Several months ago I wrote a blog post about why I am not a fan of the TV show The Biggest Loser (TBL). Last week I heard that first lady Michelle Obama might make an appearance on the show to promote her (in my opinion) misguided but well-intended Let's Move campaign. And when I heard this news, my heart broke.
I'm going to get right to the point. TBL stigmatizes fat people. Stigmatization leads to discrimination. And when people feel stigmatized their physical, mental, and emotional health declines. Just to prevent any confusion, I want to clarify a couple of things:
- I support the pursuit of health
- I support making lifestyle modifications that lead to more nutritious eating and physical activity
- And most importantly- I support behavioral changes that are EFFECTIVE and not harmful.
And this is why I cannot support TBL. It is entertainment that is harmful because:
- Research is clear, TBL increases anti-fat attitudes and weight stigma
- All the research we have indicates that when viewers watch TBL it doesn’t actually lead to positive behavior change such as increased exercise
- Contestants on TBL actually experience a severe drop in metabolism, burning fewer than 504 calories on average.
- A recent study showed that as many as 90% of contestants on the show purportedly regain all their lost weight
- Contestants on the show are at risk of developing eating disorders since they are asked to engage in severe over-exercise while consuming a semi-starvation diet
- TBL advocates for such extreme behaviors that actually put people at risk for future weight gain
Please consider joining with me to oppose the first lady, Michelle Obama, from appearing on TBL. You can:
- Share this blog post or video
- Sign this petition
- Share these pins on Pinterest
- Commit to boycotting the show
Metabolic Slowing with Massive Weight Loss despite Preservation of Fat-Free Mass
When Science Met the Biggest Loser
Weighing in on NBC's The Biggest Loser: governmentality and self-concept on the scale.
No clear winner: effects of The Biggest Loser on the stigmatization of obese persons
The effects of reality television on weight bias: an examination of The Biggest Loser
Learn More About the Health Consequences and Research on Weight Stigma
It should come as no surprise to anyone who reads my blog that I do not support or agree with the show “The Biggest Loser” (TBL). I recently shard this article on my personal Facebook wall and it generated a discussion about the show. I decided to write a more thoughtful response here on my blog as to why I find the show so problematic.1. Our culture is one of extremes and I can think of no other TV show that reflects such extremism better than TBL. Four years ago I attended a talk given by Cheryl Forber who was actually the dietitian behind TBL. The diets designed for the contestants to follow meet the criteria for an eating disorder. My colleague has a very close friend who was a contestant on TBL and reported to her that she spent 3 days prior to the weigh in starving herself, exercising to exhaustion, and sitting in the sauna for a couple of hours to lose as much weight as possible. What is it about our culture that finds this entertaining rather than concerning?
Lesley Kinzel, author of “Two Whole Cakes” says it beautifully: “The reality is that fat people are often supported in hating their bodies, in starving themselves, in engaging in unsafe exercise, and in seeking out weight loss by any means necessary. A thin person who does this is considered mentally ill. A fat person who does these things is redeemed by them…A culture that supports weight loss by any means necessary is a culture that supports eating disorders. It is a culture that supports the sickening and weakening of us all…”
2. TBL’s focus on weight-loss at all costs actually supports a culture of weight bias and discrimination. Please consider reading the compelling research that is being conducted at The Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. Research clearly shows that weight bias is rampant in ALL medical settings and actually INCREASES THE LIKELIHOOD OF CHILDREN AND ADULTS WITH OBESITY to engage in:
- Unhealthy weight control behaviors
- Binge-eating episodes
- Avoidance of physical activities (where stigma often occurs)
3. TBL promotes a pattern of exercise and eating that is both eating disordered AND unsustainable. In fact, dieting (significantly reducing calories while following a plan someone else gives you) is actually the #1 predictor of future weight gain
(scroll down to "studies related to intuitive eating"). The #1 predictor of future weight gain! Why are we doing this to ourselves?
(I cannot specifically comment on the long-term outcomes of contestants participating in TBL because to my knowledge, reliable data does not actually exist.)4. We live in a weight OBSESSED world, which is supported by our medical system and our capitalistic economy. If you are interested in a different perspective, I highly recommend that you check out a few articles:
Association of All-Cause Mortality With Overweight and Obesity Using Standard Body Mass Index Categories: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis
Men and Women with Intuitive Eating Scales had lower BMIs
Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift
Often, people say that they find the show inspirational. This makes me question- what in particular do you find inspirational? I have built a career that is the anti-thesis of TBL and have counseled dozens of women who are trying to heal from the trauma of overly restrictive eating and excessive exercise. Don’t confuse what I am saying- I am all for supporting behavior change for health. I just don’t think that yelling, screaming, excessive exercise, starvation diets, or humiliation create permanent lifestyle change...no matter how entertaining you might find it to be.
Over the Thanksgiving holiday I was talking with a family member about her experience working in PR and Marketing in Los Angeles. I immediately asked her to share her experiences with all of you. She has generously agreed to talk about what she learned and how it influenced her feelings about her weight, body image, and sense of self in this two-part series. I hope you enjoy it.
In the summer of 2005, I worked at NBC Universal and Full Picture PR Firm as an intern. I was so excited to be entering into a world of magic and perfection, where the streets were paved with Chanel and celebrities were wandering about on every corner...or so I thought. In reality, my Hollywood experience was drastically different from what the pages of Vogue and Cosmopolitan depicted.
At first I was star-struck by working near Rodeo Drive and the NBC Universal lot and what I quickly realized was that nothing in Hollywood is as it seems. Now, I had amazing experiences with both internships and was so happy to see normal, decent , hard-working people making a living doing what they love. But what took me by surprise was how hard these people worked to keep Hollywood’s façade alive and well. You see, it takes a whole village to keep up that Hollywood veneer.
I would be at photo shoots prepping for the talent that hadn’t arrived yet and when they would walk onto the set, I couldn’t recognize them from the magazines I would read. The stars would be in hair and makeup for hours and hours before they were camera ready and camera ready meant they had a whole bottle of hairspray keeping their hair in place, layers and layers of makeup, girdles to suck in the belly pooch and other tricks of the trade like bean bags in their bras to make their boobs look plumper, and enough light on them to cook a chicken, which helps them look fresh and natural.
When the talent would get in front of the camera, the photographer would start by reassuring that everything and anything can be Photoshopped, so let’s have some fun. And the shoots always were fun, but the real work started after the shoot was over. Graphic designers would get the images and start working their magic by blowing up each image on their huge screen and editing the tiniest details. They would edit out the bags under the actor’s eyes, the blemishes and zits, underarm flab, belly pooches, thigh flat, and anything else you can think of that society deems unacceptable. These actors would look like normal individuals that wouldn’t necessarily catch your eye at first, and some celebrities would come to work looking slightly homeless, knowing that hair and makeup would fix them up for the day and make them look picture perfect. Celebrities that were advocates in the media for healthy nutrition and exercise to lose weight and keep the perfect figure would only eat a piece of celery and a slice of cheese with a side of packs of cigarettes and vats of coffee to keep their figures slim. Some even getting tummy tucks and liposuction in secret while telling the media they did vigorous yoga routines and ate only salmon and steamed veggies. I could see why normal girls were getting so frustrated with their bodies because they weren’t losing their extra weight as quickly as these celebrities were, but without their own personal chefs and those Hollywood tricks, no human being can achieve perfection.
That Hollywood sparkle was starting to fade when I started to all the unhappy celebrities. Maybe it was because they were starving themselves or that they live in a very fake world that seemed normal to them, but I realized I would rather be happy with my size and flaws than harming my body to live up to an impossible standard. So, before you start obsessing about being the same size as your favorite celebrity or starving yourself to reach their standard of perfection, please remember that THEY can’t even live up to their own standard of perfection because it is all fantasy and Photoshop.
Every time I open up my computer, walk into a bookstore or turn on the TV there is a new diet book/philosophy that is screaming at me “Click/Open/Read here how to Lose 10 pounds in one week!” They all make my blood boil and make me want to let out a little scream of frustration, since most are not written by medical professionals, most are not based on peer-reviewed science, and most are just a quick-fix/total gimmick. My latest frustration has been with the self--published diet book under the pseudonym Venice A. Fulton “6 Weeks To OMG: Get Skinnier Than All Your Friends” and I want to tell you why:
Not only is the author (whose real name is Paul Khanna) afraid to write the book using his real name, but he’s a personal trainer. Not a doctor, not a dietitian, an exercise specialist.
- The main principles make my skin crawl
OMG Diet: Always Skip Breakfast
Reality Check: Breakfast has been proven as a way to kick-start your metabolism and those that eat breakfast are shown to maintain a healthy weight[i] [ii] [iii], have reduced cravings and more energy throughout the day.
OMG DIET: NO Snacking "There's no such thing as a healthy snack," says Fulton.
Reality Check: When we eat ever 4 hours we keep our metabolism running smoothly, avoid ever getting ravenous, which makes it easier to eat appropriate meals and never feel like we need to devour everything in the house.
OMG DIET: Take a cold bath daily to “burn stored fat”
Reality Check: Taking a cold bath will not speed up your metabolism. It may cause you to burn 5 more calories a day, but in my book that’s certainly not worth sitting in an ice bath for 30 minutes for.
Plus the highly restrictive diet mentality targeted towards young girls just screams “eating disorder trigger” The OMG diet is something to be avoided at all costs!
What other diet myths do you want us to dispel? Send us your thoughts!
[i] Astbury NM, Taylor MA, Macdonald IA. Breakfast consumption affects appetite, energy intake, and the metabolic and endocrine responses to foods consumed later in the day in male habitual breakfast eaters. J Nutr. 2011 Jul;141(7):1381-9.
[ii] Cho S, Dietrich M, Brown C, Clark CA, Block G. The effect of breakfast type on total daily energy intake and body mass index: Results from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III). Journal of the American College Nutrition. 2003;22:296-302.
[iii] Ashwell M. An examination of the relationship between breakfast, weight and shape. British Journal of Nursing. 2010;19:1155.
This post is brought to you by a student enrolled in the Eating Disorder Institute Program at Plymouth State. I know you'll enjoy it.
I’ve Got Beef!
SkinnyCow products perplex and infuriate me. I have two major issues with them at the moment, one being the name and two being their recent declaration that women can now eat brownies again.
First of all I would like to say that a cow is a certain size based on genetic make-up that makes it look like a cow! A cow cannot loose weight and be a “skinny cow” if it did it would be sick and the owners would be very concerned. The name outrageously implies that a cow can change it’s size meaning then, that SkinnyCow’s general market they are selling to which is no secret.. WOMEN!.... can therefore just change their genetic make-up and then be “skinny women”. This idea not only encourages the altered view of our society that anyone can be a size zero and be healthy and discourages a healthy body image and health at any size.
Second I would like to bring everyone’s attention to the latest law that has been appealed in america... women can now eat brownies.. that is right girls head on down to the supermarket for the celebration! SkinnyCow states that we can now eat brownies again! I was unaware that I could not eat them prior to this ridiculous commercial and marketing campaign by the SkinnyCow brand of dieting foods. This again only contributes to “good” and “bad” foods and the forbidden fruit for all women and wouldn’t you know it SkinnyCow figured it out, our kriptonite is brownies, but luckily they have found the antidote... a diet brownie... yum. yum. yum. All sarcasm aside this is very discouraging and this type of message should not be accepted and should be highlighted as how NOT to market towards women, because this is one cow who is now “mooing” for more.
What do you think, should Skinny Cow change their name? What would you re-name their product line as?