The Biggest Loser Isn't About Wellness
January 30, 2020 8:07 AM   Subscribe

It's About the Spectacle of Fat People's Pain and Tears The Biggest Loser is back. But it’s been given a makeover from its origins in the openly, cheerfully exploitative reality TV environment of the early 2000s. Now it’s about wellness, about lifestyle changes. Or at least, that’s what the producers want you to think, even as the show retains all its original premises. They can wrap this reboot in all the wellness language they want, but it’s the same old shit.

‘The Biggest Loser’ Is One of the Most Harmful Reality Shows on Television: On the eve of its return, the weight-loss juggernaut is haunted by disturbing reports from former contestant

This time it's without Jillian Michaels:

Her media career began with the NBC series The Biggest Loser (which will be returning this year on USA without Michaels’s involvement), a reality show in which contestants were subjected to a barrage of drastic weight loss practices that, in most instances, did not lead to sustained weight loss. In fact, the show’s practices of daily workouts that were 10 times what is recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine, and purposeful dehydration prior to weigh-ins, are very far from healthy. While Michaels left the show in 2014, she seems to have done so because she didn’t like how she was portrayed, rather than ideological differences with the approach of the show to weight loss more generally.
posted by Carillon (17 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
The good news: Almost no one is watching (well, only 844,000 people, which is basically no one, compared to the 10 million plus it averaged at its peak.)
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:18 AM on January 30 [12 favorites]

Considering Bob Harper himself had a massive heart attack, which was not affected one way or the other by how much body fat he has, the idea that "thin" = "well" is undermined by the show's own staffing.
posted by xingcat at 8:21 AM on January 30 [7 favorites]

Someone I cared about who won a prize on this show died age 46. Cause of death was not given widely, but how could it not be related. Fuck everything about that.
posted by wellred at 8:28 AM on January 30 [34 favorites]

I am so sick of the term 'wellness' and the cynical bullshit that accompanies it.
posted by Evstar at 8:42 AM on January 30 [17 favorites]

At this point I consider "wellness" to be a dog-whistle term for quacks and hucksters and any entity that uses it seemingly sincerely should be avoided if at all possible.

I understand why people sign up for shows like this (desperation, the myth of hard work earning due rewards, the promise of individualized attention, the dwindling glamor of being on tv) but I don't understand how other people can watch them. We're pretty good at making fictional suffering really poignant these days - have you heard of the tv show The Terror? Maybe give that a go next time you've got some time to waste and want to watch people suffering.

From the little bit of the original I saw back in the day, the worst part was the weigh ins, and according to the article that's still a thing in the new show, of course. It's not just about seeing fat people cry, certainly not. It has to be about seeing fat people objectified, presented as a number, and stripped of dignity, under a veil of consent.
posted by Mizu at 9:12 AM on January 30 [6 favorites]

Thank you for linking that Vox article about Jillian Michaels vis-a-vis Lizzo. Anybody who has actually seen Lizzo in concert knows that lady gets plenty of cardio, and this "I'm just worried about her clogged arteries" is utter bullshit.
posted by queensissy at 9:54 AM on January 30 [22 favorites]

Since there's a lot of speculation about why people watch this show, I'm going to go ahead and admit that I used to watch it, though I'm embarrassed about it now. It was not because I wanted to see fat people cry or be objectified or watch them suffering. It was because I was fat myself and thought of it as inspirational. I even took a class taught by a local man who was the at-home winner during his season. (Spoiler: I did not lose weight.)

I would bet anything that a fair amount of people who watch this show are fat people who have bought into the self-hatred and the belief that the only way to be happy in life is to be thin. When I was watching it, I really thought that watching all of that punishing diet and exercise would enable me to do enough of that to myself to, you know, live like a regular person - a person who can buy decent clothes that aren't hidden way in the back of the store and not be catcalled by children and not worry that every single thing that's wrong with your life, be it your job, your romantic life, or your friendships, is bad only because you can't lose weight.

I eventually realized that the lesson of the Biggest Loser is that you're allowed to be fat on TV if you're willing to be constantly punished for it. And then I quit watching. But I think there are still lots of people who are exactly where I used to be.

I actually have lost a fair amount of weight by focusing on my health in a real way and not in the bullshit way you see everywhere that claims to be focusing on health but isn't. It was a very, very slow process. And I'm still technically obese, but now my blood pressure and blood sugars are normal.
posted by FencingGal at 9:59 AM on January 30 [50 favorites]

There were studies (sorry, NYT paywall) on the contestants from this show, who for the most part gained the weight back, demonstrating that maintaining weight loss isn't as simple as 'calories in, calories out', or willpower, or whatever, and that this bootcamp-y style of rapid weight loss is largely ineffective in the long run. I get why the network wants this cashgrab on TV but it's kinda sad that there are actual trainers, ostensibly health professionals, who are fine going along with this too. I guess there's always someone.
posted by thebots at 11:08 AM on January 30 [2 favorites]

That Medium article is horrifying and heartbreaking. I had no idea the show was so insanely cruel, and that there is so much evidence of it permanently ruining the health of some of its contestants. And of course, the contestants had to sign waivers and the producers intimidate them from going public. Those producers and celebrity trainers should be held legally accountable for the damage they've done.
posted by treepour at 11:10 AM on January 30 [2 favorites]

I found this bit from a linked NY Post article very interesting, WRT the show's gag order on former contestants:
[Suzanne Mendonca and Rulon Gardner] are in contact with other contestants — there’s a private alumni site on Facebook — and the most scandalous secret, Mendonca says, is that just about everyone’s gained the weight back, herself included.

“NBC never does a reunion,” she says. “Why? Because we’re all fat again!”
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:19 AM on January 30 [15 favorites]

Fuck this shit. It is so, so, so harmful to vulnerable people. It deserves only contempt.
posted by praemunire at 12:11 PM on January 30 [2 favorites]

i watched it for the same reasons fencing gal did. it was aspirational if not inspirational.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 1:15 PM on January 30 [3 favorites]

Something that particularly stood out to me is this, from the piece on Medium:

"A 2012 study published in the journal Obesity found that people who watched just one episode of the show exhibited higher levels of explicit bias against fat people."

Harming the contestants is terrible but this has gotta have pretty widespread negative effects too.
posted by needs more cowbell at 1:55 PM on January 30 [18 favorites]

TBL is like rocket fuel for concern trolls, and concern trolls are assholes.

Even worse, they're everywhere, and are perversely even more virulent in the progressive realm, where supposedly liberal folks get their tut-tut on like overheated parishioners (even on Metafilter, where every single mildly hey-it's-okay-to-be-comfortable-with-your-body post seems to get the but-but-we're-just-worried-about-your-health brigade clanging in).
posted by sonascope at 2:27 PM on January 30 [19 favorites]

Metafilter: The dwindling glamor of being on tv.
posted by Rat Spatula at 8:38 PM on January 30 [1 favorite]

I'm a fat guy (5'10", 415 lbs fat).

I came home and my roomie had tv on in background (muted) while doing compy shit... I noticed 2 large people on the screen at the same time. I was like 'huh'?

And strangely I did feel "weird" (even though being in Wisconsin it's not like I don't see fat people every day). The image we're sold of the world. And to see ME as the "alien". Why is this?

Anyways, I just pointed out how interesting and maybe we're making progress on this weight thing to have 2 people in a show who are large.

"No... it's a Chuck Lorre show".

Oh. I get it. I'm SUPPOSED to feel self-disgust or something. IDK.

Anyways, just one more "fuck our society's messaging on weight and health issues" log on the fire.
posted by symbioid at 2:43 PM on January 31 [4 favorites]

« Older Fifteen Minutes of Frame   |   Joanna Russ, the Science-Fiction Writer Who Said... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments