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.
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!