'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?