Is It Wellness or Weakness? “The Biggest Loser” Wins Me Over
I’ve never been a fan of “The Biggest Loser,” the wildly popular weight-loss reality show on NBC. How could I be? I never watch it.
Don’t get me wrong. I care deeply, widely, fully about fat people. And I’m fascinated by what motivates men and women, girls and boys, to make healthier choices and lead happier, lighter lives.
But spending my own leisure time watching contestants on the ranch sweat through their oversized t-shirts and stagger through their endless workouts and confess to their meltdowns was not my idea of a good time. Until now.
Now I think the show should win the Nobel Prize. I watched a few episodes of “The Biggest Loser” lately with a favorite young couple of mine, two hardworking professionals with big brains and little time to waste, and they are absolutely addicted to the show. He’s lost 10 pounds in two months without even trying — “Basically, I just cut out bread.” And she has started eating Greek yogurt and blueberries for breakfast, instead of nothing for breakfast — one of the most counterproductive health habits you can have.
As a former TV critic, I can’t resist mentioning that I found the host, Allison Sweeney, to be a lovely bore, and the product placement was so heavy-handed I began to worry about wrist pain. That said, there’s a lot of really good health and wellness information tucked in among the questionable contests and bad behaviors, and I can see how this show — now in its 13th season! — could be downright inspiring for millions of folks who don’t know a fat from a carb, a proper portion from a shovel-full.
Fill your plates with fruits and vegetables. Drink plenty of water. Exercise like you mean it. Don’t wallow in your victimhood — start where you, are and take responsibility for making healthier choices. Face your demons. Learn to cook simple, healthy meals. Don’t allow shame and fear to rule your life.
On a good day, “The Biggest Loser” models excellence. Which is probably why our first lady of fitness, Michelle Obama, allowed the show to visit the White House this year. She knows what all behavior experts agree on, that one very effective way to motivate people to adapt a healthier habit is to have them associate with other people who have been successful in making that change.
That’s one of the reasons Weight Watchers is so successful. You meet people at the meetings who have done what you want to do and are empathetic to your struggles.
When you watch “The Biggest Loser,” you see that it really is possible to develop new habits, set new priorities and lose 60, 80, 100 pounds or more. Witnessing someone else’s success is a way of developing your own self-efficacy — the belief that you really can make changes! — and it’s from that place of confidence and courage that true transformation begins.
So back to my evening with my two favorite “Biggest Losers” fans. They’ve actually made a sport out of talking back to the screen.
“Don’t be such a whiner! Stop blaming everyone else!” one shouts at the TV, calling out one of the contestants while passing around a bowl of delicious edamame beans.
“The only reason she’s working out like that is because she has a huge crush on the trainer,” yells someone else, who turns out to be me.
I was particularly impressed with the positive and honest way the show’s two trainers —Bob Harper and Dolvetti Quince — dealt on-camera with the complexities of ranch life. These guys know the human body, but they understand it’s connected to the human heart. Losing weight is a delicate and complicated issue — oh, boy, is it! — and good trainers know how to be strong and challenging when they need to be, and kind and understanding when that’s the key to moving clients through the muck.
During the commercial, I had a dream: Wouldn’t our nation be stronger, healthier and a better place if every citizen who wanted one could have a wise and compassionate wellness coach/fitness trainer to talk to — no blame, no judgment, just empathy and encouragement?
Personally, I’m hoping that’s buried somewhere in the Affordable Care Act. If it isn’t, it should be.
ENERGY EXPRESS-O! EAT THIS UP
“If you wish to grow thinner, diminish your dinner.” — Harry Simbrooke Leigh