Wednesday, March 24, 2010

My Thoughts on the Biggest Loser

Oh, the Biggest Loser. It's reached the level of a cultural phenomenon, I think, and I don't think I've ever really discussed it on my blog. I have lots and lots of posts I want to write but, for some reason, this is the one that is weighing the most on my mind. I think it's because there are so many episodes on my DVR and I've watched a couple of them today. There was a quote on one of the episodes today that just resonated so strongly with me I just felt compelled to write about it.

Many of the contestants who are actually chosen to be on the Biggest Loser talk about how they would watch the show (whilst eating a gallon of ice cream, natch) and wish that they were on it. For me, nothing could have been further from the truth. I really could not watch that show when I was bigger. When I was lost weight the first time, I did watch most of a season (season 2 with Matt and Suzy) -- but that's really all I had ever seen of the BL. I could not stand the guilt associated with watching it.

Perhaps it's because of my history that I was unable to watch. I think I have discussed it a little, but I have only ever seriously lost weight one other time. It was when I was in grad school and it was what I consider the healthy way. I ate less, and tried to eat tons of fruits and vegetables. I also exercised, preferring to swim. I was successful and lost 60 lbs, eventually stalling out around 229.5. I maintained that weight for about 2 months, gained 5 lbs during the holidays that I never lost, and then started on a WL-death spiral when my grandma was hospitalized and died. I gained tons of weight in the process of finishing grad school and getting a job. Eventually I not only reached my starting point of 289.5, but I eclipsed it and ended up at 299.4.

I think the reason I just could not watch the BL is because I identified with the BL contestants so much, at least for 2/3 of the show. I felt their pain when they weighed in and realized they were super fat. I remembered what it was like to try to go to the gym when everything wears you out, even walking from the car up one flight of stairs to the pool. I also remembered what it felt like to get results. Yes, you're 250 lbs but you feel hella confident when you started at 289.5 (my starting point during WL 1.0) and you're not winded walking up 4 flights of stairs, but your 160 lb coworkers can't do it. I remember those feelings because I have been there. (I've never made it to the last third of the show, though, where they're size 2 or 6 or 8 -- perhaps this will be the time, though I would feel awesome at a 10 or 12).

To reach a point where you're fit and really doing well...and then you let yourself go and reach 240, then 250, then 260, then...299.4? It's rough. Watching the BL was a reminder of what it felt like to be good. During my fatter days, I just could not let myself have that memory while knowing I was not yet ready to take the difficult but worthwhile steps of eating better and less, and moving more that it would take to reach that place again. Instead of facing those reminders, I took the easy way out and just avoided the show altogether.

Now that I'm on the right track again? I watch the BL and I kind of love it. There are parts that I dislike -- but it is nice to feel like someone gets it, and that I'm not alone on this journey to get healthy. I also appreciate that the BL is helping to put names and faces to the morbidly obese. Yes, we've let ourselves go, but there are often reasons why. Yes, we're fat but we have stories and feelings and careers and are not losers. I appreciate the BL giving us a bit of a voice and an identity. I also appreciate the fundamentals of the Biggest Loser, and that they show that those fundamentals -- working out more and eating healthy -- will work. You don't need to have your stomach stapled to lose weight. You can eat real food and not 3 shakes and a sensible meal and lose weight. You don't need to eat acai berries or take xenadrine. It is refreshing to hear and see in a world of quick fixes.

That having been said, I do have some objections to the BL which include (but are not necessarily limited to) the following:
  • Most of us have jobs and lives. Dedicating 6 hrs a day to fitness is not realistic for most of us. I do appreciate the producers' attempts to make us feel like this is doable (aka the "at home week" and "we'll send you home for a month and then bring one of you back" ploys), but if you read behind the scene blogs and stuff, most of those contestants still devote 6 hrs to their fitness once they're home.
  • I think that feeding a 400 lb. person who is working out 6 hrs a day 1400 calories is ridiculous. You can't argue with the results on the show, but something about that seems just crazy.
  • Losing 5-15 lbs. a week is just insane. Definitely not doable for the normal at home weight-loser unless you're working out 6 hrs a day and eating 1200-1400 calories (see bullets 1 and 2).
  • I'm all for protein. I eat 1-2 eggs every morning, and I know the BL contestants work out way more than I do and therefore should eat more protein. That having been said, I think that they eat way too much protein and not enough carbs on that show for what I've seen. Carbs aren't bad -- they fuel your body!
  • (This is a big one) THE PRODUCT PLACEMENT ON THAT SHOW IS RIDICULOUS. Ziplocs, Jennie-O turkey, Tempur-pedic beds, Subway, BodyBugg, 24 Hour Fitness, Extra sugar free gum -- I GET IT ALREADY! Ugh.
  • I wish they followed up more with their former contestants. I feel terrible for Eric Chopin, one of the winners who gained all his weight back. I have been there, and it is a really craptastic feeling. I can only imagine how craptastic it would be if I had a nation watching and ridiculing me. I was good enough at beating myself up over this myself, thank you very much. I didn't need the ridicule of a nation piled on me. I'm not sure what type of obligation the show had to him, but I wish they would have helped him when he had gained 5 lbs rather than showcasing him when he got back up to his starting weight around 350 and offering to help him then. Even then, there are other contestants who have gained their weight back, and the show has not offered to help them. I think that is sad.
That having been said, I do like the show. Do I think it's perfect? Obviously not. Am I rushing out to buy Jennie-O turkey? No (but -- full disclosure -- I did buy a BodyBugg).

Anyway, I like this show. I record it and have enjoyed catching up on past seasons when they air in syndication. I cry at almost every episode because I relate to both their struggles and their victories on such an intensely personal level.

Today, I was watching the first episode of last season, and something absolutely reached down to near the core of my soul and touched me. There was a contestant -- Abby Rike, who is one of my absolute favorites -- who lost her husband and 5.5 year old daughter and 2.5 week old son in a fatal car accident. Her strength is phenomenal, but she was understandably upset when she was the number on the scale indicating how big she had gotten. Although I can't be sure, I would have to guess that it felt like the cherry on top of a craptastic, tragic sundae that was her life over the past couple years. (Incidentally, her weight was 247, which is right around where my scale is hanging out now, and I'm feeling pretty great -- proving once again that the journey is as important as the milestones.)

She started crying, as many of the contestants do upon learning their initial weights. The host asked her, "Are you surprised to see that number?" Her response floored me and gave me chills, and I paused the show and had to write it down. She graciously responded.
It surprises me, but it does not define me. Every day I choose to get out of bed, and today I choose to be here. And I'm going to do better.
Wow. This girl gets it. This girl inspires me. This girl makes me want to do better too, and that is why I love the Biggest Loser.


  1. Excellent post, Sarah! I love the Biggest Loser. I originally refused to watch it, thinking that it was solely created to make fun of overweight people, but I finally started watching and really love it. The past couple of seasons have really been getting on my nerves, though - they seem to be trying harder and harder to both humiliate and kill the contestants, but I don't really watch it for the show. I watch it for the contestants - to hear their stories and see how much I relate to each of them (and it's usually a LOT). Abby broke my heart. I love that quote, too.

  2. Great post. As someone who has just begun her weight loss journey, I appreciate being able to reach out and share in the community of people who share my struggle. What an amazing quote from Abby, I hope to be able to share in her strength.

  3. Oh Sarah... Abby inspired me to start my blog. I'm so happy she inspired you today. Yet another thing we sort of halfway have in common. :)


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