Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Biggest (Ommission from the Biggest) Loser . . .


As I've blogged about previously, I LOVE The Biggest Loser. I am really, truly convinced that it is a great, great TV show and is probably the first and only reality TV show that has really changed people's lives - contestants and viewers - for the better (well, that and the "Are You My Baby's Daddy?" episodes of Maury Povich, I suppose).


For those who've never seen the show - a quick summary . . . The show takes people (18 this season) form their normal lives and secludes them with nothing but excercise, nutrition information, a personal trainer, a team of "like" souls and challenges to fill their days so they can focus on getting heatlhy (no TV, no phones, no Internet, no nuttin'). The contestants start on teams (it eventually becomes an individual competition as the contestants get eliminated) and each episode has a temptation/reward challenge and a physical/reward challenge and the contestants work out daily with a team trainer - at the end of each week everyone goes on the "giant scale" to be weighed and the team that loses the least total weight has to vote to decide who on their team is "weighing them down" and that person is kicked off the show. Ultmiately, one person is the Biggest Loser and the get a ton of cash and a cover photo on People magazine (or whatever). We good? Good.


Season Four has been no let down to me in terms of the tears at each episode (I bawled AGAIN last night as the winning team got to call their families for 10 minutes each and again during the elimination but - more about that later) but there are parts of the show that really do sort of bother me. Mainly because, as a person who's struggled with food and weight my entire life, I feel like the show could do a better job of explaing two things . . .


1 - Food Itself. Last night's episode was a wonderful illustration of how strong of a force food really is for someone with lifelong obesity. The show put the contestants, one by one, in a room full of 400,000+ calories of junk food for four minutes each. The challenge was simple - eat nothing or go CRAZY. The person that ate the most calories would get an additional three pounds added to their weight loss for the week which could help them earn individual immunity from being sent home and could help their team avoid having to send someone home too. Here is the thing that could have been explained better before the challenge. These people are all on this show for a reason - their will power around food is not great. NOW, imagine two weeks with strangers, working out four hours a day, taking your shirt off on national television for weigh ins and having NO interaction with your family and friends while eating only very healthy foods all the time. Then, suddenly, you are alone in a room with all the food that has ever comforted you in times of stress. What's a pudger to do? Well, some people did very well (ate nothing), most had a little something (I mean - why not - everything in moderation, right?) and a few went NUTS. The Blue Team had strategized that Neil (the heaviest person on the show) would eat a lot because he had the most weight to lose anyway and had done fairly well at the first two weigh ins. They also figured that by ONE person eating a lot - the rest could eat nothing and they would still get the weight bonus. So Neil came to play - he ate over 1,700 calories in four minutes (that is two days worth of food for me these days so I get a little nuts thinking about how much I used to eat in that context). They win, right? Well - sort of. Patty, who until last night was my sentimental favorite to win it all, went straight up loony and wolfed down 1,900+ calories. Why? She just couldn't resist. LONG story, I know, but the point is that food is very, very tempting. Patt was having a very hard time being away from her family and her life and she lost it. Nothing we haven't all done at least once in our lives and nothing we can't understand but they didn't really give it context. They let the episode serve merely as tension within the blue team and a way for the trainer (Bob, who my wife and I work out with almost daily on his DVDs) to remind everyone that they are a team and have to trust each other. Please, NBC, for the rest of us - give it more context. Hire a shrink to talk about the mental impacts of food and the lack of control some people have around food, etc. It would have made Patty much more sympthasizable (word?) in her actions and I might still be rooting for her - instead, I've picked a new pony. Hypocrtical of me? NO! While the food draw is powerful and while I have been there myself . . . she was part of a team and the team decided to do something risky but clear. She ignored that and did a DANCE while eating. You, Patty, are no longer my Biggest Loser. I wish you well though.


2 - Diet and Excercise Plateaus. Here's the other thing that happens every season on the show. The first week everyone loses a TON of weight. Jerry, a 62 year old, lost like 30 pounds in the first week alone (they sent him home last night - something I'm rather pissed about), for example. Everyone feels great and everyone cheers. Week two is also a good week for almost everyone and things start feeling "real" - we're going to BEAT the weight, they all think. Then . . . week 3. 1 pound. 2 pounds. 5 pounds at best (I think one guy lost 9 last night, the rest all less than a handful). Why? Well - simple - after 21 days of this regimen, the body has readjusted. The calories you are taking in are now "regular" to the body. The body is in protection mode because you are working it four hours a day so what little you take it - it is keeping. In the meantime, you are working out for FOUR HOURS A DAY (v. 0 minutes per month in most cases before the show) so you are building a ton of muscle which weighs more than fat and technically makes you heavier. NO ONE ever really explains this to the contestants. They cry and they say "it is heartbreaking to see you so upset" but no one says - "Your body is changing. Look at your man boobs - they are getting biddy, right?" Instead, the contestants get dejected and they feel like they are not doing enough and people at home might have the same concerns with a new diet and excercise plan and that first plateau is when most of us walk away from the diet. Some of these people will lose 100+ more pounds during the run of the show . . . and maybe those of us at home could to but - they don't take the time to explain it. They need, again, to hire someone to come on the show and just explain it to everyone. No big whoop.


Anywho, my point in this very, very long post is just to say that food is powerful. Some of us (I pray GOD not me, no offense) will eventually resubmit to food. We'll start "grazing" or we'll start cheating or we'll eat cake the first chance we get or we'll go back to sneaking food. Even after all we've been through and the life changes we've decided to make (like leaving a family to go on TV, etc.) - we will still not be strong enough to beat food and ALL of us will eventually hit a plateau in our weight loss and with our post-surgery success. We need to remind ourselves that it is natrual and normal and something we will have to overcome. I just think the show could do a few small things "better" to help reinforce the good that it does for 95% of the show.


In the meantime - I'm embarassed for the Blue team that they got rid of Jerry. He was the man and I think the Blue team will have a hard time recovering from his loss. They will be in big trouble without him. My NEW favorite to win the whole show is Jez - a 24 year old guy who reminds me a little bit of another great man with a much better person inside him than most people might "see" and a man that have always taken time to cheer for - me (smile)! Go get em, Jez!



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