Stopping bagging The Biggest Loser

The Biggest Loser contestant sitting down

By Amy Jaya

There are a lot of critics of The Biggest Loser. You might be one of them. I’m not (on the whole) but I can see opportunities for improvement. Here’s my response to some of the criticisms.

1.  It is an unrealistic setting.

The show creates an environment that is highly conducive to success. It gives participants time, it eliminates distractions and it gives them dedicated trainers with round the clock advice and structured training programs. Of course this is going to be hard to replicate when they go back to the ‘real’ world.  But to throw the baby out with the bath water because it doesn’t mirror everyday life is missing some important points.  Firstly, most people on the show are significantly overweight – not a little, a lot. They need an intensive starter program with lots of time and support thrown at them. Secondly, they also need time out to change themselves psychologically. They need time to reflect and talk about what hasn’t worked and learn new strategies. So they need a good chunk of time out from everyday life to do that and the Biggest Loser gives them that.

What the show could do differently is show the trainers working with each person to ready them for ‘back to reality’. They need to show the audience they have equipped contestants with effective strategies to keep things going in the right direction when the show has finished. They also need to show viewers how the participants have gone six, twelve, 24 months down the track.  The show needs to think of itself as offering participants a solution. The solution therefore must offer long term results and as such the show needs to demonstrate evidence that its solution leads to behaviour change and results at these checkpoints.

2. The trainers overstep the mark from tough love to abuse.

Now I have a big problem with this criticism. I think the trainers are on the whole incredibly positive and encouraging.  If you watch full episodes and listen to the words the trainers use they are overwhelmingly motivating and supportive.  When they are tough I believe it’s appropriate.  Some people need some home truths every now and again. Some of the participants simply aren’t aware of their potential for hard work because they’ve hardly ever exercised before. At times I think some of the participants think they have reached their limit when in reality there is more in the tank.

3. The show is a public humiliation of participants.

Once again I strongly disagree. I think the show does well to highlight the participants’ courage and reinforces the pride the trainers have in them.  Of course the show highlights vulnerabilities but I am far more likely to admire someone who exposes their vulnerabilities and works hard at personal change than someone who puts on a facade that all is fine when that is far from the truth.

4. The exercises are inappropriate for heavily overweight participants because they are extreme and unsafe.

This is the criticism that I believe has the greatest merit.  It is fair to say that many of the exercises appear to be too difficult for these ‘novice’ trainees and at times there is little technique going on.  One of the contestants was shown falling backward off a treadmill recently and although dramatic, it’s not a good look for the trainers.  To me that says the trainer didn’t properly instruct the trainee on how to use the equipment.  Why go hard for the sake of going hard and potentially injuring yourself?  Injuries are just going to set your training back and sabotage gains made.

Being built primarily for entertainment and ratings, The Biggest Loser believes it must have drama to achieve that and we love our bootcamp-style-punish-them-til-they-drop drama.  We love to watch it and we love to take part in it.  So if this is necessary for ratings then blame the viewers, not the show.  The Biggest Loser is just giving us what we demand.

The question you need to ask yourself is, are you prepared to watch a show that focuses more on technique and education and less on drama and thrills and spills?  If so, then I believe it is better that we do something constructive such as write in to the program producers and express our wishes and make suggestions for improvement rather than simply write the show off altogether.  You never know, they may even listen.

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