‘The Biggest Loser’ Controversy: We’re Missing the Point, America!

izzetugutmen/ iStock / Getty Images Plus
izzetugutmen/ iStock / Getty Images Plus

Just over a year ago I wrote a post for my blog titled “The Biggest Loser and Why I Can’t Support It.” I outlined several reasons that I find TBL so incredibly problematic. If you’re interested, you can read the full article here. Below is a summary:

1. It promotes disordered behaviors such as severe caloric restriction and excessive exercise. While TBL is a self-proclaimed “reality show,” nothing about it reflects the reality that the majority of us live in. Such extreme behavior is unsustainable and a set-up for disordered eating, eating disorders and future weight gain.

2. TBL creates and exacerbates weight bias. Significant research on weight bias shows that it is a major risk factor for weight gain, decreased physical activity, and worse outcomes for both physical and emotional health of adults and children with obesity. Please read the research I cite in the longer blog post.

3. The show creates confusion around how to make sustainable and truly healthy lifestyle changes. At best this perpetuates yo-yo dieting and at worst leads to extreme self-loathing, depression, anxiety and eating disorders.

Then, in October 2013, I wrote another post in response to first lady Michelle Obama’s impending appearance on the show. I shared the most recent research, which further illustrates the points above, as well as how the show promotes reduced metabolism and does not lead to increased physical activity for viewers. You can read this post here.

Now, with the most recent debate over Rachel Frederickson’s win, I find myself again frustrated and sickened by the behaviors the show promotes. But I also find myself puzzling over what the latest TBL drama says about our society. For those of you not in the know, this season’s winner dropped such a significant amount of weight that many now condemn her for “going too far.” She has been criticized for looking gaunt and unhealthy.

This reflects a major societal issue that profoundly impacts women as well as men and is deeply imbedded into the fabric of our culture. In our weight- and body-obsessed world, it is impossible to look “right!” We are too fat, too skinny, too curvy, too flabby, our thighs are too big or our arms are not toned. ENOUGH! As a good friend so brilliantly put it on her Facebook post: “Front desk staff members at the doctor’s office are making fun of “The Biggest Loser” winner, simultaneously for having been so fat to begin with and now for being too thin and ‘looking like a gremlin.'” Why do we do this to each other?!?”

If our concerns rely solely on the fact that Rachel looks too thin, we have missed the whole point. Regardless of how contestants look at the show’s finale, all of them have employed unhealthy tactics for losing weight. I highly recommend you read Kai Hibbad’s three-part interview on her experience on TBL here. Why don’t we stop attacking one another with criticism and cruel comments? Instead, let’s critically assess and confront (or simply stop watching) shows like TBL that promote disorder rather than health.

Lesley Kinzel, author of “Two Whole Cakes,” says it beautifully: “The reality is that fat people are often supported in hating their bodies, in starving themselves, in engaging in unsafe exercise, and in seeking out weight loss by any means necessary. A thin person who does this is considered mentally ill. A fat person who does these things is redeemed by them … A culture that supports weight loss by any means necessary is a culture that supports eating disorders. It is a culture that supports the sickening and weakening of us all…”

Let’s band together and commit to supporting health rather than thinness. In working toward health we naturally engage in behaviors that support ourselves holistically. If the goal is thinness, it may very well promote behavior that detracts from our overall health. Only you can be the judge of what supports your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. And that simply cannot ever be captured by a number on the scale.

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Marci Evans
Marci Evans, MS, CEDRD-S, counsels clients and manages her group practice in Cambridge, MA. She also brings her passion and skill in the eating disorders field to students, interns and clinicians with online trainings and clinical supervision. Connect with her at www.marciRD.com and all social media outlets @marciRD.