The Biggest Loser has just kicked off its 18th season on our television screens. The drama, the emotion - the shows producers should be commended for creating such a captivating television show. Let’s remember though, it is just that. A television show. Nothing more.
The unfortunate reality is that for many, this show is their first introduction into the realm of fitness, and what an awful first impression it makes. NBC has attempted to re-brand the show after falling under criticism before. The network claims contestants are “competing not only to lose weight but also improve their overall wellbeing.” In episode one, three contestants puked their guts up. Clearly the re-branding went well…
Why does this matter? Influence. The Biggest Loser generates millions upon millions of viewers. One of the new trainers, Steve Cook, has 2.5 million Instagram followers alone. That is millions of people potentially taking the training advice presented on the show as facts. The reality is, if you want to make real, lasting weight loss, the training methods in this show are not sustainable.
Below I discuss the real losers of this show.
The General Public
The people watching this show are my biggest concern. Especially those people who have some weight to lose. The goal for the trainers on the show is to get as much weight off the contestant in as little time as humanly possible. This concept is flawed right from the start. The best way for someone to see consistent fat loss is to add muscle. Adding muscle provides a boost in metabolic rate, meaning a client burns more calories on a day to day basis. The problem with that is: muscle weighs more than fat. This means that when the contestant steps on the scale, it may not have moved very much, despite them losing plenty of fat. Furthermore, adding muscle is a lengthy process that typically requires patience. The show doesn’t allow for patience.
The result of these limitations is a training style implemented which leaves a lot to be desired. Both “expert” trainers opt for high intensity training styles right from the start. Now this may be the best option in terms of getting weight off the contestants, but it certainly isn’t optimal when it comes to “improving contestants overall wellbeing.” The very first workout the contestants were put through was a gruelling circuit combined with our beloved “fitness experts” yelling in the contestants faces. I take issue with this for a number of reasons. Firstly, never in my life would I put a client, no matter how fit they are, through a high intensity training session on day one. In fact, I wouldn’t do it in the first month, or in some cases, the first year. The contestants' bodies are not ready for it, as clearly shown by the amount of contestants that end up with their heads in a bucket. No client should ever be pushed to this extreme. The second issue I have with high intensity so early on is the skill acquisition aspect of training has been completely neglected. Exercise is a skill, it takes time and effort to learn how to squat, row, press etc. This is impossible to do under high intensity.
The high intensity workouts and self talk by the contestants in this show create a mentality of exercise as punishment. You got yourself into this mess, you deserve to be going through pain. This creates problems down the road. This type of mentality encourages bad relationships with exercise and nutrition. Workouts shouldn’t be seen as punishment, they are an opportunity to improve yourself, get a little bit better at something, and should positively impact your daily life. If my clients are dreading a workout or coming to see me, I’m doing something very wrong. Another mentality demonstrated in the show that I simply cannot stand is this idea of sweat indicating a good workout.
“That’s what I want to see, sweat on the ground”.
Congrats, this doesn’t mean your workout was effective in any way whatsoever. Further, adding to the “bro mentality” of “go hard or go home”, every workout should be a near death experience. Not true. Working out in this manner all the time will eventually have diminishing returns.
Weight loss norms become warped by The Biggest Loser. In the first week, one contestant lost a massive 22lbs. This is a crazy, unsustainable number. This creates problems for people who are trying to lose weight themselves. All of a sudden losing a couple of pounds in a week doesn’t look very impressive. If this is you, please understand that a couple of pounds a week is fantastic. It’s much more sustainable, and is safer for your body, hormone levels, and overall wellbeing. Losing numbers like 22lbs in one week is mental. First of all, it’s important to understand that a good chunk of that number is water weight. It’s likely that the contestants have been put on a low carb diet. This results in their muscles holding onto less water. Secondly, if the clients were smart they will have loaded up on carbs, water, and salt before stepping on the scale day one. This means they can easily shed tons of weight in that first week. Let’s remember that there is $250,000 up for grabs. You’d be a fool to think the contestants didn’t do some research into water and weight manipulation before entering.
One of the major issues related to such drastic weight loss is the elasticity of the skin. Our bodies are incredibly resilient, but they can only handle so much. At that rate, the skin cannot keep up with the weight loss, resulting in tons of excess skin at the end of the process - ending with contestants needing to go under the knife to remove excess skin. A slower process gives the body more time to adjust, along with building muscle, meaning less excess skin issues.
Finally, drastic weight loss has physiological/ hormonal implications. The body is an expert at keeping us alive. When you restrict calories the body secretes hormones that make us feel hungry. The more you restrict, the more this hormone builds. When calories are eventually reintroduced, this hormone encourages us to gorge. To make matters worse, the body then adapts to protect us. It does this by making us more efficient at putting on body fat. This prepares us to survive the next “famine” our body faces. Pretty smart physiologically when it comes to human survival - not great for our contestants though.
Personal trainers watching also stand to lose out by taking advice from this show. In particular, I’m talking about new personal trainers or people thinking about becoming a personal trainer. This was me. 5 years ago I can remember absolutely loving this show. I watched on in admiration as Bob Harper and Jillian Micheals kicked the crap out of contestants. Not knowing any better I though this was what I needed to do to my clients. After all, these trainers are the best of the best, right? Looking back I absolutely cringe at what I took away from the show.
Turns out barking orders at my clients and putting them through torturous interval training sessions is not the best way to get my clients results. If your clients don’t get results, it becomes difficult to keep their business and get future business from their referrals. Thankfully it didn’t take me long to figure out that this wasn’t the best way, but many trainers are not so lucky. Go into any commercial gym right now and I guarantee you will see a client being put through some kind of circuit or high intensity workout by a trainer. Not only is the training modality not advisable for the majority of people, but the exercise selections made in the show are absolutely horrendous. Episode one, contestants can be seen using plyometrics like jump squats. This is irresponsible even for someone in decent condition. We haven’t yet taught the client how to squat properly but now we are going to do it as fast as possible with no rest, oh, and let’s jump. Now let’s add in the fact that many of the contestants weigh close to 400lbs. This is stupidity of the highest order. Save the plyometrics for athletes and people with advanced training ages. Basics and form over everything. If you are an aspiring personal trainer do not watch this show for advice on how to train clients. There are countless other resources out there that would be better options.
The Biggest Winners
The people who stand to win from this show are just about everyone except the people that are supposed to. Contestants and viewers lose every time. The winners are the network, trainers, and sponsors. Bob Harper, Steve Cook, and Erica Lugo will undoubtedly profit massively from this show. Online training program sales will spike and their popularity will no doubt increase in the lesser educated circles. The real winner will be Planet Fitness. The corporate giant has been very clever with their marketing efforts recently. They sponsored the New Years Eve party in Times Square New York, a stroke of genius allowing them to capitalize on resolutioners looking to get in shape. Now they have sponsored The Biggest Loser gym. Planet Fitness’ model is very simple. Attract people who don’t necessarily have much of an interest in working out. Advertise to those people in times where motivation is high and then bank on members not showing up. Finally, make the memberships so cheap that it’s not actually worth the members time to go in and cancel. A gym that offers clients free pizza says all you need to know about the integrity of this show and its sponsors.
When embarking on an exercise program, please make sure you are getting quality information from real professionals. For advice on where to find this information, please feel free to contact me. You can find me here:
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