I don’t watch The Biggest Loser. I didn’t even realize another season was on until I saw the recent uproar about one of the participants who lost 59.6% of her weight and is being accused of having an eating disorder all over the internet. This post is not about that participant because we can't diagnose her with having an eating disorder, and that's a pretty strong and harmful accusation to make. I just hope she is able to get help, if she needs it.
Past participants have spoken out about their eating disorders, and I’m sure there’s even more that have not spoken out. Eating disorders are pretty secretive, and there are plenty of people who don't acknowledge their disordered eating.
Dieting makes you Crazy
What research has shown us is that eating disorders and dieting go hand-in-hand. Our thoughts and habits around food get out of control, and diets only add to the cray-cray. Most people have heard diets don’t work in the long-term, but that doesn’t stop them from trying the latest and greatest one.
The Biggest Loser adds to the fire. Participants go through basically a starvation diet with extreme exercise. To me, it sounds pretty similar to the Minnesota Starvation experiment where research subjects ate a moderately calorie restricted diet. Besides the weight loss, they became obsessed with food, experienced depression, and endured severe emotional distress. When they finally were able to eat a normal amount again, they overate for months. Even if dieting causes weight loss, the mental or emotional damage is not worth it.
These are normal physiological responses to restrictive dieting plans and nutrient deficiencies. If you find yourself feeling crazy or on an emotional rollercoaster while dieting, it's your body's normal response to not getting enough energy or nutrients. You're not lacking in willpower. Most of the time, you just need to eat more to nourish your body.
A past participant spoke out about her eating disorder and what really happens on the show. She reports she was eating around 1000-1200 calories a day while working out for 2-5 hours a day. That is dangerous and irresponsible. This interview with her is definitely worth reading.
Fitness should be Fun
The few episodes I’ve watched of The Biggest Loser make exercise look like torture. The participants work out for several hours a day, which sounds like a fast track to injury to me. Exercise should not be a miserable activity on your to-do list. Your body is meant to move, and you don’t have to run marathons or do handstands to exercise. Find a form of movement that makes your body feel good and gets you excited. When you learn to move with love, you’ll be grateful of your body’s strength, power, and resilience.
Health Comes First
Finally, The Biggest Loser focuses on weight loss, not health. There is a huge difference. You can force your body to lose weight many different ways – juice cleanses, detoxes, diets, or simply not eating. There’s no guarantee you’re getting healthier because you’re losing weight, even if you are so-called “detoxing.”
Health should be focused on your mental and emotional state just as much as your physical state. Just looking at its name - The Biggest Loser - just screams negativity. The goal is to focus on shrinking yourself and losing weight. Weight is a number on a scale. It does not determine how healthy, smart, beautiful, strong, kind, loving, or funny you are.
The Biggest Loser sounds like a recipe for disaster when it comes to health. Praising the person who loses the most weight in a few short months and shaming everyone else is mental abuse that will lead to adapting more dieting rules and habits. There’s no talk about self-love or the importance of your thoughts around food.
You can be healthy at any size.
Do you want to lose weight and look good based on someone else’s ideal?
Or do you want to be healthy, feel good, and be happy with yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally?
Yes, by choosing health you may lose weight, but it’s not the goal. By choosing health, you can nourish your body with whatever it needs and love it now, rather than in 20 or a 100 pounds from now.