Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Biggest Loser Goes Bust!

Erin Naimi, RD, CEDRD

This revelatory piece in the NY Times, by Gina Kolata, has been making headlines all week and has been the major talking point in my office and the hallways as well.

In truth there's nothing particularly revolutionary about the content, but there is something quite revelatory about the conversations it has opened up.

Though there's no new data or science here, what seems to be a revelation (or mostly a disappointment) for people
 is  that truth is being spoken about how truly difficult achieving AND sustaining weight loss really is.
How damaging losing too much weight too quickly can be for your body and soul.
How no matter how hard you try and no matter how committed you are, sometimes biology really does have the upper hand, and that does not
make you weak, it only makes you mortal.

About 5 years ago I received a call from the producers of The Biggest Loser, they were looking for a new dietitian for the show.
I had never been a fan of the show, in fact their tactics seem appalling and humiliating.... so of course I took the meeting.
In my idealistic mind I thought, "maybe I can change their minds and help them see the errors in their ways."  I wanted to get them to see
that what they were promoting (in terms of drastic weight loss) could never be sustained- by anyone, and that furthermore their show
was just a grand display of public humiliation.
I spoke with them about the concept of  Intuitive Eating, how to facilitate real change in people's attitudes towards food, and how to help them feel normal again, (not like
the freaks they make them out to be on National TV).

They seemed  intrigued, one meeting led to another and another, and in the end they wanted sensationalism, they wanted ratings.
"So what if we put all their trigger foods in one room, and just let them go wild, you know like a room full of donuts, and chips, and ice cream...?" one producer asked.
I realized they weren't getting the point, and they would never get the point, because their contestants well beings was really the farthest thing from their minds,
for them, ratings rule.

So now here we are, the truth has been exposed: "The contestants from the Biggest Loser have regained their weight, and then some!"
They too are mere mortals like everyone else in this struggle.
Being on national TV with the most intense trainers and all that public support and exposure still
couldn't help them keep the weight off in the end. And just to add insult to injury, they have now been left with Basal Metabolic Rates
that are now lower than before they went on the show!
"Drastic Weight loss," The gift that keeps on giving!
The science behind it is so simple, and yet so complex that no one has been able to crack the body's code at this point.

Weight loss is NOT as simple as calories in vs. calories out!
It is NOT as simple as having will power!
It is NOT as simple as just cutting out the carbs or exercising more!
It is NOT as simple as cutting out sugar in your diet!

There is nothing simple about our relationships to food.
Each and every person out there who trying to lose weight has a story, has a long history with food that is rarely heard or understood.
To simplify their struggles and endeavors to a simple math equation is not only being simplistic, but it is also being ignorant and insensitive.

I wonder if the show and it's producers will now take a hard look at their tactics and see the damage they've facilitated, season after season.
I wonder if we, as a nation might stop tuning into the sensationalism, trying to live vicariously through these contestants, and stop fixating on finding that magic pill.
Maybe now, when people can see, and read with their own eyes, that there is no quick fix, that maybe drastic weight loss really isn't the way to go.
Or maybe this extreme and excessive focus on Obesity and weight loss in general is whats making everyone feel like a Big Loser!

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