Eating Habits of ''The Biggest Loser'': Inspirational or Bad Example?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
"The Biggest Loser" is a television show that's gained increasing popularity over the last few years. Contestants lose astounding amounts of weight in a relatively short period of time, inspiring others who watch the show to try and follow in their footsteps. The contestants are forced to dramatically overhaul their eating habits. But are the methods they use healthy? Do they help them establish habits they can maintain long term?

I have to say up front that I've watched the show, but I'm not a regular viewer. It's too frustrating for me to see what these people go through, giving the impression that exercise has to be painful, you can never eat the foods you enjoy, and you're a failure if you lose less than 10 pounds a week. But I did assume that contestants get a lot of help with their diet, learning how to make proper food choices and also learning that healthy food can taste good. I was disappointed to learn a little more about how this process actually works.

Contestants do all of their own cooking. In the four months of taping, contestants are given a calorie budget, recipes and a list of forbidden foods: no white flour, white sugar, butter, or anything that contains them. From there, they have to learn to create their own meals. The kitchen contains a wide variety of healthy but uncommon ingredients, such as quinoa and kale. The contestants are on their own to learn about and create their own meals. Is that a good thing, or do you think they'd benefit more from having a chef teach them how to prepare these kinds of foods in healthy yet appetizing ways?

Each person is required to eat a minimum number of calories per day and is supposed to keep a daily food journal to prove it. But many actually eat less. During scheduled “temptations,” contestants are bribed to eat junk food with prizes like cash and calls home, sometimes while locked in a dark room with mountains of candy. Is this for real? Are these "temptations" just cruel, or do you think they actually mimic the temptations of real life and are a valid part of the show?

If you watch the show, you know about the "last chance" workout where contestants have a final opportunity to shed pounds before the weigh-in. But many also resort to fasting, asparagus binges (asparagus, a mild diuretic, temporarily reduces weight) and all-coffee strategies to help them achieve a lower number on the scale. Is this just a normal part of competition, or a dangerous and unhealthy way to establish weight loss habits?

Many of the contestants have said they didn't expect to maintain their entire weight loss once at home and some have gained back significant amounts of weight. I guess I'm not surprised, given everything they went through to lose it.

What do you think? Is it more important that people are inspired by the contestants' dramatic results, or should the show be setting a better example of how to lose weight in a healthy way?

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Honestly, I don't know how they did it. It would be interesting to know how many of those contestants regret being on the show. Report
DEE107 4/28/2020
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I think it's wasteful to give people a bunch of fresh ingredients that they don't know how to cook. A dietician should help prepare a varied and healthy meal plan for these people, and someone should cook for them. Report
I really disliked the show with the screaming and working people so hard they're throwing up. If my trainer had done that I would probably left and gained rather than lose. Report
I feel that they should teach you before requesting how to do what you don't understand how to do. Report
I never saw that show but I'm horrified and nauseous to hear the description of it. I had a slight panicky feeling just from the description of the 'temptations'. I would cry if someone did that to me. Report
I am disgusted by the negative connotations this show plasters all over what they consider to be "small" amounts of weight loss. Sometimes people are losing huge amounts of weight, but because someone else lost MORE, they're kicked off the show!

If you're not losing massive amounts of weight, you're a failure, you're letting the team down, you're letting yourself down, you should have worked harder, eaten less. For people who are on a weight loss show because they probably already hate themselves for being so overweight, it's just fuelling the self-hate fire, if you ask me! And nobody is ever allowed to plateau! Every human body has to reset itself a few times over the course of a weight loss journey and plateaus are normal, natural parts of the process. But if you've done all you can and you still haven't lost weight on the show, you're OUTA HEEEEEERE!!! In real life. you just stick with it and eventually you'll see progress. It's unnatural, demotivating and cruel!

I love SparkPeople's approach, where every loss is a victory, no matter how small. Where every step forward in a step towards a better life, not a way to measure whether you are better than someone else.

I would rather watch snails mate than watch this show ever again! Report
It is over the top but I never weighed 300 to 400 lbs

It is a show where they play to the cameras, I have stopped watching the show Report
I really don't like that show at all Report
It's just a "reality" show like all the rest of the play it up for the camera shows. I tried watching it a few times but it was painful to see what these people were going through. It all seemed very unrealistic to me. Pain for $$$$ is what it should be called. Report
I watched the show when it first began, and quickly realized that it was unrealistic and abusive. It was apparent that when the contestants returned home, "real" life would kick in, and they would be in the same or worse condition. The show did not appear to teach skills to support a lifestyle change, but rather rapid weight loss. We would all lose weight if we exercised 8-10 hours per day. It's like I tell my son-- no one woke up one day and said I want to be 200 lbs+. Life happened. Now my focus is on changing those habits that got me where I am today. Report
They should be teaching in a healthy way to lose the weight and maintain it. Report
When my Mom was alive, wanted me to go on that show. I told her that I'd never be able to do some of those things. Then I found SP, she had died by then. So she never knew how much weight I have lost. By the way, I've lost 38 lbs., 42 more lbs. to go! I CAN DO THIS! I hope you have a Terrific & Blessed Tuesday! Linda! Report
Having watch the show for 8years and a about 6 on the OZ side it did not take me long to realise that most of the time they were just playing up to the camera.

The show is about money the same a Storage Wars.

Lets face it if someone spoke to me like they do I think they would end up on their back

On the other hand you can get a good few tip out of the show where some exercise you may not think to do. I did set up my home gym but of course room is a problem.

We are one year behind the US and three years behind the OZ (I think)
Since they're now under investigation for drug use I'd say bad. Report
I have seen the show. Personally, I do not remember seeing much help for contestants outside the gym. They are secluded at a ranch to do nothing but concentrate on weight loss and eating habits. That's good and dandy but it doesn't prepare them for the real world. Also, I remember them filming a woman eat one dozen donuts while she sobbed. I was slightly offended because many overweight people DO NOT do that. It's not a realistic way to lose weight and to glamorize that is just wrong. Report
Too much pressure and too artificial. It inspires folks to think that they can, or must, lose weight that quickly. I admit that I'd sure love to lose my weight more quickly, as it seems that it's taking forever. However, a friend lost 45 lbs in 4 months. She looks terrible, at least her face looks much older. I view that show as a form of abuse. Report
This show the BL reminds me of people being bullied into losing weight. The abuse I've seen turned me off and I quit watching it. The person I dislike the most is Jillian she's a bully and I'd love to see her have a taste of what she does to people it might just give her and the others a wake up call. The other so called trainers are no better and the fact that people are desperate enough to put themselves through such abuse is sad. It's all about entertainment and money no one really cares about those people because if they did there wouldn't be any abuse on that show and there would be more support and education. There would be honest and realistic weight loss expectations instead of cruel comments and unrealistic expectations. There would be proper education and encouragement with positive emotional support.

I would rather watch a program that educates people not only the people losing the weight but the audience. Sure you could say no one would watch it because it's not full of drama and ridiculous expectations and that may be true for some but not me. I like extreme weight loss where the person gets a year to take the weight off, they are educated and helped to get through what is causing them to gain weight.

There can be so much more to weight loss it is an individual and personal thing. Some people have very real eating disorders and emotional problems with food or personal reasons why they turn to food for comfort. It's not just about exercise and eating healthy for some people a lot of time there are issues that some people need to deal with through counseling as well.

The BL shouldn't be on TV but then when you look at many other reality TV shows it's no surprise that it is. It's all in what you choose to watch and I choose not to watch it. I truly would like to see that show cancelled or changed but I doubt that will happen. Report
This is actually one of my favorite tv shows. I like competition shows. The dramatics nor the rapid weight loss bother me, since I understand that TV time is different and not in real time, like those cooking shows that show a roasted duck and pull it out of the oven ready and dressed in five minutes. That being said, I would like to see more in the kitchen, not some dressed up process food disguised as a cooking lesson. On the other hand if turning up the kitchen portion of the show causes it to loose ratings and cancel the show then it can just stay the same for me. Report
Sorry, but I am not a fan of reality TV. When one of my coworkers got really into it and even wanted to go to the "retreat" that opened I looked into it. I did not like what I saw. There was little to no help actually teaching healthy habits. Rather than inspiring, it made me cringe. Report
There is a web page that tells how they got on after the program. One program than gets I think it is 12 old contestants together to show how they did, it maybe on Youtube

I like Extreme Weightloss show better; it is more realistic & less competitive for the contestants. it give you more maintenance advise. Report
I did not know of all this 'behind the scenes' information. I used to watch the show. It did inspire me to get motivated seeing the before and after of the contestants. But I agree, they should definitely be working with a chef to learn how to cook meals they will want to eat/enjoy when they go home. Report
That show makes me sick. Especially as a healthcare professional, I see the promotion of starvation, exercise to exhaustion and competitive weight loss for entertainment as malicious, harmful and demeaning. While I know the contestants are volunteers, many feel that they have no option to quit. I can't imagine how their trauma for our "enjoyment" is in any way justified. Report
sorry - my comment got to the wrong blog. Report
I'm a bigger fan of Extreme Weight Loss, and though I don't think it is necessarily realistic, I like that they follow these people through a year, coaching them, helping them, etc. Report
I watched the show back on season 2. I haven't really watched it since. I recently was wondering how they are doing now. I do use their videos for my exercise. I was surprised at first how many are at the weight or close to the weight they started at before the show. But one couple really inspired me then and that was Matt and Suzie. Matt won that season. They later got married and have some children. SO I looked them up on facebook. They both have blogged about their experiences on biggest loser. They admit that they have gained weight back and continually work on healthy eating and exercise. I think they show that this is not an easy process that ends when you lose the weight. I know I could not do it the way they do on the show. I need my water too much!! But it did inspire me. And this couple still does. No I do not want my daughter to watch this show to get false ideas about losing weight. Report
I'm ok with the rapid weight loss element. So many so-called nutrition and diet 'experts' insist the only way to lose weight the right way and keep it off is to do it slowly. But that is actually contrary to actual studies and data. In fact, there is evidence to suggest rapid weight loss actually encourages the person to keep going.

That being said, why is butter forbidden? Good butter is healthy and satiating. What about coconut oil? It seems like the BL kitchen is still suffering from the flawed fat phobia of the 1990's.

Also, I don't think the show focuses enough on diet (which accounts for 90% of the weight loss). I know they do a little bit, but most of the show is on the exercise segment, which is such a small percentage of the lost weight. The show should dedicate the most time (or at least representative of the effect each part has) on diet. I guess that wouldn't make for good tv. Or maybe it would. FoodTV seems to be doing ok. Report
The idea that the average viewer could achieve these results without the all-day-every-day boot camp plan is unrealistic. If we didn't have jobs, family, etc., perhaps we could devote hours upon hours in the gym. It is more a show for what is 'possible' but there is little to no followup on the previous year's people. I think that is likely because to win you have to go to ridiculous levels.

What I would prefer would be to NOT eliminate people at all. Its current format makes it into a (un)reality show with a sinister edge. Remember that emaciated lady that came out last season or so? Remember the guy who drank tons of water, gained 38 pounds, and really ticked Jillian off? He did it because he would lose a ton of water weight the next week and 'cheat' the system. And he did.

What is more meaningful that this strategy is not to take people out of their 'normal' environments and place them in a holding tank. Instead we would benefit by seeing how they dealt with and learned to overcome normal stresses in their own homes. That would be of far more usefulness to the viewers, rather than the bickering and cut-throat tactics of a team-based competition.

It also isn't a show for the low-carb strategy followers. If you are diabetic, don't think that eating tons of quinoa will help. Each person needs their own specific plans, with their goals, likes, and hang-ups all taken into account.

I never thought I hated the show, but come to think of it now--I think I do. Report
Never been a fan of the show. Intentional rapid weight loss is no way to maintain a healthy weight loss and promotes a very negative image. Actually I'll go so far as to say I despise the program. I find it hard to understand why anyone would waste their time watching it. Report
I wish BL would give more detail on what types of exercise are the most effective, and tips on dealing with feeling of deprivation. Otherwise, BL is pretty good. It's become better this season with Comeback Canyon, because people need a second chance. Report
How many of us are locked in a bubble and can give up "life" for four months.
I lost 1 K my first week and felt the same as the last post. I was hoping for around 4 or 5lbs. after watching this show for a few years.

I do watch it and here in the UK we are on season 12. I have pick up tips as the show goes on and some made a big difference to my calorie burn.
I don't think it is dangerous but just a game show with a difference.

I don't know about you but I never lost more than 1K on my journey and maintain my weight going up and down by around a pound a week

If you do watch this show it can, if you let it motivate you.

This is an older article, right? I'm seeing comments from 2011, so I'm guessing it is.

Biggest Loser has incorporated some of the ideas in this blog. I don't watch regularly, but I did watch one season, and there was a chef who showed the contestants new ideas of how to create healthy meals. There was also a greater emphasis on finding exercise that the contestants LIKED...but that seemed to come later in the season, after much torture time in the gym.

Of course the worst thing about the show has always been the unrealistic expectations about weight loss. They lose 14 pounds in a week, and feel like they've failed. It makes my two pounds in a week seem incredibly disappointing, but in fact my two pounds is much healthier than their fourteen (but I'd really like to lose 14 pounds in a week). Report
I would say a discerning viewer can get started with information from the weight loss shows. I have watched several. They led me to looking for even more information and this search for more information and tracking has led me here to SparkPeople. Report
I HATE this show. My mom had me watch it with her once and they STARTED OUT by making everyone [stationary] bike a marathon (26 miles!) as their very first task. I was amazed someone didn't keel over from a heart attack! I was just disgusted and didn't stick around long enough to see all of the ridiculous cooking-related nonsense this article describes; I was too angry. Report derp made me double-post. Report
I don't watch this show but I have seen it a time or two. I always wondered if these people gain the weight back because the way that they lose seems so unrealistic. I had heard that they are medically supervised and it is all wonderful but if these people are gaining the weight back, they are just hurting themselves by doing it in the first place. Report
I think most of the competition aspect puts unnecessary pressure on people in an already stressful situation. I mean it's never easy going from eating whatever you want, whenever you want, and lounging around the TV all day to regular exercise and healthy eating. But as far as having them learn to cook healthy on their own...I think that's probably the most realistic aspect. I mean for any of us, it would be a hell of a lot easier if there was a trained chef to show us the ins-and-outs of healthy cooking and meal planning. Newsflash: 95% of us can't afford that. We HAVE to figure it out on our own. And the trial-and-error period is necessary to help us learn. I'd love to be able to have regular appointments with a nutritionist, just to ask questions and make sure I'm on track. But since that's completely unattainable for someone at my income level, I'm figuring it out on my own (with the help of SparkPeople, of course), as are most of us. Report
Well, to answer the majority of your questions, I think a chef or leaving at least a few recipes would really help them to enjoy the food that they are allowed to eat. It would also help to teach them how easy it is to actually avoid temptation. I think the ridiculous aspect (like locking someone in a closet with junk food) is slightly realistic, but we all have an out to NOT eat it. Putting that much temptation in front of people can make them want to binge, which is an unhealthy lesson. We all need to learn that certain food is okay in moderation.

I met 2 contestants of THe Biggest Loser. A husband and wife team. He looked like Santa, and said that was his nickname on the show (I didn't watch). THey were still in shape, and still worked out, and ate healthy. They didn't like the coerced drama on the show, but loved the opportunity to finally take control of their health. They never thought that they would make it on the show. They thought, however, it was their last ditch effort to make themselves take control and practice moderation and lose the weight the desperately needed to lose. I think that SOME people go on to lose the weight, but don't have the support at home. SOME people just relish the opportunity, and don't learn enough habits and the fact that this needs to not be a diet, but a change in lifestyle. These people did... but I think that is the problem is that even though it is hard work on the show, it comes off so quickly, the realization of it being work isn't there. Report
Hate that show. Report
I only just started really getting into The Biggest Loser when there were several seasons available on Netflix, and then they took that away (it's still available, just not on instant watch) so this season (Jillian's just come back after having a baby?) I started watching it on the NBC website.

I've always known that the way the Losers lost weight was unhealthy--I knew enough about my caloric needs by the time I started hearing the trainers tell the Losers they were limited to around 1500 cal/day to know that their lives would be disrupted by such a stringent diet. I did not, however, know they had absolutely forbidden some foods, and I definitely did not know that the techniques for temporary but uber-fast water weight loss were allowed.

On the other hand, would America be interested in watching people lose weight the healthy way, changing their lifestyles instead of by dieting? Jamie Oliver has only had a couple seasons of his Food Revolution, and you don't see people lining up to be featured on his show the way you see contestants who are Biggest Loser hopefuls.

I am impressed by the way Jillian has taken a milder approach (and it seems to be working!) this year. I am unsurprised by the way Bob has gotten a little louder with his team. I have always been curious about what happens to all the skin when they're looking so fit and trim at the finale.

And I love the way so many of them seem to undergo a career change once they've lost the weight, becoming personal trainers and nutritionists, themselves.

So while I don't think their way of losing is the best way, it is the way to get America's attention, and while I don't know the statistics on Losers who regain the weight, it appears to be working for many of them. Report
I don't watch the show. I don't agree with the concept. It just doesn't seem healthy at all. Report
Seriously, I would make a lot of money if I bet on the contestants that I thought would not maintain or gain back their weight. It's sad but true. I do like the coaches. I think 2013 has the best of the best coaches returning. I would work with Bob, Jillian, and Dolvett anytime.

I believe the only way to be successful is to embrace a healthy lifestyle and LIVE it! What's wrong with that? I hit my goal weight and was prepared to maintain as I was now living a healthy lifestyle. When I see the show, I'm continuously reminded of people who do the latest "fad diet," hit their goal, then take license to go back to their bad eating habits and the obvious result. I endorse a permanent change of lifestyle. Contesting this approach is simply another negative excuse. Report
I love the show and to be honest I have never really thought about any of this. It is nice to see people who are in the same boat as I am lose weight but this is very unhealthy. I thought they have always pride themselves on healthy habits. How is this a healthy habit? Report
They don't use a healthy way to loose weight AT ALL... However that show certainly helped to motivate me when I was having a hard time sticking to my exercise plan. The way they eat doesn't support a healthy weight loss attempt but the way they exercise (if kept realistic) is definitely a good motivational tool.
I figure if they can do it, so can I! Report
this show is, how shall i say, not my favourite! Report
The show motivates me to get up and be active Report
My impression is that it has nothing to do with healthy habits or long term life style changes. So is it really about weight loss? I think those who comment that it's just about entertainment and ratings are right. The sad thing is that it does reinforce some incorrect ideas about how to lose weight (and keep it off). Report
I just read this article and the author stated, "The kitchen contains a wide variety of healthy but uncommon ingredients, such as quinoa and kale." I have been watching this show for years and I do not recall ever seeing such things in the kitchen. It seems like the kitchem is stocked with Jennie-O turkey and Glad storage bags. I watch the show because it is a tv-reality show; a contest and I like to see the transformations at the end. However, it is my opinion if people used the show for motivation, then one ought to do research and learn what is the best way to train and to eat because what we see on the TV is what the producers want us to see. The producers are seeking for ratings, not health and well-being of the viewers. I find the show Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss edition much more motivating. There was one episode on that show where the person was working out so hard that she felt like vomiting and the trainer of that show was concerned that he may have pushed her too far at that time. Quite the opposite of what we see on the Biggest Loser. Report
I really like the show. I have been a fan for a few years and realize that the contestants go through extreme measures that most people couldn't do to lose the weight. I know that I won't ever see that kind of weight loss in a week and I am completely ok with it. I think the biggest reason I watch it is to motivate me to get up and move. I mean, if those people can do it, then why the heck can't I?! I also really like the fact that they try to help these people overcome their emotional issues with eating right and living their best life. I think that as long as we, the viewers, take responsibility to know that this is not a normal way to lose weight, then it can be a great thing!
And also, I am so happy that they have added past seasons to netflix...I have been able to watch while I am on the treadmill! Report