, not to mention boring. In reality, you can enjoy your favorite treats from time to time—just not all the time. Trainer Bob even said once that you can have dessert once per week. Food should be enjoyable, and even when losing weight you should allow yourself to eat delicious foods that you like. Saying "no" to everything sugary, doughy, fried or fatty will set you up for failure. Like many things in life, healthy eating is all about moderation.

6. They compare themselves to others. Each week at the weigh-in, the person who loses the most weight gets "immunity" and the people who lose the least are likely to be eliminated. No one wants to be the one who loses the fewest pounds. Inevitably, someone gets discouraged because they compare their weight loss to the losses of others. This is part of the TV game, but in real life, comparing yourself to others is a losing game. The only person you should be concerned with is yourself. Everyone loses weight in different places and at different rates. Don’t let someone else’s victory or defeat determine whether you view yourself as a winner or a loser. Keep your eyes straight ahead as you eat right, exercise hard, remain consistent. If you do this, everything else will eventually fall into place.


Although it isn’t realistic for everyone to follow everything they see on "The Biggest Loser," the basic principles hold true: Making healthy food (and portion) choices, surrounding yourself with supportive people, and exercising regularly will lead to weight loss. Changing your habits into a lasting lifestyle will ensure that the weight stays off. Watching the show can be helpful and motivational—especially when you can determine what's realistic and what's just reality television.

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Member Comments

  • It was because of the Biggest Loser show, that I really got encouraged to lose weight. The season of "no excuses" I really took it to heart. If they can do it, so can I. After reading this article I now no why they lost the weight and why I didn't lose what I want to, how fast I wanted to and now how hard it is to maintain.
  • #7. They usually gain all the weight back when they can no longer keep up with the program.
  • I knew this show was unrealistic from the get-go, and have watched only part of one episode. It's impossible for anyone not on game show or filthy rich to put their lives on hold for weeks. Does the show ever do follow up with any of the contestants? I wonder how many have fallen back into old habits without someone in their face 24/7?

    Bah humbug. Even Oprah, who once had a personal trainer and chef at home on staff, has now opted for Weight Watchers, one of the "slow and steady wins the race" programs.
  • I initially was a fan of this show, until I started looking more into it and seeing the affect on the individual's family as well as themselves. In more opinion, losing weight that fast, to that extreme is not healthy nor for most it is not long lasting.
  • I don't watch the show at all because I feel it is very abusive. Those so called trainers use very demeaning words to the contestants. I don't think God wants us to talk to one another in such a demeaning way.
  • One thing BL does not say is the contestants aren't really weighed in each week - it's more like every two to three weeks, but they illude that these contestants are losing in excess of over 150-200 lbs in approx 4 months! I don't that is humanly possible. Not to mention that they are competing for a huge amount of money and fame. The show Extreme Weightloss is far more realistic and true transformation.
  • Does anyone think that it is realistic though? It is a reality show. I think taking it as anything more than that does it a disservice. Beyond that though it can be entertaining and inspirational. Whether they are secluded or not people do get healthy there. to see the season where a 523 pound man lost 1/2 of his weight was inspirational. They don't all keep it off, but neither do people who follow traditional plans including Spark people. My advice take it for what it is, entertainment but there is inspiration to be had. Don't close your mind to that.
  • Glad to read this. Totally agree and personally find the show distasteful. I think it should also be said that the participants are specially chosen, partly due to their body composition and likelyhood to quickly loose fat w this type of method. Not all methods work for everyone .

  • I agree with NancyAnne. I think it sets a bad and unrealistic example of how to approach weight loss and gain a healthy lifestyle.
  • Contraband. Imagine SP calling some foods contraband.

    If the average person tried to set themselves up to that standard, they'd be set up for certain failure.

    Good article. This article is something that needed to be said.
  • WETPTARMIGAN
    I'm glad to see someone at SparkPeople say this, because it's what I've thought for a long time. The people who run this show are trying to put together an entertaining TV show, not educate the public or optimize life for any of the participants.

    I have seen people who believe that their only chance for a normal weight is to get on the show and have their lives seized and made over by an outside force. The real "reality" is just the opposite--finding the strength from within to persist with gaining a healthy lifestyle.
  • While this article makes some very valid and well-worded points, it was obviously written a few years ago. (8 seasons? Ha!) Since then former contestants have come out and said that the weeks are more than a calendar week, especially in the beginning (so they have more time to lose weight), that many people are dehydrating and using laxatives before weigh-ins, and that they are basically starving themselves. Between that and the obvious set-up drama, I stopped watching the show. While it can be motivating in some ways, I think it sets a bad and unrealistic example for the most part.
  • I was so afraid this was going to be a bashing of truths making me squirm. It was a very well put article of things we should be learning or have learned on this journey to a healthier lifestyle. I loved this. It is a fun show and like all tele shows (reality based or not) it's just not real. LOL

    thanks for sharing.

    My favorite tip is "competing against yourself and not others" I do feel bad about the contestants feeling about about these great weight loss against someone else, but it's also a game. hard to mix the two.
  • I stopped watching BL early on because it made me feel awful to see the pain the contestants often were put to. I think a lot of reality shows are staged and faked, but I felt the pain these contestants were in was too real and something too hard to fake. I know people who have been in boot camp type situations, and humiliation and lots of pain did not improve them.
  • Very good to see this article! It validates what I felt about the show. I know from where I speak; a lifetime of trying to lose weight. I identified every single one of those points before reading this. Thanks!

About The Author

Jason Anderson Jason Anderson
Jason loves to see people realize the benefits of a healthy, active lifestyle. He is a certified personal trainer and enjoys running races--from 5Ks to 50K ultramarathons. See all of Jason's articles.