Should The Biggest Loser be named The Biggest Gainer?
Sunday, January 06, 2013
Before all the Biggest Loser fans start hitting me over the head let me say this is not about Biggest Loser bashing at all, although sometimes this would be tempting.
As I have learned in the last year, many practices that people hear about on the Biggest Loser when it comes to diet I would seriously question, but it is hard to tell what is part of the ad for a diet food and what the contestants actually eat.
The show has appeal to a lot of people, and I have to admit that I still enjoy watching it, in particular now, that Jillian Michaels is back. We can legitimately question her kick-a$$ approach but I still get the sense that she cares about the contestants and will take care of them far better than some of the coaches in the last two seasons.
This is also not about the fact that many Biggest Loser contestants gain a lot of the weight back, this happens for the majority of people on most weight loss programs so this one is no exception but actually has better success rates than many.
Now to the real issue:
Is the Biggest Loser really mostly about losing weight? I am talking, just for the purpose of this blog post, about the results the contestants are getting, not the lifestyle changes they are making which are of course more important.
The weight loss numbers are often very large but what strikes me as just as important is the obvious huge gains in lean muscle mass. So while the numbers on the scales are advertised every week on the program, the gain in muscle mass is largely ignored until closer to the end of the season, when the increased muscle mass is becoming very obvious even to the casual observer. Even then it is not quantified on the show.
We all know, of course, that people on The Biggest Loser spend a lot of time exercising, probably at least 4-6 hours of some kind of physical activity on most days. This is the way to run a reality TV show and get results from one week to the next that will keep viewers entertained. And this is where the problem lies.
Many people now conclude that the weight loss goals on the show are attainable only for everyone who is willing to spend that much time exercising. THAT IS SOOO NOT TRUE. It only takes much more moderate exercise during the weight loss process, maximum of 1-2 hours of low-level cardio and some strength training with a little bit of sprinting thrown in for many, to get all the same benefits. Some people will even have to do a lot less when they first start out to prevent damage to their spine and joints.
But exercise is important. It is not just about burning calories but about all the other positive changes that occur in the body, most of them related to hormones that regulate sleep, energy levels, appetite and stress. Jillian Michaels herself made an effort to explain the basics of this in her book: "Master Your Metabolism". While some of what is in the book is now outdated by newer research the basics are still true: Exercise helps a lot to help our whole body function better. Building muscle, incl. healthy heart muscle, even at the level that is not visible for a long time under a lot of body fat, is a huge contributor to overall health, including both physical, emotional and mental health.
Therefore I want to argue that there is indeed a reason to watch very overweight people exercise. If all of the Biggest Loser viewers get out of their chairs even during the commercial breaks and move around a bit and do some exercise this can start good habits that continue on the other days of the week. We don't have to go for big numbers on the scale but be satisfied with the knowledge that our bodies are healing whenever we move.
So please join me tonight in checking out the show and seeing what they have changed. If they can make exercise fun for kids, then I'm excited about it, because this has the potential to change many lives for many years to come, if not then I may try to think of something more motivating to help the youngest of us who need positive examples.
Member Comments About This Blog Post
I've never seen it but I hear/ read about people watching all the time. From what I gather, after the novelty of it, people actually get sort of depressed. I hear, 'I can't do that. They have ___ there and I never could afford it.'
I could take them grocery shopping and have better effect. I mean, that's snobby but just saying. If I controlled any of the food going into anybodies bodies? They be fitter.
Now, if I 'could' only control the AMOUNT I put into mine :)
1985 days ago
Just wanted to reply - thanks for the advice. As a matter of fact on my first weigh in from my 1 Week Paleo project, I lost 8 lbs! I used Sparkpeople to keep better track of my intake and stayed between 20-30 g of carbs. It obviously paid off.
I will start planning out a way to incorporate some exercise - I definitely want to change my fat to muscle ratio!
I don't know if you Pinterest or not but I have been posting tons of great low carb-Paleo recipes there to my Eat Like a Dinosaur board. I'd love to share it with someone if you're interested.
1988 days ago
I have no way to contact you so hope you'll see this. Try to focus less on total weight but more on percentage of body fat vs. muscle. Gary Taubes is right that exercise by itself will not necessarily result in weight loss but it will change muscle to fat ratio.
You could also try to lower your carbs further if your weight loss has stalled. I decided to lower carbs down to about 20-30 grams/day right now.
1990 days ago
Just watched this great program on PBS about 10 weight loss myth/facts. Turns out - metabolically speaking - we burn FAR more calories post exercise than during. 3-4 times as much in the 12-24 hours post workout as during.
Now I have a quandary. I've recently gone Paleo and have been off of wheat (minus a few slip ups) for 7 months. I lost the original 22 lbs following a SP program and working out with mostly cardio and some HIIT. In the end, I plateaued and decided I needed to go low carb. So I read Gary Taubes' book and Wheat Belly too and did low carb for about a month. I lost 9 lbs in the first week - pretty encouraging - but it kind of stagnated and I lapsed after that.
Because according to Gary, exercise is great for building heart health and endorphins etc, but not so great for weight loss. Mainly, and I found this to be true in my own life, that cardio makes me HUNGRY!! So I quit working out. And...
...Have not lost anymore weight. Except that I've now cut out all grains from my diet and am definitely feel lighter. I'm doing my first weigh in on Saturday so we'll see if the Paleo program has made any difference. I'd like to work out to rebuild the muscle I've been losing but just can't figure out where to start. And I don't want to kick off a workout regimen only to have it mess with my metabolism, which is pretty much ruined after years of yo-yo dieting. I love eating all of the whole foods, and especially the feeling of being sated on smaller portions or needing to eat less throughout the day. It just seems that there is no one plan that works for more than a few months before the weight loss stops. (Including the "diet and exercise" plan - so no need to preach that old mantra). I've done so much study on the topic of diet and nutrition, blah, my head is spinning! I love your blog though - it's what turned my focus back to low carb which I feel is definitely the right prescription when you understand the science.
1990 days ago
I have watched all the past seasons but have vowed not to watch this one. I hate the blatant product placement, although I understand why it's there. and the relentless exercise often leading to vomiting, at least in the beginning. I wonder about those who do maintain their weight loss and how much their metabolisms are damaged to the point where they can eat barely anything unless exercising like crazy. Some of us just aren't suited to extreme exercise, and I'm one of them. Good point about the muscle gain. That's something I'm aiming at as my weight drops.
1991 days ago
I saw the first series when Australia did a version of it. OK but I have not watched it since, although I don't think it is a popular here as it is there.
1992 days ago
I have watched the program in the past, but not a big fan of it. The reason I guess being I am not a competitive person. Competition involves expectations. I realize competition motivates many people, my DH is competitive and I see the frustrations that sometimes accompanies it.
As far as exercise goes, I have always been a huge fan of walking, as it covers pretty much an all-in-one aspect. Especially at my age anyway. If I was younger, since learning more, I may feel different. But as a whole, I have really never been into strenuous exercise. So that along with not being a competitive type person makes my interest in the program on the bottom of my priority list.
I also question the lifestyle principle. After the program, it is a realistic way for those who complete the process? That is key to the term "life style"...permanently.
I just seen a local commercial for weight loss surgery on tv this morning that presented a former contestant that had gained back weight and opted for weight loss surgery.
As far as the title goes, even though the word "loser" applies to weight loss, I feel it carriers a more negative weight than positive. Guess it is all according to one's perspective.
1993 days ago
Comment edited on: 1/7/2013 11:30:29 AM
While the first one or two Biggest Loser Challengers had my attention, they went the road of reality to the point I really didn't care for it any longer. They push hard for the sake of entertainment.
1993 days ago
I think your suggestions are interesting. I would love to see the %fat loss and % muscle gain info.
I'm not a BL fan. Because so few people can have that lifestyle (exercise 4-6 hrs a day, have that many staff helping them out). Also, the few who seem to keep the weight off go into what I call the new "awesomeness" industry. In that they go into public speakign and say how awesome they are. Pay them to hear them speak.
1993 days ago
I am a BL fan and have watched every season. I am curious to see how the deal with the scale and kids and how the measure sucess with them since it is still a game show. I think that this will be a very emotionaly charge season.
I agree with Allison and would love to see them base everything on the % of body fat lost, not just the scale number and show a little more about what they eat.
Should be interesting.
1993 days ago
Well said and much of what you said is very true! (Although, most won't even think of it!)
Most of us that have lost weight know how much hard work and dedication it takes. For those of us in maintenance, we know how much hard work, sometimes even more than losing, to keep the weight off and firm up!
I'd love to see your ideas added to the show, even though I don't watch it often. I wish I could do a "real" body fat calculation by a qualified person. It would be a great insight.
Thanks for the blog!
1993 days ago
Really thoughtful post and commentary. Good ideas everyone! Now I'll have to watch to see how things go.
1994 days ago
I agree with Allison. This would really help the ladies who may only lose 5 lbs in a week, but towards the end it may be 2 lbs of muscle gained, and 7 lbs of fat loss.
We live in a culture where women aren't supposed to be muscular, so I believe they tend to add a higher % of muscle on the show. Overall, by weight, they lag behind, but if you actually take the % of fat lost, they are probably higher than a lot of the guys.
It would be very interesting to get all 3 .. weight, fat % lost, and muscle % gained. Sam from a few years ago looked incredible, because he gained muscle while losing fat.
Maybe a combination of muscle gained/ fat lost would be a better way to pick a winner.
1994 days ago
I watched one season BL and didnt care for it. I felt the "game" was very detrimental to the weight loss. That was several years ago -
1994 days ago
I'm with you - I really wish they would do a body fat measurement each week (you know they have the tools!) so we can really see total weight loss as well as body composition... i.e., Bob lost 9 pounds on the scale this week, but that equated to a 1 pound gain in lean mass with a 10 pound fat loss. That would be awesome!
1994 days ago
I am a BL fan, although the last season really turned me off with all the drama. But I'm so hoping the editors have learned somethng and this season will be better. I don't usually watch it when it's on, but dvr it and watch it the next day. I can watch it then while exercising and also fast forward through commercials LOL! I often fall asleep early in the evening anyway, especially when watching tv. I'm really excited for the new season and think they have 3 great trainers. So glad Jillian is back. I'm also so interested to see how they work with the kids and how the kids do. I know they aren't weighing in on the show or getting eliminated, which I am also very grateful for since I think that would do more harm than good to teens. Especially as two of them are only 13. But I have a grandson who is going to be 13 in May who is a little overweight and loves to watch the show with me. I hope he will find it inspiring and help him to see kids his age make changes.
1994 days ago
Although I have watched a few episodes, I have not become much of a BL fan. I always wonder who is going to be around after the contestants leave to yell at them and breathe down their necks. I'm also offended by how they are expected to display their bodies in the most unflattering attire for the weigh-ins because the show knows this attracts viewers. I know these contestants come on board knowing this was how they would be treated and likely desperation brought them to this point. There were times when I wondered if I needed this more "kick in the butt" approach but realized ultimately I need to give myself a "kick in the butt". I would be interested in seeing more long-term results from the BLC. This past week three successful maintainers were featured on Dr. Oz but I'm guessing they represent a minority. Time will tell.
Wish you well in your journey.
1994 days ago
Disclaimer: Weight loss results will vary from person to person. No individual result should be seen as a typical result of following the SparkPeople program.
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