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Does 'The Biggest Loser' Promote Unhealthy Weight Loss? Contestants Speak Out

by Nick Zaino, posted Jul 1st 2010 2:30PM
Kelly MacFarland of 'The Biggest Loser' season one'The Biggest Loser,' NBC's popular weight loss reality program, has come under fire in the past several months for its weight loss practices. In November, season 1 contestant Ryan C. Benson revealed to the New York Times that he had lost weight by fasting and dehydrating, pushing himself to the point where he was urinating blood.

More recently, season 3's Kai Hibbard has been talking about gaining back 70 of the 118 pounds she lost on the show, and how the pressures of the show forced her into a mentality where a cup of coffee was considered a full meal.

But not all former contestants blame the show. TV Squad spoke to two season 1's Kelly MacFarland and Andrea Baptiste, who stressed that 'The Biggest Loser' is a reality show -- and that viewers should keep in mind that the show is entertainment, first and foremost.

"Anything you see on television, you can't take it that seriously," MacFarland told us. "It's television."

MacFarland started the show at 223 pound and finished at 152. She considers the main job of the show to help her get her weight down to a level where she could manage it herself. For her, it was a choice between weight loss surgery and the show, and she chose the show.

"That's the job of the show, is losing weight," she said. "There's no couch, there's no [psychiatrist]. It's not there to talk about what's going on in your head. You have to kind of go into it knowing, I'm going to physically change my body, and I may feel inspired when I leave, but if I had any sort of psychological reason why I ate or I overate or I under-ate or whatever, that's not going to be remedied."

The main problem with the show is its unrealistic timeline. An audience might see someone lose 20 or 30 pounds on an episode and think it happened in one week, since the last episode. But that weight loss could represent two weeks or more of work and diet.

MacFarland and Baptiste say neither of them lost more the eight or nine pounds in a single week. And that's after working out eight to twelve hours a day. Which makes it a near certainty that people will gain some weight back after leaving the show.

"Do I work out eight hours a day? No. You can't do that in the real world," said MacFarland, noting that she has gained back anywhere from 10 to 20 pounds since the show, and struggled to keep it off. "So if you leave 'Biggest Loser' and you go home and you gain weight, it's because you can't sustain that lifestyle."

Andrea BaptisteBaptiste echoed that sentiment. She started the show at 215 pound and got down to 155, but notes that she was working roughly 12 hours a day exercising, something she could never replicate outside of 'The Biggest Loser.' She, too, has gained back a small amount of weight.

"It's certainly not easy because, the funny thing about reality TV is that it's not reality," she said. "In that environment, it's very easy to maintain because that's all you do. But when I'm living in the real world and going to work, I can't exercise for several hours a day. I'm lucky to get in an hour a day."

Baptiste went into 'The Biggest Loser' having worked as an exercise physiologist for roughly eight years. She said she didn't see anything happening on the show she considered dangerous or unhealthy, like working out in plastic wrap or taking dangerous supplements. But she was also careful to note that she only knew of her personal experience working with Bob Harper, one of the trainers on the show.

"He really worked with us to have well-balanced meals, so we had proteins, starch, vegetables, and eating healthy, clean food," she said. "So that's what we practiced on eating." She added, "Bob made sure we were constantly hydrated and worked out in optimal conditions as could possibly be for the environment that we were in."

MacFarland, a comedian and writer, sometimes speaks to groups about wellness. And she said gaining back weight can have a psychological impact. "When I'm up 20 pounds and I'm talking about my experience on 'The Biggest Loser,' it definitely messes with your head," she said. "And then I have to struggle to take that 20 pounds off to make myself feel better about myself and to feel more healthy."

MacFarland and Baptiste both said they've seen useful tips on the show for diet and exercise, but admit they haven't watched it much since their season was over. And they will both tell you to take what you see on 'The Biggest Loser' with a grain of salt.

"I guess the only thing I would say is that you're on a reality show," said MacFarland. "I think that's what people keep forgetting, is that it's a reality show, so any time you mix a contest and weight loss, it's probably going to be a little dicey."

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Sean Levy

If weight loss was as easy as just eating right and exercising I think everyone would do it. At least people who go to gyms and spend thousand of dollars on memberships and personal training. But sadly, even they don't all get the results they really want. Some people really want to lose the weight but are unaware of the real problem, much like you'll see in a drug addict or alcoholic. Also the majority of people will never understand or want to understand that these people are truly sick and need help. We just judge them and say they don't have the will power and if they really want it they'll make the change. From my own personal experience I know this isn't true. And if you are skeptical of this comment, try working with people towards a weight loss goal everyday and watch some get it and some not, and you'll start to understand that not everyone has the same ability to drop weight like some of us. Just like not everyone on this list of comments is a millionaire. And who doesn't want to be? Then why aren't you? Now when we look at it from this context it becomes a little bit clearer that sometimes it's not only about right action.

April 03 2011 at 12:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The only one's complaining are the one's who had no willpower when they went home. There are 100 contestants from over the years. Even some who gained it back stand by it (like that winner that gained it back and is now back on track). Its a better option than the surgery. These are just cry babies who thought they could go back to eating junk and not exercising.

July 08 2010 at 10:23 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
Dr. Abby Aronowitz

I am an expert blogger for Diet.com; "Dr. Abby," writing a "health at every size" column for the top diet site in the world. It would be my pleasure to interview any Biggest Loser contestants, to offer a huge platform for truths that must be told. Contact me through my website, DearDrAbby.com.

Nearly 7,000 genes program people's size, determining about 77 percent of our actual weight. The other 23/% is influenced by lifestyle. Living a healthy lifestyle is very different from trying to lose weight, and nearly 100% of people gain back lost weight. The body tries to maintain homeostasis, or its natural weight, which is why so many people must develop an eating disorder to keep weight off.

This has nothing to do with emotional eating, or laziness, or anything else, rather than biology. You show me someone who binges, and I'll bet they have been depriving. The primary psychological symptom of starvation is preoccupation with food.

Rather, the goal should be an easy, relaxed relationship with food, moving the body a reasonable amount, and coping effectively. Self acceptance of a socially unacceptable size, is the harder part.

Discrimination fuels fat-phobia and self-hatred, to the point that people subject themselves to such unnatural, extreme measures to feel good about themselves. It's certainly not about health, since under-eating and over-exercising are not healthy. People have been duped into surgeries, diets, and television shows promising health, and yielding temporary results - which are typically undone by yo-yo dieting.

"Health at every size" is a goal everyone can strive for, since health is about the "process" of living healthfully, instead of an "outcome" of weight loss.

July 06 2010 at 3:30 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Dr. Abby Aronowitz's comment

The problem with your approach "Dr." is that you legitimate the negative behavior with your over-reliance on genetics. Does anyone really believe that personal choice has one quarter of the cause you propose? Genes do not determine behavior; they create tendencies but we all have the choice to fight our proclivities or indulge them. To deny such is to reduce human beings to automatons. Let us consider who eats obscenely high calorie/fat fast food. Healthy people? Not likely. Who obsessively drinks soft drinks sweetened by pancreas-destroying high fructose corn syrup? Healthy people? Not likely? Your post confuses background conditions for causality. Stop enabling negative behavior that drives up national healthcare costs for everyone, and empower people to make better choices.

December 01 2011 at 9:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

And they will both tell you to take what you see on 'The Biggest Loser' with a grain of salt.

"I guess the only thing I would say is that you're on a reality show," said MacFarland. "I think that's what people keep forgetting, is that it's a reality show, so any time you mix a contest and weight loss, it's probably going to be a little dicey."

The above was copied and pasted from the article. The thing I have wondered about for years and years now is the practice of calling all these shows 'reality' shows when they rarely have anything to do with real life. I guess Webster's is going to have to adjust the definition of 'reality' in their next updated dictionary. Personally, most of these shows make my skin crawl. I've tried to watch a few of them and end up cringing at the behaviors displayed and the humiliation to which these faux-celebrities subject themselves. God only knows what effects these shows will have on the generation currently growing up with them.

July 05 2010 at 11:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I found a link that many may be interested in. I'm not selling anything, just thought foodies may find it interesting. Foods purchased for a week consumption from around the world. The US is listed twice. I see a LOT of processed foods and not a lot of veggies until lower on the list where food is truly seen as survival. http://www.6die.com/2010/07/family-food-consumption-by-country.html

July 05 2010 at 8:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

i have never seen someone lose 30 pounds in one week

July 05 2010 at 8:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

People can fall back on many excuses. I agree if you have a medical problem(thyroid, etc) it will be much harder to lose and keep it off. But it can be done if you put forth the effort. Yes it is hard work but the rewards are many.
You can blame anything and everyone but the bottom line is that you get off your a** and do something about it.

July 05 2010 at 8:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

People need to eat in moderation, stay away from fast food and anything with sugar and salt, except fruit which is natural sugar, exercise daily and drink alot of water and if you do that you will lose weight. You have to stick with it though and not be a closet eater.

July 05 2010 at 8:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

if your over weight and shock your body that bad by going on a diet and working out all day. its not that unbelieveable people can lose 10lbs in a week. but im not a doctor.

July 05 2010 at 8:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Excuses for gaining the weight back...you did the hardcore to get to the ideal weight now it's up to you to MAINTAIN it...not to keep losing...you are making excuses for your overeating problems...learn to eat healthier.

July 05 2010 at 7:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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