Before Thanksgiving, the NYT posted this article about how health takes a backseat on the reality TV show "The Biggest Loser:"
The series also highlights the difference between the pursuit of engaging television and the sometimes frenzied efforts of contestants to win, perhaps at the risk of their own health. Doctors, nutritionists and physiologists not affiliated with “The Biggest Loser” express doubt about the program’s regimen of severe caloric restriction and up to six hours a day of strenuous exercise, which cause contestants to sometimes lose more than 15 pounds a week.
At least one other contestant has confessed to using dangerous weight-loss techniques, including self-induced dehydration. On the first episode of the current season, two contestants were sent to the hospital, one by airlift after collapsing from heat stroke during a one-mile race.
I never watched the show, but last week I sat through the first part of the two part season finale. The four final contestants were sent home for 60 days where they were still expected to drop weight before another weigh in. It was challenging for the contestants, especially the one guy who is married with a small child. He said that between working 12 hours a day, over an hour commute, and household chores not to mention spending time with his family, he found it difficult to make time to go to the gym everyday. Two contestants confessed that "not being able to spend 6-8 hours a day" at the gym made losing more weight difficult. I was shocked by how nonchalantly they talked about their day-long work outs, and how normal it seemed to them. They were obviously disappointed in themselves that they couldn't spend that much time in the gym anymore.
During the middle of the episode, the four contestants ran a marathon. I will confess here that I was in the shower for the segment where they "trained" for the marathon- but after watching how difficult it was for all of them to run it it was obvious they didn't train the way actual marathoners train. In fact, several times people from the show praised them as they were running, "You're doing this without barely any training!" Isn't it a little unsafe that they didn't get the appropriate training before running 26.2 miles?
And finally, the weigh in. Danny, originally their largest contestant ever intially weighing in at over 400 pounds, got on the scale and found he had lost 59 pounds in 60 days. "That's almost a pound a day!" the host exclaimed. A POUND a DAY?! Ok, time for some math. There are 3,500 calories in a pound of body fat. Sane diets say you should work on a deficit of 500 calories a day in order to lose a pound a week. But if Danny lost 60 pounds in 60 days- does this mean he was burning 3,500 calories a day? This is how it seems to me- and it also seems so dangerous and flat out AWFUL.
The show has over 10 million viewers a week. It has spawned a $100 million dollar licensing franchise, including video games which were hawked on the show. 200,000 people submit applications for the show each year. The popularity of it will probably only continue to grow along with the nations waist lines, which is unfortunate given how unhealthy and unrealistic it is for anyone not on the Biggest Loser Ranch. Of course, a reality show that followed people losing two pounds a week for a year in order to lose a large amount of weight wouldn't be half as dramatic, would it?