The Reality of Weight Loss Television Pt 2

The danger lurks everywhere all day long, as media pervades and invades our lives.  But picture this:

Your family finishes a dinner of hamburgers, fresh fruit and iced tea.  It’s your daughter’s birthday so you celebrate with generous pieces of her favorite cake.  After dinner, your 11 year old daughter heads to the living room and turns on the 7 p.m. program, The Biggest Looser.

Jillian Michaels is screaming at some poor, heavy teenager, “RUN, you lazy bum!  You’ll never make it at that rate!  Do you want to look like that the rest of your life?  Aren’t you embarrassed?  This is it, if you fail, you’re off the show!”  Tears streaming down his face the kid struggles on to please this vicious slave driver.

Next scene, the trainer studies each contestants plate.  “Cake is evil.  Red meat will make you fatter than a walrus.  How dare you consider a refined carbohydrate!  You’re on a 1200 calorie diet.”

The show is almost over, the contestants weigh in.  One woman failed to lose the expected amount of weight.  Publicly berated for her selfish laziness, she is reduced to tears and self loathing.

When the program ends, your precious daughter heads to bed.  She turns sideways toward the mirror and looks intently at her profile.  She notices that her thighs touch.  She wonders if maybe she should be playing basketball at school instead of being in the  poetry club.  She would burn more calories that way.  Next year, you can be sure, she won’t eat cake on her birthday.

To be fair, the effects of these television shows are largely dependent on the audience.

One Woman’s Health reader commented on an article in the magazine, “I love that The Biggest Loser promotes physical fitness and emotional control.  [They] seek to improve people’s lives and set a good example for a healthier future.”  While this may be true for a mature viewer, your daughter may hear a different message.

Critics of weight loss reality TV shows are concerned that they may encourage unhealthy behaviors in the name of rapid weight loss, inspired by large prize money and social acceptance.  They suggest that some contestants engage in vomiting and purging behind the scenes.

Weight loss at the rate depicted in these shows is unrealistic and unhealthy.  Doctors recommend a weight loss of one or two pounds a week.  The deception starts here.  The time frame shown as a week on the show is not always true. In an interview with Golda Poretsky, H.H.C., of,, Kai Hibbard, a 2006 contestant on The Biggest Loser told her experience.

“[A week] varied.  It went from 14 days and I believe that near the end we had one week that was 5 days.”  Tactics used to speed up weight loss included severe dehydration and dangerously low calorie counts.

“You are surrounded by people who dehydrate and starve themselves every single day, and production who encourages you to do it, it becomes the normal accepted behavior whether you know intellectually it is wrong or not,” Kai continued in the interview.  “Unfortunately, what they’re telling you the contestants are doing and what they actually have the contestants doing are two different things, at least as far as my season goes.  We were working out anywhere between 2 and 5 hours a day, and we were working out severely injured.”

Critics of weight loss reality TV assert that the shows are in fact far from “reality.”  Contestants quit their jobs for weeks.  They live in seclusion from daily pressures of life, surrounded only by fitness instructors, dietitians and other professionals intent on making them skinny.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, shows like The Biggest Loser frequently show overweight contestants being screamed at and demoralized.  The silent message is that being fat warrants this kind of cruelty.  Supposedly the cruel sarcasm will shame the fat person into doing whatever it takes to lose weight.

“I believe that  . . . most of the contestants, felt like it was okay to treat us like we were subhuman when we were there, that the ends justify the means.  If they were going to make us thin, then it was totally worth it to humiliate us and treat us poorly all the way along.  I just don’t feel that way,”  Kai told Golda.

Be here next Monday for the conclusion of this topic.  You can read Part One in the Cultural Lies Category.

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