Here is your chance to make it up to obese folks everywhere. Don’t f*ck it up.
‘Loser Producers –
I just spent the weekend with some of the most highly-regarded professionals in the fitness industry at The Fitness Summit in Kansas City, Missouri. Wanna know what we talked about? How the concept you’ve based The Biggest Loser on is doing more harm than good.
Specifically, the notion that weight loss is a simple “calories in / calories out” equation, and that the path to a “healthy” BMI is paved with stones engraved with “Eat Less” and “Exercise More.” (Yes, of course, weight loss is the result of a caloric deficit. Sadly, calories in / calories out is not enough for most folks to affect healthy, sustainable weight loss.)
It’s this obscene oversimplification that’s kept millions of us from dropping weight, not to mention dropping the co-morbid conditions – like hypertension and type II diabetes – that tend to go hand-in-hand with obesity.
Thanks to your shtick and your hunger for ratings, millions of us have labored under the illusion that if we could just put the fork down and workout in beast mode for 3 hours a day, we’d be thin, happy, and healthy.
As we “failed” and regained our weight after each new effort to drop pounds with diet and exercise, we fantasized how much easier it would be to “fix” our “fatness” if we could only workout with a trainer all day every day and have low-calorie meals prepared for us. Surely after four months of being ridden like bulls by the likes of Jillian Michaels we’d be so firmly set in our new, healthier habits that we would be thin forever!
SURELY the premise of The Biggest Loser, embodying as it does every inch of “Eat Less, Exercise More,” would be The Most Effective Solution to Our Obesity.
The study in the journal Obesity by Kevin Hall, et al on The Biggest Loser contestants’ weight regain got a lot of traction, but it didn’t surprise the handful of us who’ve lost a tremendous lot of weight and kept it off in a healthy way. Any one of us could have reported that regaining lost weight is significantly easier than falling off a rock.
That said, it was nice to see what we’ve always known – that the more weight we lose, the easier it seems to be to gain it back – backed by science. (That’s what the science says this week, anyway. Next week could be a whole other matter.)
We suspect you’ve always known it, too, ‘Loser producers. Surely you followed up with former contestants, only to learn that most had gained their weight back. These people had proven they were dedicated and resilient and 100% committed to doing what you told them they needed to do to lose the weight, and most of them were gaining it all back – and then some.
And if you had more in the way of social responsibility, you might have widened your “Eat Less, Move More” message to include more of the tools that make doing that every single day for life possible for folks who default to the opposite.
Dr. Spencer Nadolsky, an Obesity Physician in Olney, Maryland, says “While it is true that energy balance is still key, we must find ways to make this sustainable. For some, it may be only behavioral therapy. For others it may involve medicine and even surgery. Those with obesity are fighting an uphill battle and require our empathy and support.”
What did you tell yourself as you watched them gain all that weight back? It would’ve been a stretch to imagine that folks who had so recently committed their whole life to losing the weight had suddenly given up, and it’s unlikely that men and women who’d thrown themselves so bravely into the arena would retreat back into the habits they’d so publicly disavowed.
The thing is, their habits hadn’t actually changed. The weight they lost came off because they were living in a controlled environment. But then, you knew that.
You watched dozens if not hundreds of contestants regain their weight, demonstrating over and over and over again that healthy, sustainable weight loss required a more complex and nuanced approach than JUST calories in/calories out. (Yes, we all know at the end of the day that weight loss is the result of an energy deficit. We also know that love is nothing more than a hormonal cocktail, and that Don Quixote was just a man with a dream.) You saw over and over that healthy, sustainable weight loss could not be so easily achieved. You knew better, and yet you continued to cast and record and profit off the show, season after season.
We who’ve lost a tremendous lot of weight and kept it off in a healthy way are sick of watching our brothers and sisters buy into the fantasy you’re selling. We’re sick of you profiting off the blood, sweat, and tears of a population of people who need and deserve truth, respect, and love.
Turns out that many of us have a hard time trusting our own data.
We know from experience that trying to just eat less and exercise more without addressing how we got so heavy in the first place doesn’t tend to result in sustainable weight loss.
Instead of getting to the root of the problem – self-sabotage – we focus on creating that energy deficit. And in doing so, we set ourselves up for failure.
We suffer through 1,000-calorie days.
We bust our asses training for 5ks.
We eat nothing but boiled chicken and steamed broccoli.
Some of us even have weight loss surgery.
And some of us do lose weight, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot, but eventually most of us gain it back.
We believe we’re broken and just need to work harder.
But We Are Not Broken. We are strong, empathetic, and kind. We’re some of the smartest, most competent people on the planet.
That said, we do need to work harder. And smarter. Just like any other underprivileged population, we need to do more for longer and more consistently than other folks need to in order to get the same results. Ask any woman, anyone who’s part of a minority group, anyone who came up poor, or anyone with a disability, and they’ll tell you: there’s nothing we can’t do, but to do it takes more effort to do it.
No, it’s not fair. It’s not fair that we can never eat with impunity like our naturally-thin friends and family. It’s not fair that many of us need to fall out of love with what has been our most available and reliable emotional crutch. It’s not fair that we have to learn new ways of living and relating to ourselves and our bodies in order to hit and maintain a more comfortable weight for life.
It’s not f*cking fair, and you know what? We can do it.
Just like any group that faces more than their fair share of obstacles, we need additional support.
We need doctors who are empathetic to the realities of obesity and the challenges of weight loss and weight loss maintenance.
We need access to appropriate medications to help us deal with hormone-driven increases in appetite.
We need insurance coverage that includes adequate access to ongoing mental health support.
We need access to information on best practices in nutrition and exercise science.
We need honest, unbiased education about surgical options, and ongoing support if we choose to go that route.
We need help to examine how we relate to food and our bodies.
We need strong, active, effective support communities.
Without resources like these, folks like me who’ve lost 100+ pounds and kept it off in healthy way long-term will continue to be outliers.
Ours is a culture that increasingly eschews truth, ethics, and sustainability in favor of sensationalism and profit, especially when it comes to weight and weight loss. But you, ‘Loser producers, have the power to turn the conversation around.
Your show has been insanely successful, and I’m sure that’s felt good. I want you to feel good. We all deserve to feel good. We all deserve to feel comfortable in our bodies, healthy, and alive. Some of us have to work harder than others for these and other basic human rights. And we’re willing and able to do that. Please lend us your support by changing the messaging on The Biggest Loser to more accurately reflect reality:
Healthy, sustainable weight loss is the result of much more than just a caloric deficit; it’s the result of a lifetime commitment to make the healthiest, most caring choice we are capable of making, and of honoring that commitment one day, one moment, one bite, and one breath at a time.
Please support our doctors, therapists, personal trainers, family, friends, and most importantly, please support us in doing this work. Please quit the shit, and use your position of power and influence to broadcast more of the truth.
We still think Jillian and Bob are super hot, but the show’s got to grow or go.