So this post I'll actually talk about a media other than magazines. It seems more pertinent to today; magazines just aren't quite as popular as they used to be.
I'll preface this by saying I have a guilty pleasure for before and after shows - especially ones about weight loss. (Though it's also the reason I know the channel number for HGTV) A&E's "Heavy," obesity documentaries, hell, even MTV's "I Used to be Fat" I flock to and watch with the utmost attention. So it would seem that I'd love watching The Biggest Loser, right? No. I hate it. I can't watch more than 5 to 10 minute bits of it. Mostly it's because that's as long as the show can go without this happening:
Now I get it, being overweight can take a toll on emotions, and sometimes being overweight is the symptom of a larger, emotional problem. So it's not like I expect that part of weight loss to be totally neglected. Crying on shows like these is expected. But on the Biggest Loser, it happens entirely too often. The focus of the show should be on the diet and exercise - not on the crying. But I guess crying and touching moments gets ratings.
Other reasons I cannot support the show:
1) Creation of Unrealistic Expectations
The show centers around the big "weigh ins;" this is where the competition arises, where the show gets its name, where all the hard exercise and dieting culminates on a giant scale for all of America to see. What are the results we often are presented with? Over 10 pounds lost, usually. Sometimes even into the 20's! What an accomplishment! Yes, indeed it is, but then maybe someone only loses 5 pounds that week. They feel ashamed, they feel as though they did something wrong and they let their team and the trainers down. More than likely someone is crying. There's a chance they're going to get kicked off of the show for not doing well enough.
It took 10 minutes and a commercial break for these numbers to finally pop up.
Think about this for a minute. These contestants are receiving feelings of shame and guilt for losing weight. Not only losing weight, but losing more weight than is even recommended by most fitness professionals: 1-2 pounds a week, maybe 3 for the obese. They face punishment for not losing enough. What kind of message does that send? What if as a viewer you go a week without losing any weight, or God forbid, you actually gain a pound? Any chances of thinking "well there are a lot of factors that go into weight loss and the numbers don't always mean anything significant or meaningful' decreases by virtue of the now-instilled unrealistic expectations.
And there are a lot of factors that go into what the number on the scale reads. The most applicable one to The Biggest Loser is water.
What contestants on the show go through before a weigh in is akin to what a wrestler, fighter, or anyone who needs to make a weight class will go through before weigh-ins. The most prevalent method for losing weight quickly is fluid manipulation. This will mean dehydration, frequent trips to the sauna and working out in heavy clothing for maximal sweat production. Cutting out all of the carbohydrates and solids a few days before helps as well: carbohydrates cause your body to retain water and solids can take time to go through your entire digestive track.
(For more details on weight-cutting methods, see http://www.grapplearts.com/How-to-Cut-Weight.html)
Here are some quotes from former contestants themselves on how they prepared for weigh-ins:
She probably knows how much she weighs, but does it really matter?
Selling out: The Pill
6) The Overall Process and Message
It seems wrong that someone gets kicked off just because one week they happened not to lose as much weight as another person. Weight lost in a given week doesn't necessarily say anything about how hard someone worked - which is really the good ol' American mantra isn't it?
How I would change the show:
The Biggest Loser has the potential to be a huge positive force in the fitness industry, instead of the generally negative one it is now.
There are certainly good aspects of the show. I am very much in favor of how it promotes working out and dieting as the way to lose weight rather than product placement of pills / supplements / weight loss surgery. If the show inspires just one person to make positive changes in their life, well I certainly can't complain there. But there is opportunity for it to do so much more.
1) Instead of focusing on weight loss, focus on fat loss. Bring in some really accurate body composition analyzers, such as a DEXA machine or hydrostatic weighing. They can certainly afford it and contestants won't have to resort to unhealthy weight-cutting techniques. At the very least, explain why someone may lose a lot of weight one week and then not near as much the next despite the same amount of effort.
2) In spirit of the entire purpose of the show, keep the competition in place. However instead of kicking someone out give the option of staying on the ranch for the rest of the duration of the show.
3) Teach methods that contestants and viewers can bring into their real, daily lives. How to eat healthy on a budget, how to fit in exercise around work, how to lose weight without the help of a squad of professionals and infinite free time, etc.
4) More emphasis on nutrition. As it's near impossible to out-exercise a bad diet, nutrition really needs more time in the spotlight.
5) More specifics on the workouts. Give viewers an idea of what contestants are doing, show proper form for a couple of exercises an episode. Give an idea of what someone can do to exercise efficiently when they don't have 4-6 hours to exercise. Of course, points 3, 4 and 5 take time to explain. Which brings me to point 6:
6) Less crying. Please. Seriously if you took that out you'd probably have at least 10 minutes more time on your show. Weigh-ins don't need to be as dramatic as the Cuban Missile Crisis, and don't have to take nearly as long.
But I guess that's television. Crying and drama get higher ratings than real information.