Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Biggest Loser

I discovered this reality show during my last years in Uni. The Biggest Loser takes extremely overweight individuals selected through auditions to eventually join the show and begin their weight loss journey. In the end, the person who loses the most weight wins a large cash prize, which is a huge motivator besides regaining your health, fitness, self confidence and resolving emotional issues throughout the show.

In The Biggest Loser America, contestants are aided by trainers Bob Harper and Jillian Micheals. In The Biggest Loser Australia, Shannan Ponton and Michelle Bridges are the trainers. Occasionally throughout the Australian show, The Commando makes an appearance to grill the contestants during training. Even Bob Harper and Jillian Micheals will make appearances and periodically join the rest of the trainers to help train the Australian contestants. I've only watched Season 1 (2006)-3 (2008) of Australia's version so far.

How it works:
Confirmed contestants will be brought into a controlled environment, called the White House, where they will remain for 12 weeks. Once there, they will go for an initial weigh-in wearing very light clothing to make their inital starting weight. Guys will only wear shorts, girls will wear shorts and tops and this will happen at every weigh-in. The weigh-in will be done in the presence of everyone and in front of the whole of Australia, so there is NOWHERE to hide. During the course of the show, contestants will be educated on nutrition, exercise and fitness and trained really, REALLY hard by the personal trainers.

Contestants are usually split into 2 competing teams. Weekly weigh-ins will be done and each contestant will be eliminated based on how little they lost. Hence, everyone will want to push as hard as they can and try to lose as much as possible each week, hence the term 'biggest loser'. They will also face weekly challenges (which are VERY GRUELLING!), so you can imagine how it would affect the team when losing one member. The format in each season changes slightly, but there are many twists in the game. Here's a sample preview from Season 3:

What I like:- it teaches the contestants proper nutrition, workout and ultimately change their lives. The key to successful fat loss and maintaining a healthy weight is a lifestyle change, which is sustainable long term.

- it preaches that the BEST way to lose fat and look great is by both good diet/nutrition and exercise. NOT any fad or crash dieting with no exercise (I still see many people doing this!).

- the show not only addresses physical and health issues, but recognizes the need to resolve the mental and emotional problems, as well as bad habits, which are usually the root cause for a person gaining so much weight. It helps each contestant deal with uncontrolled and bad eating habits, emotional eating due to loss of a loved one, very low self-esteem (I was a victim of this), depression, insecurities etc. This is one of the reasons why I loved this show so much, because it REALLY relates to me, although I was never borderline obese, but I suffered from depression and very low self-esteem in the past.

- it teaches them discipline, helps them believe in themselves and push themselves past they own perceived limits. The only limits you have are the ones you put on yourself.

What I don't like:
- the amount of exercise they do daily is unrealistic and not sustainable long term. It's reported that they work out about 4-6 hours A DAY! Even if it's only short term (12 weeks) and they can easily fall back to 1-2 hours a day after that, it's still a ridiculous amount unless you're an athlete with a specific nutrition and training program. A normal individual does NOT have that much time daily to work out. Furthermore, you really risk over-training and injury, which is why the paramedics and medical team are always available on site in case anything happens. Some contestants have even been sent to the hospital before!

- some trainers advocate restrictions to certain favourite foods. DON'T get me wrong, I'm ALL FOR healthy eating, but enjoying some chocolate, a slice of cake, some pizza or ice cream occasionally feels good to me, as long as 80-90% of what I eat are wholesome, healthy foods. I don't like it when certain eliminated contestants say that they have never touched any chocolate or [insert favorite food here] since they left. If they didn't feel like eating any, it's TOTALLY fine. But if they want to but restrict themselves, it will pose a problem in the future. Eventually, they might crumble psychologically and go on a binge. The key is moderation, NOT deprivation. Have a couple of slices of pizza, NOT the whole pizza. Eat a quarter bar of chocolate, NOT polish off a whole bar. It's all about self-control, you get my drift?

- the show uses the term weight loss instead of fat loss (which would be a better goal). Weight loss can come from water, lean muscle or fat. A person who is overweight tends to hold a lot of water, which is usually the first thing to go when adding exercise and following a proper diet. So, it's no surprise that the weight loss on the first week's weigh-in went through the roof! I'm just guessing that the weight loss mechanism is used as it's the easiest to measure, but it's hardly an optimal result. Fat loss would definitely be better.

I still love this show and look forward to watching Season 4. Watching each episode as everyone fights and struggles physically, emotionally and mentally to change themselves is so heartfelt and inspiring. Sometimes, I cheer and cry with them. Like I said, I can definitely relate =)

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