I started watching the Season 14 premiere of The Biggest Loser on Hulu last night. I’ve been a fan of the show since Season 1, Episode 1. I have always found it to be a motivational and inspirational show. My husband can’t stand it–he particularly dislikes how someone is sobbing on it every 5 minutes. I do think it’s a little heavy-handed with the dramatic editing, but I love the transformative aspect; how people completely change themselves inside and out through the experience.
I started watching the show through fresh eyes after I became a certified personal trainer in 2008. I began watching it from a trainer’s, rather than a participant’s, perspective. The trainers certainly do a great job finding what makes each contestant “tick” and tapping into that to create effective workouts. They show that, no matter where you are, you can always create a great workout for yourself, even without equipment (incidentally, check out this article I wrote for Livestrong on a 5-minute total body workout).
So, annoying drama aside, what’s my problem with the show? My complaint, and it’s a massive one, is that they make it seem as though the reason the contestants are getting healthier is that they are spending hours a day doing insane workouts. Yes, exercise will help you burn calories and lose weight. But what is even more important, especially for the morbidly obese that have issues like diabetes, is changing the way they eat. How often does the Biggest Loser show the contestants cooking or preparing their daily meals and snacks? What percentage of each episode is devoted to discussing nutrition? Yes, there are some episodes where they answer trivia about calorie content and there always seems to be some sort of “cooking challenge” episode now, but for the most part, we the viewers don’t get to see any of their nutrition education. Clearly they are receiving it, but America is not learning the importance of diet, just exercise.
I would say the key to weight loss and getting healthy is 80-90 percent diet, and only 10-20 percent exercise. Tons of exercise will help you trim weight so that you look better, but if you still eat garbage, your organs and blood vessels will pay the price. I recently went out to brunch with a group of friends and one in the group is following an Atkins-type diet. The only thing she ordered to eat was a plate of bacon. I had an egg-white omelet with tons of veggies. Not vegan, but certainly less cholesterol and saturated fat than bacon. And fruits and veggies contain phytonutrients, substances that may help prevent disease and help your body work better. I think there is a ton of ignorance out there about nutrition and a show like Biggest Loser could help people to understand that you don’t have to eat meat to get protein and eating a ton of meat is not a healthy diet.
I know Biggest Loser is trying to make their show exciting and watching an attractive trainer scream at an overweight contestant is far more exciting than watching that trainer instruct someone how to eat properly or prepare a meal. All I’m saying is that if the show is an hour and a half, they could spend at least 10 minutes each episode showing the contestants get up and prepare their breakfast. And not as part of one of those LAME Yoplait commercials. I read that Bob Harper actually follows a primarily plant-based diet and it saddens me that he has to peddle garbage, HFCS products like that. Simply devote a portion of each episode to the importance of diet so that viewers don’t think gym time is the be all, end all solution. Nutrition would be an easier fix for most anyway, since you must eat, but you don’t have to exercise. I’m proof myself. When we went plant-based over a year ago, I didn’t change my exercise regime at all, but eliminating dairy and most meat made the excess pounds simply fall away over the months.
I hope Biggest Loser continues to make positive changes in its approach. This season’s focus on childhood obesity is a great one. An even better one would be the importance of plant foods in your diet. Don’t just say “healthy eating” like everyone knows what that is! Argh, that drives me mad. Ask five different people to describe a “healthy” diet and you’ll get five different answers. The time for change is now. Let’s make it!
“Eat for the body you want, not the body you have.”