'The Biggest Loser': Biggest Success or Loser Idea?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Soon after its 2004 debut, "The Biggest Loser" became an American culture phenomenon. Each season, contestants push themselves to the limit, losing astounding amounts of weight in a relatively short period of time. Achieving these kinds of jaw-dropping results, though, requires tremendous amounts of exercise and a very strict diet. Given the extreme circumstances of the show's format, "The Biggest Loser" has experienced its share of ups and downs over the years.
  • In 2013, Jillian Michaels was penalized on the show for giving her team caffeine supplements before a weigh-in. The controversy sparked debate about the methods trainers and contestants used in order to produce dramatic weigh-ins each week.
  • Season 3 runner-up Kai Hibbard claimed producers wouldn’t show romantic relationships developing on the show until contestants lost an "acceptable" amount of weight.
  • In 2014, Rachel Frederickson made headlines with her 155-pound weight loss, going from 260 to just 105 pounds. Trainers Bob Harper and Jillian Michaels could not contain their shock at the "final reveal," where many people said she looked unhealthy and had lost too much weight.
  • A recent New York Times article profiled a number of Season 8 contestants who gained the weight back, along with the struggles many dieters face to maintain weight loss.
After 17 seasons, millions of people still tune in each week, some finding inspiration, others finding frustration. When I tell members on the SparkPeople Message Boards that a healthy rate of weight loss is typically one to two pounds per week, often I’ve received this reaction: "Why can the people on 'The Biggest Loser' see such large amounts of weight loss each week but I can't? What's wrong with me?" Here's my opinion on the show: It sets viewers up for unrealistic expectations about what it takes to lose weight in a healthy way, which includes lots of time and patience.

In my opinion, the best way to lose weight and keep it off for good is to establish healthy habits you can live with for the rest of your life. If you find inspiration in the contestants' stories or can relate to some of their emotional or physical struggles, then perhaps the show can be a motivational boost in your weight loss journey. I can criticize the show for its weight loss methods, but I can also see why many people like it.

I asked SparkPeople members for their opinions, good and bad, about the show. Here is what some of them had to say:

Why I’m Not a Fan

I have never been a fan of the show. Sure, I feel motivated when I watch and I am happy for the people who do it, but I feel the show's concept is to browbeat its contestants. I don't believe that anger is any way to motivate people. Plus, once the show is over, you are on your own. I don't know, it's just not for me. TAIS157

I do not care for the show or their philosophy. I had an acquaintance once who loved the show and called it inspirational. How is it inspirational when the contestants are put through hell to quickly lose weight that they probably didn't gain quickly? Weight loss should never be about quick fixes. It's a journey. MLAN613

A lot of these people are morbidly obese. Going from couch potato to running long distances with that much weight has to have high impact on their joints, not to mention on their hearts. And the episodes that I have seen where contestants look like they are about to collapse scare me. SHERYLDS

Yes, you can lose tons of weight rapidly in a controlled environment where you work out for most of the day and measure EVERY gram of food, but it's not necessarily healthy, nor is it a "cure" for obesity. Slow and steady wins the race, just like the tortoise and the hare. It's a lifestyle change, not a fast fix. DAWNO64

Why I’m a Super Fan

What I found the most helpful was not the game play, the fitness or weigh-in's. It was the time spent working on the emotional issues behind WHY they were at this place in their life. I know that is huge in the health journey for most people who have larger amounts of weight to be rid of. Their last season they actually did change the focus on TV more towards the mental side of it and I appreciated that. DETERMINEDJANET

I’m a big fan of the show! I’ve watched it since it started. I love to watch the contestants realize that they really can lose weight and do so many things they never imagined they could. It’s very inspiring! I know that over the years a lot of them have gained the weight back. It’s heartbreaking to see that, but I know a lot of them have kept it off, too. I’m not sure what the difference is. LLREED

I am inspired by the stories of the contestants and the struggle they have to lose the weight. It makes me appreciate how hard weight loss is for people like them. It also helps me with my own weight loss struggles. I have found it interesting watching the things that are happening on the show. For me it indicates how they got where they are and the changes they have to make physically and emotionally. I know when the trainers get so tough with the contestants, it bothers many people. But, it's at that point that it all becomes real. If they are going to reach their goals they have be willing to do the work, go the distance and make the changes. That is true for the rest of us. As long as we are making excuses and justifying our overindulgences or lack of exercise, we will continue to struggle. CINDILP

When I watch the show, I am looking for a-ha's that will help me on my weight-loss journey. I try to relate to them and find myself in their journey. I like all the tips on exercising and eating. I can see that there is always an underlying reason why the contestant put on the weight in the first place...and they, like us, have to deal with that and move on to lose the weight. The show helps me with my weight loss via INSPIRATION. It's so much easier to keep at it when you are inspired. When you see their progress, you want that, too. You think, "If they can do it, I can do it too." COMPUCATHY

Are you a fan of the show? Why or why not?

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EVIE4NOW 7/7/2021
Not a realistic or safe show. Report
BONNIE1552 6/15/2021
Still a fan. Report
I used to watch it all the time till all the crap behind scenes came out. Report
SPARKNB 3/5/2021
I watched it way after it's heyday, like in 2018?, for a few episodes, and it *did* make me decide to get up and work-out while I was watching it, so it was some inspiration (plus it was the season they introduced a trainer who had lost over 100 pounds). But I didn't stick with the show. Am still here on spark, so apparently it's a better inspiration, for me. Report
CECELW 10/18/2020
I only watched it once. It felt like a fake show Report
CARD512002 9/16/2020
I am not a fan of this show. Report
VHAYES04 9/3/2020
❤️❤️❤️❤️ Report
I love the show!! Report
I’m not a fan of the show. The psychological aspects of weight loss are a major part of the journey. Yes, working out is part of the journey but most of the issues reside between our ears. Report
never did like this show Report
I don’t watch much tv... Report
I don't watch the show. I saw one episode and was shocked at how brutal it was. I believe that slow and steady wins and results in longer lasting weight loss. Report
Not a fan. Report
When has dreaming at people encouragement? Report
I didn't like the show. Report
Never really watched it. Report
I never watched Biggest Loser. As so many have said, it wasn't realistic, or healthy! Report
I have seen BL & watched it for a season or so sporadically. Hate Jillian Michaels & Bob was a better trainer but much like his heart attack, even w/ doctors & nutritionists checking in on the contestants, I'm surprised no one died. Saw some injuries & thought those folks participating traded one form of misery for another. Wouldn't go on it if I was guaranteed payment. Report
Never was a fan if the show. Watched it off and on the first two seasons, then decided that what they had to do on that show was not realistic and said so long to watching. Report
Thanks! Report
I have always been a fan of the show! Never missed an episode buy now that I know more about a certain trainer, I never watch it anymore. It has list a lot of its appeal. Report
I have never watched the show ,but it DID start my journey to weight loss b/c my MOMS'Club had a Biggest Loser contest {at the time that show was becoming very popular} and I came in 3rd . But the MOST IMPORTANT factor from that is that one of the moms introduced me to SP !!!!! Report
Loved it!! Learned a lot. Lead me to know I needed to address my own emotions with poor food choices.

It was a reality show. Everyone knows there's little reality to them.

I hated to hear of the ones who gained it back and usually more. Sadly we have some who come to Sparks and want to lose a large amount in a very short period of time than leave when they don't.

I'm so glad I was new when Sparkguy(AKA Chris Downie) wrote The Spark which can be bought on Amazon, used in very good condition for $5.00 including shipping. This has helped me know the way to do this, for life. Its not over a yr if list 125 lbs, but its working!! Finally I AM a success story!! Report
I never agreed with the methods used on the show and recently I heard accusations that drugs were used to force rapid weight loss. Report
Guess I'm a fan since I've watched most all the shows but there are things about the show that I didn't like. Report
I saw this periodically. Loved the emotional aspect but not the harshness. Report
I've only seen a little of it being in the UK, but while the transformations can be inspirational and show what is achievable, the process is just un-achievable, but 2lbs a week doesn't make exciting tv I guess! Report
Just the fact that the screaming trainer (don't know his name as I didn't watch much) nearly died from a heat attack proves he wasn't doing a great job. If a trainer yelled at me like that he/she wouldn't be working for me. They also had drastic diet changes that were hard to stick to in real life situations. I know how easy it is to just add a little more every so often and it's even easier when a good trainer moves away. Report
I am a fan of the show but do not think the methods they use would suit me at all they don`t focus enough on the daily food eaten that would be interesting as exercising is only part of the journey Report
I watch some of it. It was not a healthy or safe way to help the contestants lose weight. I have learned there is no quick fix it is a lifestyle change. Report
When Ali Vincent lost all her weight, and even has her own show on the Livewell network, I was stoked. Then I read she gained all her weight back plus some, I was in shock and horrified that someone that supposedly could lead obese people to a healthier lifestyle, and then destroy that image, made me question these shows of rapid weight loss. I don't watch any of them anymore, and there has been too much controversy in how they went about it. One just has to change the way they eat the slower the better, and develop a healthy lifestyle. No props no gimmicks. Report
I for one loved that show. I know the contestants lost an ungodly amount of weight each week and exercised at least 7 hours a day and I knew that was not usual infact who does that? But it also kept me motivated to keep at it, eat healthy and exercise. I have done that for the last 9 years and am still doing it the spark way, track nutrition, exercise and drink that water. Report
the very first season I watched spell-bound.... knowing full well (common sense) there's no way anybody with a real life (work, friends, family, pets, organizations, volunteer, emergencies, etc) would be able to do "that at home"
I didn't bother after season one-
- I think it's a failure- thumbs down
I think we need to take it for what it is. Reality tv. We all know reality tv is not reality and contestants on all reality tv shows are put in a vacuum. As for taking advantage of the contestants I’m not sure it’s that simple. Except for the first season the contestants knew what they were getting into. They chose to go on. The blame can’t exclusively be put on the producers and directors. People need to take responsibility for their own choices Report
Not a fan. Sets the contestants up to fail when the show is over. Report
Never a fan - not real life. Report
It's easy to enjoy watching the show, but what isn't easy is the questions that beg to be answered:

"How is this safe?"
"What happens to the contestants after the show when there is no support, and their environment at home is still the same as it was when they left to be on the show?"
"Is this not exploiting people who are dangerously obese for the sake of making money and for marketing purposes?"
"What is this doing in the minds of children who watch the show who may also be overweight?"

I think the show is entertaining, and I did watch a few episodes early on, but as someone who has suffered from eating disorders, I think it is exploitative and dangerous. Therefore, I chose to never watch it again. Report
I was a fan. I do enjoy the show. I have trouble with the games they play when it comes to voting people off. But the challenges and the emotional issues are very inspiring. Because of the show, I have gone zip-lining, rock climbing and some on very challenging hikes. I am very afraid of heights but thought if they can do it, so can I. Report
I was a fan of the show - probably not on now?? However, I found the challenges so unrealistic most of the time - stuff I could never swallow my fear and attempt or even wanted to try attempting -- so that part was discouraging for me -- seemed like TV show rather than reality for me. Report
I've always thought it sets way too unrealistic expectations about weight loss and what is and isn't healthy. I understand it can be motivational, but as someone who has severe health issues due a genetic disorder, I can't help but worry about the health of the people in the show. Heart, lungs, joints... They will all take a toll and while exercising is healthy it's healthy in moderation. Balancing it with a healthy diet and healthy habits without overdoing it will allow even those with medical conditions like my own to lose weight (or gain, if that's what you need) and be healthy, and many in the show either are on the way of getting ill or have health issues already. I feel health is considered a lower priority in the show than dramatic effect, and that's not at all how it should be. Report
Not a fan at all for the reasons listed in the article. Report
So many of them have regained the weight. :( Report
If it hadn't been for the show I would not have joined SP and got to my goal. It took a long while to do this and watching the show made me realise how happy they were.

Remember this is a TV show and lot is them playing to the camera Report
I really enjoyed the show until I read the N.Y. Times article. I was saddened for the contestants & quit watching the show. Report
Yes, the show, to me, is quite frightening in many ways. These are human beings, not lumps of clay to be slapped and moulded into some sort of ideal body shape. However, the Spark BLC Challenges do things right! As a member of a BLC team here, I have found the team activities to be based on sound advice for healthy, self-nurturing fitness and nutrition, as well as compassion for the individuality of each team member's weight loss journey. Yes, we want to lose the weight, but we do not want injuries, unhealthy amounts of weight lost too quickly, or any of the stuff you see (or fear you may not be seeing, since it's kept behind the scenes) on the show.

The Spark BLC Challenge may be a very good thing to feature in an article! It takes the best ideas of the television show and gets rid of anything inhumane or dangerous. The team concept may be the key: the teams offer support and a sense of common purpose, as well as friendship and compassion. Overweight people are emotionally vulnerable, and weight loss is difficult. Having a team to lean on is an incredibly powerful thing.

Thanks for the article! It reaffirms my commitment to my Spark BCL team! Report
Loved your blog Report
I am elderly and to work out like a BL contestant would endanger my life, especially without professional supervision. So I found it hard to relate to the show and haven't watched it in a while. One show I cannot get enough of is "My 600 lb Life". Although I am not in that weight category, the psychological struggles of the patients in the show truly resonate with me. Report
I have never seen the show- and never will. I try to watch only 2 hours of TV a day and Biggest Loser is not something I want to include in my viewing time. Report
I get why people like the show, but the science points to the whole thing being a metobolic disaster. Report
the lowered metabolism/ calorie burn part is pretty fascinating Report