Weight Loss and Reality Shows: Is it Realistic?

April 15, 2011 By: afeldman 6 Comments

With the rising popularity of weight loss and growing knowledge of the public about the inherent risks of obesity, I feel that it is important to be aware of stereotypes presented by television shows.  It started with The Biggest Loser seven years ago and now there are a number of weight loss shows on TV.  While I think that there are many positives that come from these shows, there are also some aspects that are not completely true, from my perspective as a trainer.  In this article, I would like to mention the important things to remember when you try to compare your progress to that of the individual working out on your television screen.

1. Participants are engaged 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The Biggest Loser

The contestants on The Biggest Loser experience incredible weight loss, but it isn't the most realistic way to accomplish a healthy lifestyle.

It is like being in preschool again.  Everything they do against the diet or exercise program is immediately called to their attention by a trainer, nutritionist or another cast mate.  Unfortunately, most of us are not in a situation where someone is watching our eating and activities at all hours of the day.  We also have jobs, school, families and other obligations.  When participants jump into The Biggest Loser or Heavy, they are in a situation where their personal lives are left behind, giving fitness and nutrition top billing.  When a person has that much energy and time to put into exercise, then the rapid weight loss you see on TV occurs.  Whether that is healthy or not is another story.

2. Through the art of camera work and editing these shows are portraying an emotion.

At the beginning of a weight loss show, the producers use a convincing song selection, camera angles and editing to depict the emotional hardships of the contestants.  At the end, you will hear more uplifting music and different camera angles are used to emphasize progress and positive feelings.  My point is that anything that goes against the general vibe that show producers are trying to depict is edited out in the production process.  After a show is filmed, there are weeks to months spent in editing where all of this is done.  Imagine watching all 168 hours of the workout week without music and camera changes.  You would see the reality of the show, but it would also be pretty boring.  The next time you are watching Heavy, when they cut from one scene to the next or from one week to the next, think about what they didn’t show you.  This could be contestants complaining of aches and pains, complaining about the trainers, cheating on their programs closer to the end and even questioning the validity of the show itself.  You never know the extent to what is being edited out.

3. These shows get funding from sponsors to market exercise clothing, equipment and sometimes even supplements.

Just like any other show, companies pay a lot of money to be featured.  You may see specific brands being worn on the contestants or the trainers promoting a specific piece of equipment in their fitness tip segment.  When a television show recommends that you go out and buy a supplement, it may not be a good idea to jump right in and start taking something.  I also would not recommend changing everything that you do at the gym just because you saw one person doing it on a segment of the show.

4. The trainers are pushed to make their clients lose weight in the quickest amount of time possible.

Boot Camp

You don't need to put yourself through extreme boot camp to become fitter and experience healthy weight loss.

How exciting would The Biggest Loser be if everyone stayed in a 1-5 pound a week weight loss range?  It probably wouldn’t have the same ratings.  You may have even read about many of the participants gaining weight back after being on the show.  While the trainers are definitely doing something right, it is good to remember that everything is bigger in television; this includes the exercise programs thrown at participants, even if they do not promote long term weight loss as well as a steadier program.

5. Everybody is different.

The Biggest Loser is built around a competition.  Everyone is competing to lose the most weight in the shortest time.  Outside of the TV world, there is a problem with that.  Factors from our genetics, upbringings and previous experience influence how our bodies respond to different exercises, different foods and even the addition of a new habit.  Everyone is different.  Otherwise, bikers in the Tour de France would all finish at the same exact time.  The bottom line is that you need to compare yourself to your own exercise and weight loss measurements, not to someone else’s that are out of reach.  Most individuals who unrealistically compare themselves to TV contestants are also nowhere near as heavy.  Proportionally speaking, that means there is not as much weight to lose.  That alone should lower weekly weight loss expectations.

6. There are good and bad trainers everywhere.

Even though a lot of the trainers I have seen in these shows seem pretty knowledgeable, there are a few that have worried me as fitness professional.  An example that I have seen includes giving a 400 pound client with severe hypertension a plyometric training program.  Plyometrics are exercises involving repetitive quick movements that usually involve high impact forces on the body.  They are mostly utilized by athletes and are pointed out as being high risk by any accredited health and wellness organization when it comes to working with heavier clients.  My point here is that you should keep an open mind with what is said and shown.  Nothing is the magic pill for weight loss and this includes television programs.

The Final Message: What you can take away from these shows.

I know it seems as though I’ve been giving weight loss reality shows, like The Biggest Loser and I Used to Be Fat, a bad reputation, but there are many positives to take away from these shows.  The people losing weight are people just like you and me who are going through a journey of adapting a healthy lifestyle.  They may not be doing it in the same way, but they are definitely a source of inspiration.  Although some trainers on these shows may not be the gold standard of fitness, they have some good ideas in their arsenal.  As long as you keep an open mind when watching these shows and avoid unrealistic thinking, you can benefit greatly by scheduling your weekly Biggest Loser night.

Even better, think about joining us at Shane Diet Resorts, where you can learn about how to lose weight and get fit safely and for the long term.

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