Tag Archives: Biggest Loser

Not Jolly and Not Sorry (Letting go my need to make everybody laugh…)

EnvironmentalAw1

I recently spoke at the Environmental Awards in Irwindale.  My speech was called No BODY Left Behind–Workplace Wellness for All. I talked about workplace wellness in terms of four “i-opening” words–information, incentive, invitation and inspiration.  I must give credit where it is due.  Jon Robison and Rosie Ward and their fabulous new book “How to Build a Thriving Culture at Work” helped to transform my thinking.

I shared a lot about what I thought was working and wasn’t working in workplace wellness.  I talked about how many wellness programs feel unfair because they ARE unfair.  They reward the already privileged in a way that is subsidized by the less privileged.  They only accommodate the needs of the folks that are in least need of the program.  They use shame and peer pressure to try to shove employees into a single vision of “health” which is largely driven by media-fueled unrealistic expectations and the personal bias of the program creators and managers.  They could be inviting.  They could be inclusive.  They could make every BODY feel welcome.  But they usually don’t.  And they often end up causing more problems than they solve.

I think I did a good job at the talk.  But it was weird.  As a speaker, I mostly give upbeat, Rah-Rah, body positive and funny speeches.  And this kind of speech is instantly rewarded.  People watching and hearing the speech cheer and laugh and clap.  People smile and have a good time.  It’s a pretty strong, emotionally positive feedback loop.  And I usually leave the stage feeling awesome.

This talk was different.  People were paying attention.  But people were thoughtful.  Listening carefully.  Letting my words sink in.  This talk was serious.  I had a positive takeaway.  There are ways we can do this better.  But this speech was not fun and it was not funny.

And as I walked off the stage, I wondered.  “Did I do okay?  Did I get through.  Did people hate it.  Did they learn something?”  I felt very insecure.  Sure, there was applause at the end, but no positive, laughing, feel-good feedback loop.

I always feel a little unsure when I release my need to entertain–to be funny–to be jolly.  But I’m always kind of amazed at the response when I do.  As I sat back at my table a woman immediately asked for my card.  Not because she wanted me to do a fun and jolly speech at her workplace (a local college).  But because her school has implemented a wellness program modeled after The Biggest Loser television show.  And my talk made her think that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea.  I’m hoping to speak with her soon.  So I could see a very positive result from straying outside of my comfort zone.

And this was a good reminder.  Being upbeat and positive and funny are great tools.  They are some of the colors with which I can paint.  But when communicating with others about size acceptance and body positivity and social justice for people of all sizes, it behooves me to use ALL the tools at my disposal and all the crayons in the box–even those that aren’t my normal favorites or the most comfortable ones to use.

Which leads me to this point.  I’d like to straight up invite you to attend the Fat Activism Conference.  Some of the people there will be taking a “fun and funny” approach to fat activism.  Some will be serious.  Some of the testimony may be full of pain and not so much fun to hear.  Some of it will be LOLROTF funny.  But what the conference allows you to do is hear a variety of voices coming from a wide range of perspectives all speaking on the topic of making the world better, safer and more inclusive for people of all sizes.  And frankly, today is the last day you’ll be able to get the lowest possible price to attend the conference.  Our super earlybird pricing ends tonight.  So if you’re up for hearing all different kinds of voices sharing using all the tools at their disposal and all the crayons in the box, while sharing ways to make the world better for Every BODY why not register now?

Love,

Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)
Register for the Fat Activism Conferenece!

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Knock it off, Michelle Obama!

AAAAAARRRRGGGH!  We’ve recently gotten news that Michelle Obama is to appear on the upcoming series of the television show, “The Biggest Loser”.  Apparently her topic will be somewhat benign.  She is to talk about the importance of drinking water.  And given the show’s somewhat checkered past in dehydrating clients to help them achieve weigh-in goals, a focus on drinking water might not be such a bad thing.  But the fact that the FLOTUS plans on appearing on this piece of crap show at all is not, to quote Martha Stewart,  a GOOD thing.

A fair amount of criticism has recently been leveled, especially by the size acceptance, eating disorder prevention and anti-diet communities against the First Lady for making this choice.  There’s this amazing video showing dozens of people from the community (including me) speaking out against Michelle Obama’s upcoming appearance.  And there’s even a petition you can sign asking Michelle to “just stay home”.  We haven’t heard much from her camp yet.  But I imagine if we do hear from her or her people about this appearance, she’s likely to scoff and say that she’s just talking about the importance of drinking water for goodness sake.  What can be bad about that?

My response?  Plenty.

Here’s a few reasons why I think Michelle Obama should just knock it off, and refuse to be on The Biggest Loser:

1.  The show is built on the notion of shame.  And as I state here and here and here and in my submission for the video, SHAME DOES NOT HELP.  It doesn’t make people healthier.  It doesn’t make people happier and it doesn’t make people thinner.  It makes people less happy, less healthy and it tends to lead people into disordered behavior around food and exercise.

2.  The show is based on BAD SCIENCE.  I wrote so much on this topic in the past, I had to create a two-part blog post.  The “weight loss” techniques depicted on that show are contrary to accepted professional practice and can be downright dangerous.  It needs to stop.

3.  The show routinely tortures its contestants.  Check out these interviews between Golda Poretsky and a former Biggest Loser contestant.  The cult-like experience of this former contestant demonstrates the unhealthy power dynamic between contestants, directors, producers and other show staff.  And the long term health prognosis for many of the former contestants is not very good.

4.  The show uses the magic of editing and other Hollywood tricks to further mess up people’s expectations around exercise, health and weight loss.  Sometimes weight losses that are depicted as taking a week actually take longer.  People’s fluid levels are manipulated to help them look like they are losing more weight than they actually are.  Extreme exercise is described as an important weight-loss tool even though it is not that closely related to winning weight-loss totals.  It’s described, oxymoronically as “reality television” even though it bears little resemblance to the real world.

5.  This show is unhealthy not only for those who participate in it, but also for people who simply watch.  Several studies came out showing that the show negatively impacts viewer opinions regarding people of size.  Additional studies show that those who watch the show wind up LESS INCLINED TO EXERCISE than those who don’t.  So much for “Let’s Move!” Michelle.

Look, I think it’s awesome that Michelle wants to encourage people to engage in healthy habits.  And it seems in many ways, she has toned down the weight-loss rhetoric in her “Let’s Move” campaign verbiage.  But even if she doesn’t appear with a weight-loss message on the show, simply being on the show adds weight and credence to a television program that is irresponsible and just needs to go away.

Feeling good and mad over this whole thing?

Good!  Let’s do something about it!

1.  Sign the petition.

2.  Share the video.

3.  Join weight neutral exercise spaces like the Fit Fatties Forum.

4.  Stop watching the show.

5.  Help spread the word about Health At Every Size(R).

Go get ’em!

Love,

Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)

P.S. Want to get access to FREE STUFF?  Just opt in RIGHT HERE!

Biggest Loser: Part Two Corrective Guide Based on Exercise Science

screamer

If you are doing as the advertising suggests and watching the latest season of The Biggest Loser with your family, you may have seen some stuff that is pretty disturbing.  In the first episode, we’ve got folks falling off treadmills, needing emergency medical attention and the usual Biggest Loser Barf Fest.  We’ve also got trainers yelling, screaming, insulting and bullying contestants in the hopes of helping them get in shape.  But as I suggested yesterday, this is “reality” television.  And a lot of the techniques you see on this show are the exact opposite of what we are taught as fitness professionals.   A lot of that stuff is just plain wrong.  And some of it is downright dangerous.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, there is just so much misinformation about health and fitness on this season of The Biggest Loser, I just can’t fit it all into one blog post.  So here on Thursday Theater day, I bring you part two.  (Click on the photo above to see a short YouTube clip for this week’s Thursday Theater).  Let’s talk just a little bit more about what you and your kids might have “learned” on the show and why it’s a really bad idea to make it part of your fitness practice.

4.  The best way to motivate somebody to get fit is to yell, scream, curse at them, and bully them.

There’s an awful lot of evidence out there that bullying, yelling, screaming, shaming, cursing at and frightening people is a terrible long term strategy for motivating them to get and stay in shape.   People tend to be drawn to things that give them pleasure and shy away from things that cause them pain.  Being publicly shamed is extremely painful for most people.  In addition, there is ample evidence that people stick to exercise longer if they are intrinsically (internally) motivated rather than those who are extrinsically (outwardly) motivated.  So a person who identifies herself as an exerciser and works out because of the benefits she sees for herself (and also happens to enjoy the workout) is far more likely stick to exercise than someone who is motivated by shame and fear, especially if that shame and fear is applied by someone outside of themselves.  After all, what are you going to do when there isn’t a crazy mean lady who gets paid millions of dollars to scream at you every day.  Eventually you have to do it by yourself.  And you’ll have a much better chance of doing it yourself if you’ve built up the inner strength and self-esteem to be your own cheerleader.

And lest you be tempted to bully your kids into losing weight, let me tell you right now that this is likely to backfire.  Recent evidence indicates that kids being bullied from any source, be it school playgrounds, teachers, coaches and parents is likely to make kids engage in healthy behaviors and may make them gain more weight in the long run.  Not to mention the fact that kids who are bullied tend to have lower grades and poorer school attendance.  Being bullied frankly messes kids up, sometimes permanently.  If your kid is being bullied at school because he is fat, the last thing you should do is be another bully in his life.

5.  It is normal, feasible and desirable for a person to lose 10, 15 or over 20 pounds in one week.

When I was studying to be a personal trainer, I learned that there are two ways to lose 20 pounds in one week–dehydration and decapitation.  The weight loss levels on the Biggest Loser are not reasonable or sustainable by most people.  Furthermore there have been some suggestions that the length of a “week” (as long as 15 days) as well as hydration levels (including dehydrating contestants to the point of urinating blood) are manipulated to make it look like contestants are losing more weight.  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the National Institutes of Health, suggests losing no more than 1/2 to 2 pounds per week. They suggest you may lose a few more pounds in the first 3 weeks of a program, but should not try to sustain weight losses at that level for more than two or three weeks without serious medical supervision.

Rapid weight loss can lead to a variety of health problems including gallstones, dehydration, dizziness, depression, and loss of lean muscle including heart muscle.  If you goal is health, the last thing in the world you want to do is lose lean muscle mass.  And losing muscle mass in your heart can be seriously dangerous.

Long story short, it’s not really safe or sustainable to lose more than two pounds per week at home.

To sum up, The Biggest Loser is a commercial television show on a for-profit network.  Press releases, promotional video and pompous rhetoric aside, their main goal is to make money.  Television shows make money by having better ratings.  Losing 1/2 pound per week in a rational sustainable way may be the healthiest option, but it makes for lousy TV.  Please take these facts into consideration as you watch the show, and decide whether or not to use anything on that show as a guide for your own health practice.  Because what makes for good TV may not make for a healthy body.  Please let common sense be your guide.

Love,

The Fat Chick

P.S.  If you are upset that The Biggest Loser has chosen to take on “childhood obesity” this season, consider signing our petition here.

If you’re looking for sensible and rational assistance for your exercise efforts, consider joining The Fat Chick’s Personal Training Programs.  If you sign up before January 14, you can try any of my training programs for just $25.  We’re also offering special training groups on the Fit Fatties Forum starting at just $10 per month!

There is a lot of very detailed and specific information about how to build a safe and pleasurable exercise regime found in my book The Fat Chick Works Out! (Fitness that is Fun and Feasible for Folks of all Ages, Shapes, Sizes and Abilities).  You can pick up an autographed copy for just $16.95 (plus S+H) on my website.

Also remember that a little exercise adds up to a lot over time.  And exercise is more fun when you do it together.  So you might want to consider adding your exercise totals to our Fit Fatties Across America program.  We’re pooling all of our exercise minutes and miles as we make our way across the country.  We went 167 miles in the first few days of the program, and we’re hoping to reach St. Louis this week!  Make sure to enter your exercise data by noon on Friday to count towards this week’s totals!

Biggest Loser: A Corrective Guide Based on Exercise Science Part 1

screaming

If you were unfortunate enough to have watched the season opener for The Biggest Loser this year, you saw some very frightening and confusing things.  You saw people vomiting.  You saw people falling off treadmills.  You saw kids on the show with accompanying tinkly happy music being told that they should stand up to people who bully them.  You saw not one but three “fitness coaches” screaming at, hollering at, spitting at, disparaging and yes, bullying the adult contestants.  You saw a contestant being home for losing a “measly 15 pounds” in one week.   You saw paramedics coming to pick one of the contestants up.  All in one episode.

When it comes to the modern Roman Coliseum, this season opener takes the cake!  One was thrown to the lions.  One was carried off on a stretcher.  And several fell during battle.  And while this makes absolutely delicious material for snark, I want to take a moment out and do a little damage control here.  Because this year, the producers claim to be taking on the “challenge of childhood obesity”.  This year, they want you and your kids to watch the show together to learn about a healthy lifestyle.  And that, my dear friends, is a big, BIG problem.  Because a lot of what they depict on that show, is the exact opposite of what we are taught as fitness professionals.  A lot of the stuff on that show is just plain wrong.  And some of it is seriously dangerous.  So let’s talk a little bit about what you and your family may have “learned” on that show and why it’s not a good idea to apply those ideas to your own fitness practice.

1.  It’s a good idea for folks who are completely sedentary to start with exercise sessions that are several hours long, provided there are fitness trainers there to scream at them.

Exercise science seems pretty clear on the fact that accelerating rapidly from no physical activity to a lot of physical activity is a bad idea.  Starting out with sessions of several hours puts a person at greater risk for injury, burnout and sudden death.  So where should sedentary adults begin?  Here’s what the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has to say:

Therefore, for a person who has been sedentary for some time for whatever reason, the initial dose of activity should be at a relatively low intensity, of limited duration, with the sessions (also called bouts) spread throughout the week. An example of this approach would be a walking program with sessions of 5 minutes of slow walking, 5 to 6 days per week, with the bouts performed at various times throughout the day (e.g., 3 times per day). As the person adapts to this amount of activity, the bout duration could be slowly increased to 10 minutes, and as exercise capacity begins to increase, the walking speed could be increased…

The US Department of Health and Human Services also cites various studies that indicate “when individuals increase their usual amount of physical activity the risk of injury is related to the size of the increase. ”  So starting out with several hours of exercise at a time, can increase chances for musculoskeletal injury.  Furthermore moving exercisers from a completely sedentary life to long bouts of vigorous exercise can be very hard on the heart.  Moderate, gradually increasing exercise programs are generally quite safe.  Yet each year about 75,000 Americans suffer heart attacks during or immediately after exercise.  Studies show that these victims are most often sedentary men over age 35 who were either at risk for heart disease or had heart disease and then exercised too hard and too fast for their fitness levels. (American College of Sports Medicine 2006).  So if you are sedentary and haven’t exercised in a while, be safe.  Start of slowly and don’t ramp your fitness levels more than 10% per week.

2.  In order to get a really good workout, you should ignore pain, dizziness and other symptoms that are normally associated with distress in your body.

On the show, contestants are told to “push through” physical symptoms like pain, dizziness, and weakness.  However, sports science indicates that these symptoms are important messages that can warn of a serious problem before it occurs.  According to the Mayo Clinic, shortness of breath, coughing and wheezing are possible signs of an asthma attack, and light-headedness, irritability, dizziness and confusion are possible symptoms of heatstroke, a potentially fatal condition.  Other causes for irritability, dizziness and confusion could be dehydration, a dangerous dip in blood sugar or even the onset of a coronary event.  For those of us exercising alone or at home, exercise danger signs are an important early warning system that should not be ignored.  Here are some of the generally accepted exercise warning signs:

1.  Feelings of dizziness or light-headedness

2.  Feeling tightness in chest, trunk, back or jaw

3.  Extreme breathlessness

4.  Unusual fatigue

5.  Nausea

6.  Loss of muscle control

7.  Allergic reactions–hives or rash

8.  Blurred vision or changes in consciousness

If you are exercising and experience any of these symptoms, it means you should stop exercising.  If these symptoms persist, it is important to seek medical attention.

3.  Vomiting is a normal part of any vigorous exercise routine.

Actually exercise induced nausea is a fairly common complaint, but there’s no reason to see it as a badge of honor.  In the past when questioned about this issue, Biggest Loser trainers suggested that the extremely high percentage of episodes of vomiting on the show are because the exercisers have a lot of toxins in their bodies.  I can find no research to back this assertion.  It appears the most common cause of exercise induced nausea (and vomiting) is again related to doing too much exercise at too high an intensity level too soon in an exercise program.  There are other potential causes for exercise-induced nausea.  A 4% drop in body weight from dehydration is enough to cause nausea and vomiting (a possible cause of the Biggest Loser Barf Fests).  While eating large fatty meals close to exercise sessions can trigger this nausea, the severely restricted diets of Biggest Loser contestants make this an unlikely cause.  In any case, exercisers should not see nausea and vomiting during workouts as a sign they are working hard enough, but rather as an opportunity to “fix” something in their training program that isn’t quite right.  Try an even more gradual increase in exercise intensity and levels from week to week.  Be sure to maintain a proper level of hydration.  Try not to eat large meals before workouts.  And consider changing your exercise mode (runners tend to have this problem more often than walkers or cyclists).

Frankly there’s too much misinformation and bad ideas in the Biggest Loser to detail them all in one post.  So, I’ll take up this topic again in another blog post.  In the mean time, please remember to let common sense into your exercise regime.  And also keep in mind that exercise does not have to make you miserable. You can reap physical, emotional and spiritual benefits while engaging in exercise that’s fun, pleasurable and reasonable.

Love,

The Fat Chick

P.S.  If you are upset that The Biggest Loser has chosen to take on “childhood obesity” this season, consider signing our petition here.

If you’re looking for sensible and rational assistance for your exercise efforts, consider joining The Fat Chick’s Personal Training Programs.  If you sign up before January 14, you can try any of my training programs for just $25.  We’re also offering special training groups on the Fit Fatties Forum starting at just $10 per month!

There is a lot of very detailed and specific information about how to build a safe and pleasurable exercise regime found in my book The Fat Chick Works Out! (Fitness that is Fun and Feasible for Folks of all Ages, Shapes, Sizes and Abilities).  You can pick up an autographed copy for just $16.95 (plus S+H) on my website.

Also remember that a little exercise adds up to a lot over time.  And exercise is more fun when you do it together.  So you might want to consider adding your exercise totals to our Fit Fatties Across America program.  We’re pooling all of our exercise minutes and miles as we make our way across the country.  We went 167 miles in the first few days of the program, and we’re hoping to reach St. Louis this week!  Make sure to enter your exercise data by noon on Friday to count towards this week’s totals!

In Other News, Water is Wet: Research points out Biggest Loser Doesn’t Work

Late last week, I got notice of a study that was conducted in Alberta, Canada that looked at how the television show “The Biggest Loser” makes people feel about exercise.  It seems, despite the holier-than-thou rhetoric of the show’s creators, the show is more likely to turn people away from exercise than towards it.  And you know what?  I can’t say I’m even one tiny bit surprised.

The Biggest Loser depicts people going through hell in the name of losing weight.  These people are berated and screamed at by a nasty drill instructor/piece of work.  (I’ve heard rumors from insiders that she has a naturally fast metabolism and can eat a whole lot and still maintain that figure.  So she makes sport of screaming at people less genetically blessed than she is.  Nice.)  Show participants are put through a dangerous program where they are worked until they are in extreme pain, vomit, and/or collapse from exhaustion and dehydration.  Exercisers are often depicted weeping from frustration and pain.  And so I ask you, does this look like fun?  Does this look like something you want to jump up off the couch and try?

In my decades as a fitness instructor, I’ve learned a thing or two.  And one thing I’ve learned is that if you want people to exercise, you need to show people that it is FUN.  It needs to seem pleasurable and enjoyable.  It needs to be accessible so people think, “I could DO that!”  If it looks painful and shameful and miserable and dangerous, most people will not do it.

The study indicated that after watching just a short clip of The Biggest Loser people had a more negative view towards exercise than after watching the control clip (a segment from American Idol).  There are varying hypothesis as to why this is so.  Some researchers suggest that beginning exercisers might mistakenly believe that The Biggest Loser depicts “normal” exercise.  And as I mentioned, it certainly doesn’t look pleasurable or fun.

The Biggest Loser is extremely successful at their actual (as opposed to their often stated) goal.  It gets ratings.  People watch.  But do they watch to be inspired?  I don’t think so.  I don’t have a study to back me up on this, but my strong opinion is that The Biggest Loser is yet another example of the modern Roman Colosseum.  People aren’t watching other people be torn apart by lions because they want to learn to run faster and be better lion tamers.  People are watching other people be torn apart by lions because they want to feel superior, they want to feel in the right, and they want to feel better about themselves.  Because no matter how bad the viewer’s day is going, at least he isn’t that guy with the wrong religion getting torn apart by lions.

Look, we need to see the Biggest Loser as entertainment and understand it within the  context of voyeuristic entertainment.  Any talk about it being a way to help people get happier and healthier needs to be shut down right now.  It’s a blueprint for how to get disordered ideas around food and exercise.  It’s a handy guide to how to get sick and injured while engaging in “healthy” behaviors.

This study is just one more small piece of evidence on top of the growing heap that proves you can’t shame people into being thin.  So maybe it’s time we showed people fitness for what it really is, pleasurable, accessible, fun and great for every BODY.  Let’s throw out the vinegar and share a little honey.  Then maybe we can ALL enjoy the sweet, sweet taste of success.

Love,

The Fat Chick

P.S. Interested in finding a pleasurable way to integrate fitness into your life?  How about trying my DVD “The Fat Chick Works Out”?  It’s progressive (starting with just a 10 minute workout) and it’s super fun!