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?