The Biggest Loser: Is It a Motivator or De-motivator?

Amelia Phillips

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With Season 10 of The Biggest Loser underway, viewers are left to contemplate the journey and incredible transformations of the contestants. What these people achieve in 12 weeks, most of us wouldn’t achieve in a lifetime. Yet many viewers dismiss the program as “unrealistic”, “setting a poor example of healthy weight loss”, and “way too challenging to try.” With over 10% of the population watching the program at some stage, it has the ability to significantly affect how people feel about exercise and weight loss. The question remains, however, is the biggest loser a motivator or de-motivator?

When throwing the topic open for discussion, it’s evident that there are many who see the show as a de-motivator. In an article from Time, the author was concerned about;

  • the program’s focus on rapid weight loss,
  • the fact that it paid little attention to the maintenance of their results
  • the rumours that drastic losses experienced often came from deliberate dehydration before a weigh in.
  • the general public might think that such high weight loss numbers were the norm.
  • Other people commented that the pain these contestants went through was too much. If weight loss was going to be that hard, then they weren’t even going to try.

I’d like to challenge these opinions, as I think that overall, the Biggest Loser is a massive motivator. It may be filmed in a 12 week pressure cooker situation leading to some of the above concerns, but I believe that the majority of viewers see that the benefits far outweigh the concerns.

Firstly “ The Biggest Loser enlists contestants that we can all relate to: If they can do it, well so can I… Take an Olympic athlete for example. Inspiring? Yes. Achieving remarkable results? Absolutely. Can an overweight non exerciser relate to them? In most cases not! Most Olympic athletes have been living and breathing exercise all their life, whereas most people struggling with their weight wouldn’t even get on a bike let alone wear the bike shorts! Contestants are real people struggling with the same issues, which connect them to their audience.

Secondly, The Biggest Loser is educational. Honestly how many of you guessed the correct order of high calorie/fat foods in those challenges? I bet you got some great new exercise tips too. I think one of the biggest exercise tips is intensity. These people train hard, and many people are scared of getting injured so they slow down. However lugging an extra 10+ kg around 24/7 will do far more damage to your joints than a little running in your workout. This program teaches the audience, rather than just entertaining them.

Thirdly, it WORKS! Week after week, the weight falls off these contestants. And guess what the principles are that the trainers use? The simple ‘calories in Vs calories out’ model. The contestants track their calorie intake through a food diary. They then track their calories burned through their heart rate monitors. Michelles team for example must have burned 600cal in the morning before breakfast, before she arrives (that’s about an hour of steady powerwalking for an overweight person). The Calories in Vs Calories out model DOES work! Yes there are broader health rules to follow, but if you are eating more calories than you are burning you will never lose weight.

Now obviously (for the prupose of our entertainment viewing) these contestants train harder and longer (up to four hours per day) than in the real world, that’s why the results are so rapid. I think any intelligent person would understand that four hours of training per day is not realistic or expected in the real world, so clearly our real world results will not be as rapid. However the calories in/out model is still in my opinion one of the most effective ways lose weight, and keep it off.

Finally, The Biggest Loser is inspiring. The psychology behind their achievements is amazing to witness. You can see the roadblocks that have led to failure in the past and watch as the trainers coach them into a new way of thinking. When you see someone move from a state of unhappiness and disappointment to one of achievement and success, it gives you hope, lights the fire in your belly and reminds you that you are in control of the life you chose to lead. Therefore, despite the critics, I believe the Biggest loser is an effective motivator.

An After thought: One arguement I hear people say is that many of the contestants put the weight back on afterwards, therefore it must not be a good weight loss method. I disagree. Many of the contestants also keep the weight off and continue to lose weight after the show ends. Michelle explains it perfectly when she compares it to winning the lottery. “Some people use that money to create more wealth, while others blow it within a year. TBL is similar. Some take the learnings and continue, while others blow it.” I wonder which way our contestants this year will go.

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  • Anthony Hall

    Provided the public take the show in the context that it is intended then yes, it is a motivator. But we need to understand the environment they are working in to understand the how they can get such rapid change.
    1. They are taken away from their families, friends, work and all other influences which aided the bad habits that got them where they were.
    2. They are taught a completely new lifestyle when it comes to nutrition.
    3. They are trained by professionals, and taught how to train correctly being pushed well beyond their perceived limits.
    All of these factors help to re-program your habits into far better ones than you had. After all, good health and well-being begins with habit, it will generally take us a bit longer to see the results.

  • Peter J

    I think that like anything, you can take it as a positive or a negative. A person in the wrong frame of mind, might say “there’s no way i can achieve those results, look at all the work I have to do to get there” or the same person, in the right frame of mind, might say “hey that is inspiring i am going to get of my ass and do the same thing”

    However I do agree with you because I think there is more chance that this sort of show will change someones attitude and get them motivated..

  • Kiwimec

    With all the moronic damaging crap on TV, Time picks on “The Biggest Loser”? I haven’t seen the show, but from what I hear, there are some pretty good messages in there: with good diet and exercise you can achieve some pretty amazing goals.

  • Amelia Burton

    Hi Anthony Hall,
    I couldn’t agree more. Support vs stressful environment, nutrition, and exercise have the most impact on a weight loss program. When these are strictly monitored (such as in the ‘white house’) quick results are achieved. Surely the general public understand the real world takes longer…

  • Amelia Burton

    Hi Peterj,

    I also think that the attitudes of the contestants can be a lesson for us all. As they progress, you see them struggle with their old way of thinking (excuses, blaming, and lack of self esteem), and then watch them emerge stronger in the mind. I hope this inspires viewers that they, too can shift their way of thinking.

  • Amelia Burton

    Hi Kiwimec,
    Exactly! I’d rather be watching people trying to grow and develop themselves, achieving things they never thought possible, than watching kids stuck in a house partying 24/7!

  • Daryl M

    have my reservations about Looser, for a start, why would someone name a motivational program like that?
    Looser means worthless, is the winner of Looser worthless, I think not.

    A better name for Looser would be “Winners”

    Why, because the contestants get their health and their life back. It is not only the ultimate winner either; I get the impression that all contestants win improvement in quality of life.

    Daryl M

  • Daryl M

    Secondly, I have 2 boys, 5 and 2 years, and while my wife and I let the boys watch most things, we only let them limited exposure to Looser.

    I think that children only see snippets or images of what is on TV and they don’t have the understanding of the full story.
    Therefore with Looser they see massive people struggling. The advertisements for Looser show the participants in tears and struggling, (much like a car wreck).

    I think Looser could give children the impression that “massive is normal”, and that is not good

    I would rather the boys’ watch something like Idol, Dance or Celebrity Makeover. In these cases people who are generally healthy and good at what they do, step up to a higher level.

    Personally I got my motivation from the original Rocky. At that time I was in my early teens and had come through much illness

    In Rocky an ordinary bloke steps up and the humble “push up” is a factor on his way there. Yep I started doing push ups

    Daryl M

  • Daryl M

    I need to challenge another point, is weight reduction the bottom line as in Looser, for the normal person I think NO!

    How many normal people go to the gym and after a few months show no improvement on the scales? Heaps and I am one

    Even after a 12 month back off in training when I returned did I suddenly drop weigh? no. But I have stepped up in cardio and strength performance. Fact is that muscle mass can negate weight loss in fat

    My point is that health should be the measure, not weight.

    If weight loss is the bottom line then unhealthy weight loss is the danger.

    Daryl M

  • Peter

    Hi! I’m a big fan of the show and love the end results. The only worrying issue now is, I’m starting to see some of these contestants on TV diet ads. The ones I’ve seen have put their weight back on.

    If the show really wants to help these people out, they should follow them up after the show has ended. Food for thought!

    Take Care,

  • Alphonse

    I think the show provides plenty of support to keep weight off after it’s over.

    These guys have their hands held by expert trainers and nutritionists for up to four months while they’re in the house, and even when they’re out of the house they have a free gym membership and personal trainer in the month long lead up to the finale.

    If they can’t get it after that, they never will.

    As for the slimming products that some of them endorse, is that not the height of hypocrisy or what?

    They’ve clearly demonstrated on national television that regular exercise and good nutrition achieves outstanding weight loss results, and then have the temerity to throw their weight (albeit reduced) behind a slimming product to make a quick couple of bucks.

    Blatant opportunism? Pur-leese!

  • Amelia Burton

    Good point Alphonse,

    People often feel they need a magic pill or specific type of exercise program to lose weight becasue then they can rely entirely on the product to determine their results, shifting the accountability from them, yet again. The biggest loser shows that people can lose massive amounts of weight, by eating less, and moving more. How simple is that!

    For all the contestants you see flogging the weight loss products and saying they put the weight back on, there are many other contestants who have kept the weight off. And if out of every show, only half the contestants keep it off, well that’s still changing many lives. Also, think of the millions of viewers it motivates, which in turn changes even more lives. I think this show is one of the best things to happen to the weight loss industry.

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  • Natalie

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m as big a fan of the show as any other, but let’s be honest about it. The Biggest Loser isn’t about weight loss. It’s about filling Channel 10′s schedule for three months, while fulfilling their Australian content requirements, and doing it really cheaply.

    I am amazed those people stay upright. You too can lose weight by eating 1200 calories a day and working out for four to five hours a day!

    Now pass me that Mars Bar.

  • Amelia Burton

    Isn’t that what any TV show is about… ratings? Is Idol about finding real singers or simply generating revenue?
    Many people are amazed the contestants stay upright, but they do, and they get amazing results. They motivate millions of others to say no to the Mars bar and yes to making a difference to their health and lives.
    When you are jogging on that treadmill tomorrow I bet the show pops into your head, and I bet that voice inside says “If Big Wal could jog for 2 mins, then so can I!”
    When you wake up tomorrow ask yourself “Is today going to be the same as yesterday or am I ready to change my future?”

  • Eleonor Emory

    A recent study from Northwestern University was released on December 15 finding people will gain significantly less weight by middle age, especially women, …

  • Gemma

    While the Biggest Loser is a good show, I hate Channel 10.

    The main reason is that after The Biggest Loser is finished out comes MasterChef.

    To me that is an evil cycle, one pumps you up to get fit, the other gets you in the kitchen to recreate high calorie meals. Then The Biggest Loser comes back around and makes you feel guilty about the weight you put on while MasterChef was on so you work to get it off again, only to have it happen all over again.

  • Bill Nadraszky

    I love the Biggest Loser but always at some point in the season it makes me mad. The great thing with this show as with fitness in real life is that all of those working around you inspire, at some point in the show though game play takes over and people start building alliances and forget that it is their own trouble and past problems that they are trying to get out from under.

    The American version does not start for a few months yet so maybe I will try and find some way to watch the Australian version. Thanks for the great reasons why to watch the show Amelia!