The Biggest Loser: Making Weight-Loss an Unreachable Goal for Millions

Unsustainable Practices in Fat-Loss and Health

          (translation) Fatigue Kills, Have a Break  --  Cover photo:

          (translation) Fatigue Kills, Have a Break
 — Cover photo:

          “Exercise doesn’t make us lose weight, it just makes us hungry.” -Gary Taubes 

          Good TV, Terrible Advice.

          I have to admit…NBC’s “The Biggest Loser” is great TV.

          I certainly don’t mean to be cruel when I say it, but no matter what your health or disposition you can’t help but feel a sense of Schadenfreude as you watch each of the contestants struggle, complain, and then fail (they always do). Whether it be with workouts, challenges, weigh-ins, or mental breakdowns it’s just plain exciting to watch.

          After all, “I’d never give up that easily,” you calmly reassure yourself as you sit on your couch in the comfort of your home.

          “If it were me, I’d make it to the very end every time.”

          “I’d at least push myself further than THESE people.”

          “It isn’t so bad, why are they giving up so easy?”

          Of course this automatic comparison and the subsequent ego-boost one inevitably receives is at the underlying core (and success) of nearly every reality TV show in existence.

          We are presented with “average” people who are forced to compete in events designed to reduce their numbers or at the very least put them in challenging/compromising situations. The end result is TV that simply screams for the kind of mental exercises just mentioned and the self-glorification we all so enjoy (whether or not we like to admit it). TV that not only invites this condescending inner-dialogue but attempts to elicit this very response throughout every second of every episode.

          Ego boosted, mission accomplished. I’m coming back for more next episode.

          The Facade of “Good Intentions”

          It’s simply too easy for the Biggest Loser to hide behind the all too common rationalization that “they’re inspiring people” or “changing lives” or “promoting healthy living.”

          Complete Bullshit.

          It’s just almost too easy to be tricked into thinking that your health and well-being are the underlying drivers for the show, not viewers, ratings, and profits. Dedicating a reality show to the debilitating problems of the vast majority of Americans isn’t a nice gesture or out of a desire to make a difference; it’s a brilliant business move. The sooner you accept this fact, the sooner you’ll be able to realize that the show simply doesn’t support any of your best health interests (except in the most menial ways possible).

          May as Well Stay on the Couch

          Although The Biggest Loser can potentially serve as a source of encouragement, it does so in a way that prevents almost everyone from reaching that final goal. It promotes the exact wrong approach for millions of people who desperately need and want to take control of their health and life.

          Screen Shot 2013-09-09 at 11.46.29 AM

          The Biggest Loser presents a regimen of physical routines that in 99% of cases is impossible to emulate. The show focuses almost purely on the extremities of physical solution to weight-loss while almost completely ignoring and/or outright denying good eating habits and modern science which is thought to be 90% of the solution (the other 10% being physical activity — more on this later).

          It presents viewers with the illusion that what you have to do to is go crazy in the gym every day to get the results that you want. A perspective that, ultimately, teaches that the only way to achieve a healthy lifestyle is to live in a way that is ultimately unhealthy (and you know how much I hate bad teachers).

          Overtraining and participating in debilitating exercise day in, day out isn’t what our bodies want, need, or can sustain for long periods.

          After all, that SHOULD be the ultimate goal; to promote long-term health and well-being, not a short-lived surge of fad health practices that almost inevitably leads to exhaustion, lack of motivation, and a subsequent relapse into former lifestyles… that’s if you make it through this burst without sustaining potentially serious injury.

          Mentally speaking, this type of thinking nurtures the helpless mentality of so many overweight individuals in the form of the “I tried and it just didn’t work” mindset that I’ve heard time and time again.

          It’s not that you can’t, it’s that you are looking towards the wrong sources of inspiration and guidance to fuel your quest for a better life and health.

          It’s no wonder that obesity is reaching such an epidemic. Any long-term or lifestyle change has to be centered on manageable, long-term lifestyle changes, not a quick fix approach or any “extreme makeover” style scenarios.

          Simply put, the Biggest Loser provides viewers with a completely inaccurate picture of what you must do to lose weight and live healthy. It takes an overly extreme course of action on an important, but far less effective and achievable way to attain good form and better health.

          Indeed, it is yet another victory for the TV industrial complex at the price of our well-being and health.

          Which brings me to my next point.

          Selling Your Soul for Advertising Revenue

          You SHOULD NOT be eating loads of Subway if you want to lose weight.

          Sure, it’s better than plenty of other, more obvious alternatives (as there will always be something worse), but stuffing your face with a huge loaf of bread (which makes up the majority of the meal and has sugar as a primary ingredient) doesn’t help you lose weight. On the contrary, it keeps the pounds on.

          I couldn’t help but laugh at an episode last season where contestants had to refrain from eating candy and then as a reward got free reign on a plate of subs.

          While the differences may seem to be day and night, modern bread (1950’s onward) may as well be pure sugar. The moment it touches your gut it almost immediately instigates an inferno of insulin-igniting processes, not to mention the other side-effects brought on by consuming large amounts of refined grains (gut damage, inflammation, autoimmune responses, etc.).

          Screen Shot 2013-09-09 at 11.46.38 AM

          Oh it’s whole wheat???


          The trace amounts of vitamins you do gain from eating “whole wheat” breads can scarcely make up for the damages it sews among your physical systems. Not only that, but whole wheat bread actually has a HIGHER glycemic index than white bread (Glycemic index measures how fast foods spike your blood sugar. Higher the spike, the greater the insuline response, the more fat is stored).

          Yes, that’s right. Whole wheat bread actually makes you store more fat than “white” bread. Plus the “nutrition” you’re getting from most whole wheat bread isn’t nutritious at all. It’s still processed beyond measure, still needs a high dose of “enrichment” to meet even the barest of nutritional standards, and is still terrible for anyone wanting to lose weight, despite the fact that it’s aggressively being pitched as healthy and effective for weight-loss.

          Jared was paid to sell sandwiches – not make you healthy. End of story.

          I realize that a carb-free diet isn’t for everyone, and that in reality carb cycling is a healthy and beneficial route to weight-loss, but the fact is that eating an entire loaf of highly processed bread isn’t going to get you any closer to losing weight than stealing your kid’s Halloween candy and going to town.

          Fat doesn’t make you fat

          In another episode, each contestant was given a budget and told to create their own meal. In a way, the Biggest Loser can take on any popular chef/cooking show.

          Two extremely successful TV shows combined in one? Clever, clever, NBC.

          Yet even while many of the contestants made fantastic weight-loss centered meals (high protein, low/zero carb, moderate/high fat meals), the parameters on which they were judged threw almost all of the good nutritional advice out the window.

          Once again the show relied on appeasing the masses and pushed a bunch of pseudo-science towards the contestants and unassuming viewers.

          Namely that fat is bad, and carbs (oh sorry, “whole grains”) are good (we’re actually in agreement on the protein… the more the merrier).

          The thing is that fats (excluding the man-made trans-fats category) do not on their own accord make you fat. On the contrary, fats of all types have consistently been shown as a weight-loss aid as they suppress appetite and promote satiety, the exact opposite of their counterparts in the grain categories.

          Sure they contain more calories per gram than carbs or protein but you have to eat far less of them to feel full. With protein as a sidekick, they keep you feeling fuller for longer and nourish your body far in excess to that of carbohydrates.

          Carbohydrates do almost exactly the opposite.

          Carbs are far less “dense” than fats but the insulin response that will inevitably follow their consumption leads to huge swings in appetite and urges for even more carbs and calories. Even more ironic, insulin actually causes much the nutrients in your bloodstream to be removed (remember being told to eat whole wheat for the health?), causing even more hunger among other things.

          In this way, high carb/glycemic foods cause a domino effect of relentless appetite and the consumption of an higher than usual amounts of calories and carbs.

          I’m not sure about you, but I’d rather eat until I’m full than constantly longing for just one more bite.

          The Real Enemy

          Bread, Chips, and Soda-->Low Fat but VERY High Dose of Carbs = Terrible Idea for Weight Loss/Management.

          Bread, Chips, and Soda–>Low Fat but VERY High Dose of Carbs = Terrible Idea for Weight Loss/Management.

          Calories are not Calories.

          Different foods = different bodily (read: hormonal) responses.

          Gary Taubes drives my points home by making three of his own after almost 6 years of research into the subject and two best-selling books:

          • “Obesity and being overweight are not caused by eating too much and certainly not by eating food with “too much” fat.”
          • Carbohydrates, not fat, are the cause of excess weight, just as our grandparents’ generation always knew. Eating carbohydrates triggers a hormonal response — insulin secretion — that signals our bodies to accumulate fat. This is why the fewer carbohydrates we consume, the leaner we will be. Sugar, flour and other refined carbohydrates produce an exaggerated version of this response, and so are particularly fattening.”
          • “Exercise doesn’t make us lose weight, it just makes us hungry.”[Graham: I do believe that a low to moderate amount of exercise and resistance training is beneficial to achieving optimal health]

          Carbs, through the insulin response they directly invoke, are the primary instigator of unnecessary fat storage in the human body. In other words, enemy #1.

          Once we realize that the consumption of fat (yes, even saturated fats) is an essential part of a fat-loss diet, the sooner we can kick the whole-grain/carb approach which is plaguing our society with obesity and chronic diseases of every type.

          What does TBL have to say on the matter? Well, the current weight-loss nutrition guide for the show, also known as the “BL weight-loss pyramid,” suggests that nearly half of your daily calories should come from carbs.

          It’s as if they just don’t care (I could be on to something here).

          Can you imagine how much weight-loss the contestants, and the millions watching at home, would achieve with solid nutritional advice instead of the bullshit, corporate-mandated “nutrition” that is pushed on the show? (advertisers have a HUGE say in how these types of shows play out and basically call the shots on set)

          A ton more in far less time. Which, I dare say, would have the unfortunate side-effect of compressing much of their drawn-out season as well as make the show exponentially more lame (any viewer on earth would rather watch someone being pushed to their physical limit and collapse in exhaustion than eat meat and veggies day-in day-out… it’s that dramatic intensity which viewers crave. TV execs know this, which is why ratings are so damn high.

          A lesson in Logic

          Convincing an addict (directly or indirectly) that recovery is damn near impossible isn’t doing them a favor; it is sentencing them to an agonizing death through a hopeless existence. Likewise, once an obese person is convinced that the only way to fix their bodies is to maintain an impossible regiment of fitness while stuffing their face with glorified fast food (yes Subway), then the battle is already lost.

          Being overweight certainly doesn’t make you unable to comprehend basic logic (although insulin is purported to decrease frontal cortex function) and it doesn’t take much to figure out that working out at a pace akin to Pheidippides (the one who died in exhaustion after running from Marathon) isn’t only completely unsustainable, but a completely idiotic idea in itself.

          Lack of Science + Bad Logic + Long Action Sequences = Profitable TV!!!

          In and of itself, I have no problem with anyone making a ton of money off of TV (good for them). I do have a problem when such TV shows compromise the health and well-being of the vast majority of our population just to make a quick buck. For that, I’m raising a huge middle finger right to NBC’s face.

          Yes, it’s TV, I get it, but for so many people it’s so much more.

          With this in mind we are left with a final choice.

          Eat more protein and fats, exercise a few days a week, cut the grains and sugars, and embrace science and learning in your health.


          Cuddle up to the old comforts of the next quick fix sensation, biased government science, or mainstream TV and remain exactly where you are.

          The choice is up to you…

          (If you know anyone who is a fan of the show or is struggling with their own weight-loss goals I would highly suggest forwarding them this article (use links below) and checking out my reading list on the subject)

          (For more related material on a daily basis, subscribe to my personal Facebook and follow me on Twitter)

          Author: Graham Mumm

          Graham Mumm is the CEO and Chief Product Architect at ReBilder. He’s been to more than 44 countries and spends his free time reading, learning tinkering, and exploring new opportunities.


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