Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
29 Sep

The Biggest Loser… Is the Audience

The Biggest Loser HoaxI watched The Biggest Loser last week – as well as the prior week’s opener, thanks to TiVo. I know what you’re thinking, but, hey, it’s my job and it has to be done. Truth is, I figure it’s about time someone shook America by the lapels and exposed the myths and fallacies in this show, which has become one of the most popular on TV. With all the glowing coverage, the average viewer is starting to think The Biggest Loser somehow represents the indomitability of the human spirit and the triumph of modern bariatric medicine. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. It’s a made-for-TV spectacle that has morphed into a cruel hoax perpetrated on the typical overweight person in America who is desperately looking for the weight-loss secret. It shows precisely how NOT to lose weight. Talk about two steps forward and three steps back. A few years ago, I suggested in this post that there were a few things right with the show (I still took them to task for their sponsor choices) but I’ve changed my mind. If this season’s opener, in which two morbidly obese, untrained contestants nearly died trying to race a mile in the heat, is any indication, nothing will do more to prolong the current obesity epidemic than a fixation on the Biggest Loser and its yelling, screaming, puking, crying, collapsing, extreme dieting, six-hour workout mentality. Hell, if I were an obese person watching all this, I’d be thinking, “dude, if this is what it takes to lose the weight, pass me another Twinkie and let’s see what’s on VH1.”

For those few of you unfamiliar with the show, every season NBC gathers 16 or so exceptionally obese people on a remote ranch in Malibu (just up the road from me) and then follows them on a 12-week odyssey of rapid, substantial weight loss as they are coached by two celebrity fitness trainers. Men usually start at 300-400 pounds and women at 200-300, but recently some have shown up weighing in at over 450. During the process, which is actually a competition for a $250,000 first prize, the ones that lose the least amount of weight each week are subject to being voted off campus by the rest. As the season unravels, remarkable bodyweight changes do take place and it’s not unusual for the top finalists to lose over 100 pounds during their stay at the ranch. But as we will soon see, the costs can be significant. After each season is over, we don’t hear of the ones that gain much or most of the weight back (and many do). We don’t hear about the viewers who adopt the Biggest Loser strategy only to virtually guarantee failure once again. We don’t hear about the eating disorders that surely emanate from the guilt and shame from failure at all levels.

The first thing I noticed about this season is that the trainers come off looking more like sadistic prison guards or whacked-out drill sergeants than the caring, loving guides I’d seen on previous seasons. I think I’d like Jillian and Bob if I met them on the street, and in their hearts they probably mean well, but this is reality TV and these guys use every means possible to hammer their poor contestants into whimpering puddles of blood, sweat and tears at every opportunity. Their charges are obese people who have historically had a hard time getting up from the couch, yet are now being berated into multi-hour workouts where F-bombs and other epithets are hurled at every missed step and each pause for breath.  “Don’t feel like a four-hour workout today? Loser! Pussy! You should be ashamed of yourself!” I assure you those words will be ringing in their ears long after the contestants have left the ranch, haunting them with guilt every time they sneak a pad of butter onto their steamed broccoli or opt for a 15-minute walk outside instead of an hour on the treadmill.

The assumptions that go into this formulaic weight loss program – and, hence, the lessons that are supposedly being taught to the tens of millions of viewers are, of course, based on faulty Conventional Wisdom. Count calories, watch the fat intake, and exercise as hard as you can for as long as you can, and eventually the theoretical math should work out to lost tonnage. And since virtually everyone on the show loses a significant amount of weight in the twelve weeks, the viewer probably thinks something must be working, right? Wrong. If you are a regular MDA reader, you know by now that losing 5-20 pounds a week of stored body fat week-in and week-out (without losing any muscle) is virtually impossible. Reprogramming genes that have been carb-dependent and insulin insensitive for decades so that they can rebuild efficient, reliable fat-burning systems can’t be done in a few days, nor without sending the proper signals. Stress hormones rise, diuretic hormones kick in, testosterone drops, inflammation increases and all manner of metabolic havoc is loosed. Ah, but it looks great for 12 weeks of compelling television.

If you do the real math and account for hormonal responses and the gene acclimation process, you understand that one to two (maybe three) pounds a week of burned body fat is a safe, effective and bullet-proof way to drop the pounds with some predictability and regularity over the weeks and months until you reach a comfortable, healthy body composition. Instead, in pulling out all the stops for quick results and TV ratings on the Biggest Loser, the producers have chosen the most dangerous methods with the highest long-term failure rates. Just about every workout on TBL looks like someone’s going to have a heart attack or a stroke. And every meal looks like an anemic Jenny Craig leftover.

Here are a few added observations on what’s wrong with TBL:

Water weight is always the first to go. The extreme (and generally very impressive) first week weight-loss numbers are coming from a few short-term adaptations that largely have to do with water weight. Water is lost directly through urine and sweat as many contestants reportedly drink copious amounts of water (eight pounds per gallon) prior to the initial weigh-in simply to pad the “starting” or “before” numbers. Furthermore, a week of intense exercise will deplete glycogen stores, and for every gram of glycogen, four grams of water is also lost. That’s a 5-for-1 deal in short term loss, but eventually the body wants to replenish that glycogen (which is why a week or two later contestants hit a temporary weight-loss plateau). Diuretic hormones start to kick in as a result of the increases exercise stress, and water is excreted from spaces between the cells and even from the bloodstream. All of these have little or nothing to do with healthy weight loss, but a 400-pound man can “easily” lose two or three gallons (25 pounds) in a week this way.

Too much emphasis on counting calories. The show obsesses over calories – especially the tired “calories in, calories out” mantra. Weighing every portion, counting every morsel, cutting fat wherever they can, they drill the math into the participants. “Burn 5000 calories a day doing our grueling workouts and account for the 2,000 per day calorie deficit from eating less and you’ll lose two pounds a day every day.”  I have heard reports that some weeks the contestants are limited to just 800 calories per day.  (Thank God for the low-cal gum sponsors or they’d be chewing their arms off!) That could theoretically be marginally safe (the 800 calories  – not the chewing your arm) if the diet were, say, zero carbs and amount of exercise they were doing were very limited. But in light of the fact that contestants are expected to burn thousands of calories each day, the simple math ceases to work for them. It becomes a multi-variate, non-linear algorithm.

Too much credit given to portion control. The show also obsesses on the “three meals and two snacks” concept, in a doomed attempt to ensure that contestants will never really go hungry. (Ziplock bags is their portion-control sponsor, as are some of the “100-calorie snack” purveyors). Unfortunately, those tiny low-fat meals not only don’t stave off hunger, they tend to promote insulin resistance. The only saving grace there is the fact that contestants are exercising so much, their muscles suck up every gram of carbohydrate.

Too dependent on exercising off the calories. Five, six hours a day in this case. Calories in calories out again…but what they don’t realize is that for a previously carb-dependant person to start exercising that hard and that much, especially on a low fat, low cal diet, is that a significant amount of lean mass will be allocated to fuel. You’ll actually burn precious muscle to keep stoking the carb-fueled exercise fire. Some weeks, after drastically reducing caloric intake and accumulating 15,000 or more total calories on the treadmill LCD, contestants still GAIN weight. How’s that for math? That’s because the body doesn’t know what it needs to do to achieve homeostasis, so it hoards fat, retains water and tears down muscle. We know from the PB that 80% of body composition is determined by diet, if you allow enough time (and the correct diet!). Exercise is a good thing, but too much can get in the way of successful long term weight loss. Notably, this season sees the return of Daniel, a very likable kid who started last season at 454 pounds and lost 142 (down to 312) between the start of the show and the season finale a few months later. Sadly, in the first episode this season, he weighed in at the same 312 despite his admission that he had been working out four hours a day in the months prior to the new season. Four hours of exercise a day got him NOWHERE. It’s all about the diet, folks. And NOT the diet espoused on The Biggest Loser.

Bottom line, if you like soap operas, train wrecks or movies about gladiators, TBL can be mildly entertaining. If you are looking for information on how to effectively lose weight, there’s probably better stuff on VH1.

So how about you? Weigh in today with your thoughts and let me know what you think about The Biggest Loser.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Mark: I stopped watching after last season’s finale. The $250,000 winner and the $100,000 both looked terribly unhealthy. And trainer Jillian has to go: is all that screaming and harrassment necessary??

    Peg wrote on September 29th, 2009
    • I totally agree. I thought that Helen looks ghastly during the finale, and that she actually looked prettier and rosier when she was overweight! I was also thinking the same thing as Mark after watching them scream, “Calories In, Calories Out” during last week’s episode…and yes, poor Dan, working out for four hours a day and still struggling to lose weight. It seems that they have to work out for a living to maintain all fo that…and not have a regular life!

      Miss Kitty wrote on September 29th, 2009
    • I agree about those awful trainers. She reminds me of a mean middle school bully. I watched for the first time last night, and I think the product placement in the programs is shameless. The trainer suggests to a player to healthfully enjoy a yoplait light yogurt, “full of calcium and vit d.” He failed to mention the 18 grams of sugar and how it will effect her.

      tracy wrote on September 30th, 2009
  2. I have thought the same thing about the oversimplification of counting calories. I think one of Jillian Michaels’ book takes people through a complicated math exercise in tabulating calories needed to lose. Where’s the accounting for quality of calories? Health? Nutrition? Hormones, for God sake? I stopped watching after the first season.

    Hiit Mama wrote on September 29th, 2009
  3. Mark I couldn’t agree more. I watch the show with my mother last season and couldn’t believe all the false and inaccurate information the show produces. I still continue to watch the show for entertainment purposes but I’m constantly correcting the false information to myself. I think I would probably die if I had to work out a grueling 6 hours and only get to eat 1,200 calories which consists of egg whites, green salad, fiber 1 cereal, and extra gum. Sigh.

    Fallon wrote on September 29th, 2009
  4. “Bottom line, if you like soap operas, train wrecks or movies about gladiators, TBL can be mildly entertaining.”

    Love it!

    Mike McGinley wrote on September 29th, 2009
  5. Hmmm.. just down the street from you? How about you contact them, and tell them that you will be a “guest trainer”. The stipulations should be that the show last 3 years. Do some pre loss labs (insulin levels, blood pressure, glucose tolerance and fasting).
    Bet your charge wins!

    Dave, RN wrote on September 29th, 2009
    • I second that!

      marci wrote on September 29th, 2009
  6. I’ve never seen the show but I like Jillian Michaels’ workout videos. They’re nice when you want something more structured and her personality makes them fun. They’re the only workout videos I can stand to watch and they generally coincide with my own fitness goals (not pure cardio- lots of dumbells, hiit, and body weight exercises).
    I don’t know anything about her nutrition beliefs but I assume I wouldn’t really agree with them if they fall into the CW category.

    Karell wrote on September 29th, 2009
  7. Thank you for posting this! I hate that show- it is wrong on so many levels.

    I like the above idea that you should appear as a guest trainer! I would watch that episode.

    DiabetesCanKissMyButt wrote on September 29th, 2009
  8. I would love to see a primal low carb version of the show.

    I am waiting for one of the contestants to drop dead from 5 hours a day exercising on 800 calories, it is astoundingly unhealthy.

    I only like the entertainment and I know its wrong, but it is funny.

    Last week the 476 pound girl with all of the emotional problems was mad at another 400 pound guy because she didn’t think he exercised enough according to Jillian’s pronouncement. (She was probably mad because those fat cells were screaming for some sugar or even food, but she couldn’t admit that so she found something else to fixate on.)

    It’s too bad there are people out there who take this show seriously.

    thecarla wrote on September 29th, 2009
    • Sorry to be negative, but getting entertainment from other peoples’ fights, agony and failure, not to mention the bad habits and info they are taking on, which will really mess with their heads, is like rubbernecking at a car crash hoping to see blood and guts. If it was YOUR mom or brother on that show or in that wrecked car, would you like the people slowing down to get a better look?

      The more people who watch, the longer this crappy show will continue. This is LIKE a soap opera, with all the drama, except that the people on this show are real and their lives are real.

      I think people should ask themselves, at what cost to others is the ‘entertainment’ they are enjoying.

      And then act accordingly. It should be easier than choosing between a high quality calorie or a low one.

      Heather wrote on October 1st, 2009
      • I couldnt agree with you more. I use to weigh 305 pounds. I opted to have Gastric Bypass and lost 160 pounds. This is their lives and for people to actually laugh at their misery is pathetic!

        Terri wrote on April 29th, 2011
    • I am sure that would get edited!! LOL

      Angela wrote on January 26th, 2010
  9. TBL embodies everything that’s wrong with the mainstream health and fitness industry. It tells the general population that, in order to become fit and healthy and achieve normal body composition, you must pulverize yourself to death with exercise. And the show perpetuates the idea that you must simply eat less of the food that still drives metabolic derangement and thus hunger.

    TBL sets the mass up for failure. It ought to be a Hollywood crime scene.

    Ogg the Caveman wrote on September 29th, 2009
  10. There’s one here in Toronto that made me just as upset as TBL made you.Rice cakes and baked potatoes, hold the olive oil. All for $1800/year.

    Sample quote from one of the dieters:
    “I went to The Keg the other day. I told the waiter I can’t eat oil. I told him that if I eat anything with oil he was going to have to take me out of the place in an ambulance.” A small lie, perhaps. But they did manage to find him a baked potato that hadn’t been brushed with olive oil.

    Dave Reid wrote on September 29th, 2009
  11. My main problem with TBL is that it simply promotes laughing at the fat kids. It’s grade school behavior all over again. I won’t watch it, and I won’t patronize the sponsors, either. It is wrong on so many levels – not just the CW they are promoting, but the outright cruelty of making people who are already laboring under intense social stigma for being fat into the butt of abuse and jokes at their expense, on national television at that. Forget it. I won’t play that game.

    Griff wrote on September 29th, 2009
  12. I only watch this show when I have raging PMS (it’s the only time of the month I actually enjoy watching people being tortured). j/k

    Seriously, has anyone ever tracked down some of the people who have been on this show? It would be interesting to hear what the the aftermath was, from suffering such abuse.

    Ailu wrote on September 29th, 2009
    • you can look up Biggest Looser previous contestants, or Biggest looser where are they now and find out how they’re doing.

      SOme have gained back nearly all the weight, but most have kept a good portion off. It’s interesting.

      I like the show cause I’m a sedentary person. I prefer to sit, all my favorite things to do are done sitting, Reading, sewing, crafts, and surfing the net. I have to push myself every day to do something and the Biggest looser inspires me to move.

      They’re bigger than me and they do more than I do, so I should get up and do something. I often walk in place or do some other form of exercise while I watch. I USE it to help me do more.

      I don’t look to them for information, but for inspiration. I love every one of those guys for what they’re doing.

      FWIW, Kitty

      Kitty wrote on September 30th, 2009
      • i agree with kitty it is inspirational and i wonder about all the negative comments and i wonder if any of u could do what they r it takes guts to go on that show at least there making a attempt at working on this country’s weight problem

        kathleen wrote on December 16th, 2009
        • The negative comments have to do with the unhealthy manner in which they are going about it. They say one thing on the show, but if you do a little research you see that what makes the show and what gets edited out are vastly different. Many contestants dehydrate themselves before weigh-ins. Did you watch the catch-up show. So many of them had gained the weight back. I wouldn’t go on that show for ten bucks, much less a quarter of a million. And it’s not about courage. It’s about what is safe and healthy for me long term.

          The thing about the show, is that it is just that…a show. They have thirteen weeks (on average) of show time. Realistically, these people shouldn’t be losing more than two pounds a week. It’s just not safe, but that doesn’t make for good tv.

          I’m going at it the slow, safe way, by getting rid of grains and refined sugar. And I know I promised y’all a youtube channel two and half months ago. I’m working on it. My life has been rather crazy for a while. It’s coming and when it does, I’ll post a link!

          PJ wrote on December 16th, 2009
    • If anyone watching BL actually thinks they are going to have the same weight loss as the contestants in the same amount of time, they are ignorant and need a smack to the back of the head. of course they lose weight–all they are required to do is eat, drink water, sleep and exercise. they don’t have to do their day to day regular activities. I know that when I watch it. Like another person said, I look to it for inspiration. If a person who weighs 200-300 pounds more than me can run on a treadmill, I sure as heck need to get off my butt and do something. I also like to see the different types of exercises that they do to get new ideas for my workouts. as for the yelling? obviously nobody ever got in their faces to tell them what they need to do to get healthy before. most of them probably need to be yelled at. If I could yell at my mom, she might not be morbidly obese. talking to her doesn’t help. bottom line, if you people don’t like the show, then don’t watch it. btw, you do know that they only show you the fired up, emotional stuff and not the common everyday stuff, right? it is still a tv show. it isn’t as though they get screamed at all day long.

      shan wrote on October 2nd, 2009
  13. While I understand Mark’s criticism of ‘calorie in, calorie out’ (CICO) weight-loss methodology, it nevertheless yields predictable, sustainable results as long as reasonable expectations are set. Long-term losses above 3 lb/week are simply not a legitimate expectation.

    While yes, calories have context (research on rats back this up–rats eating softer foods gain weight faster than rats eating the same mass of harder foods), in the end you’re modifying the *rate* of gain or loss, not the overall trend. For example, a person with a adjusted basal metabolic rate of 2500 kcal/day who eats 5000 kcal/day of nothing but meat isn’t going to lose weight no matter what his nutritional ideology is.

    Counting caloric intake is essential because it gives a person a complete picture of their nutritional day. In addition, used properly counting can actually can lead one naturally to a lower-carb diet. Consider; after fats, the largest proportion of an average person’s caloric intake is in the form of simple carbohydrates. If you’re truly counting calories properly, this is immediately obvious. As body mass comes down (and as daily caloric needs come down with it–remember, big bodies need more calories to function) someone honestly evaluating their intake can easily see that replacing simple carbs with complex ones (e.g., vegetables replacing grains) is the next biggest ‘win’ in terms of reducing overall intake.

    I’m not just talking out my ass here. Over the last 5.5 months I’ve lost 52 pounds at a rock-steady 2.5 lbs/week with no plateau in sight. The tools I use are: counting calories with a minimum of 1200 kcal/day intake, daily weigh-ins used as raw data for a smoothing function (an exponentially weighted moving average) to more accurately measure true weight despite variance due to water retention, and a gradual migration to a low carb, high fiber diet. However, the diet composition modification I’ve done came only in the last 2 months, and really didn’t have a significant impact on weight loss (and I have the graphs to back that up).

    But it did resolve long-standing bowel and digestive issues. :)

    Cerebus wrote on September 29th, 2009
    • Cerebus, congrats on your success so far.

      There is far more to the CICO than simple math, as I alluded here. In other words, it’s not just about gross numbers of calories. Yes, in order to burn off stored fat you have to create a deficit rather than keep feeding the fuel from outside. But as I also said, you can lose weight that is NOT fat by creating a deficit beyond the capacity of your body to extract most of its energy from stored fat. Or by focusing on the wrong macronutrients. That’s why these people lose 5-25 pounds some weeks. Losing muscle may be losing weight, but it’s not what anyone wants in the long term. It’s also why some people actually GAIN weight after creating huge deficits during other weeks. CICO is an overly simplistic approach to what is really a complex hormonal (and genetic expression) response to food and exercise. The quality of each becomes more significant than the quantity.

      Mark Sisson wrote on September 29th, 2009
    • I watch the show on a regular basis and I am always amazed at what I see. Amazed in a horified way. I work as a personal trainer and I would never do that to my clients. Not only would the clients not come back after getting yelled at, but they would kill over if I worked them that long. And I am not after some publicity, I want my people to succeed. We training professionals need to get this show off of the air and get these 2 nutjobs away from the public. They are doing nothing for those of us trying to HELP with this growing obesity problem.

      Keep the good insights coming Mark. My clients and I are loving the work you do.

      Jon wrote on October 1st, 2009
    • Cerebus wrote: For example, a person with a adjusted basal metabolic rate of 2500 kcal/day who eats 5000 kcal/day of nothing but meat isn’t going to lose weight no matter what his nutritional ideology is.

      The error in that thinking is that metabolic rate not a fixed number: it IS affected by nutritional ideology and the resulting food and lifestyle choices. To get to a healthy weight AND increase our fitness, we need to start by giving our bodies what they need to crank up the metabolic rate: relatively more muscle and less fat. How do you get there? Not by eating insulin-inducing carbs, that’s for sure.

      Mark’s approach of gene reprogramming — reminding the body what it is capable of by periodically asking it to do something that presents a challenge — is the best way to get your lean body mass to kick it up a notch. In turn, that creates a caloric demand on the adipose tissue — which, thanks to minimal insulin levels, is able to respond by mobilizing stored fat. The caloric deficit happens naturally, as lean body mass increases, satiety is maintained with low-carb, high-protein, high-fat choices, and the body starts to adapt to more and varied activities.

      Achieving all of this without a research technician’s devotion to data collection and recording of caloric inputs and outputs is a much more sustainable approach for a lifetime of good health.

      Chica wrote on November 14th, 2011
  14. quote from above:
    “Consider; after fats, the largest proportion of an average person’s caloric intake is in the form of simple carbohydrates.”

    I think you’re on the wrong website. 😉

    JamieBelle wrote on September 29th, 2009
  15. Awesome post Mark! It couldn’t be more timely. We eliminated grains and, for the most part, sugar from our household 3 months back. It took my 3 daughters some time to adjust but a bit of financial incentive seemed to do the trick. I’ve become an enemy to conventional wisdom and ‘sell’ The Primal Blueprint to everyone I meet. Recently, my wife’s friend was over visiting, purveyor extraordinaire of conventional wisdom. She mentioned that she’d recently watched ‘The Biggest Loser’ and thought it was a great show that taught people how to lose weight. Needless to say, my extreme exasperation made them a bit uncomfortable and they left the room. I can’t wait to forward your post! Thank you for putting my thoughts into a presentable, intelligible format. I feel it always helps to have a 3rd party to support my views and your approach is more tolerant.

    Garth wrote on September 29th, 2009
  16. @JamieBelle: I hardly think the sampling of humanity represented by Mark’s readers qualifies as ‘average.’ Mark’s own railing about the CW in this very post should be indicative of that. :)

    Cerebus wrote on September 29th, 2009
  17. They could put the contestants on Meth. It’s probably just as healthy.

    Grok wrote on September 29th, 2009
    • I wish we could ‘upvote’ comments like on Reddit.

      eero wrote on September 29th, 2009
  18. I always wondered what the real explanation was for the phenomenon of dramatic weight loss in week 1 followed by hardly any or even negative progress on the second week.

    That makes a lot of sense, but I have to wonder how they ‘defeated’ the dreaded plateau effect for week 2 on this season. But I’m sure we can all predict how they’re going to perform on week 3.

    (Maybe my wife and I should just stop watching!)

    Kent Cowgill wrote on September 29th, 2009
  19. Last year’s winner looked absolutely horrible in the end — that starved, aged look typical of a low-fat diet. I think Jillian’s personal diet is telling: The only carbs she eats are during breakfast; her lunch and dinner have virtually zero carbs.

    My main issue with the show is that they focus very little on emotional/psychological health, which is so very important in coming to grips with morbid obesity. Many of those people have Binge Eating Disorder, and they receive no help for this. Is it any wonder that a significant portion of them regain all the weight?

    Ginger wrote on September 29th, 2009
    • I didn’t know that about Jillian’s personal diet, but I had been wondering if she was low-carb. She talks a lot about how she hates to work out (especially cardio), too.

      Funny thing – Jillian’s book “Making the Cut” has a quiz in it with random questions (do you sleep on your back? side? stomach? Do you typically feel too hot or too cold? Are your fingernails brittle or bendy?) and then it tells you what foods you should be eating (magic?).
      The quiz told me I should be low-carb. Just sayin’. She ain’t all bad.

      FlyNavyWife wrote on October 3rd, 2009
  20. Well said Mark!!! Happened to have a day home yesterday nursing a bad ankle injury (no five fingers for a couple weeks…sh$%t!!!) and watched as the “Dr’s” on the daytime show “Dr’s” had Jillian on as their guest to glorify their efforts in spreading more bunk CW. Maybe we could all rally to get you on the show and debate them.

    4dpslfmn wrote on September 29th, 2009
  21. Thanks, Mark, for telling it like it is.

    MK wrote on September 29th, 2009
  22. Mark, maybe this is an opportunity to start your own show! “Worlds’ biggest winner”. The show could focus on the Primal Diet and long term results. I’m sure people would love to watch contestants hurl rocks, and climb trees for workouts. Instead of 12 weeks it could last 36 weeks, and the winner will be the one with the most positive life changes.

    Mikeythehealthycaveman wrote on September 29th, 2009
  23. Great post Mark – I too watched in horror for the past two weeks. It is like a train wreck – I can’t look…but at the same time I can’t stop looking.

    Two things jump out at me: The first is that the show reinforces the theme that fat people are fat because they are lazy. I think Gary Taubes put that one to rest, but TBL hasn’t caught on yet.

    The other is the calorie differential. If my ears and mind serve me well, the contestents were told to eat “1200” calories and told to expend “8000”, which is even greater than the already alarming (800 vs 5000)example from your post.

    Michael Bender wrote on September 29th, 2009
  24. Just for some background from TBL book.

    Diet is layed out like this:

    7 calories per pound of Bodyweight

    At least 4 servings fruit/veggies, always eat more veggies than fruit.

    3 servings Protein foods spread throughout day. (Protein at every meal)

    Less than 2 servings of Grains

    200 calories of “Extras” such as oil, butter, dressing, etc.

    Exercise plan is:

    Start at 4-5 days/wk of 30-60min cardio at 80% max HR.
    Increase over 4 weeks to 6 days/wk of 60min steady cardio and strength training every other day.

    Eventually “interval” training is introduced finishing at week 12 with 1 days/wk steady state and 5 days of intervals.

    The show is obviously a grossly exaggerated version of the book.

    I’d much rather be Primal, thank you.


    brian p wrote on September 29th, 2009
  25. Always hated this show….time had a good write up on the extremes that they go to (not eating for days, diuretics, etc):,28804,1626795_1627112_1626456,00.html

    Motivation is one thing….false hopes, questionable nutritional advice and untold full stories for ratings is another.

    People know how to lose weight…the equation is not hard. Most out there are confused and not thinking for themselves anymore. Just need to shut off all the TV shows and throw out all the fitness magazines that are too distracting with the “latest” craze and master the basics….move more, eat less crap, eat real foods.

    Mike OD - Fitness Spotlight wrote on September 29th, 2009
  26. This was a great post and I can’t agree with you more. I have never watched The Biggest Loser as the premise for it is truly frightening — and this is not ‘reality’ tv. It is abusive, oppressive, mean-spirited, misleading, downright dangerous, and it preys on misery in a culture in which the ‘confessional’ has become a sad stand-in for compassion and personal accountability. Oh, I could go on, but I shan’t. Thanks again for taking the time to put this post together.

    Wendy wrote on September 29th, 2009
  27. Very well said, Mark. I think it would be just as interesting for viewers if the contestants traded their long gym workouts for briefer but more varied and intense CrossFit-style workouts. I bet viewers would be more motivated themselves if the working out didn’t seem so time-consuming or complicated (I’m an athlete and have never monitored my own heart rate!).

    The extra time contestants would gain each day could be spent sleeping (okay, not so exciting for viewers but maybe educational) and getting counseling for their emotional issues (lots of potential for great TV drama here). I concur with the suggestion that you would make a great guest trainer — but I bet the network and the sponsors would never go for it, common sense is, as you know, not very common and often controversial (and not in a “great for TV” kind of way!).

    Jessica from Goodbye, Small Heart

    Jessica wrote on September 29th, 2009
    • jessica, i think that is a really great alternative plan. it would be like diet/fitness rehab.

      nessa wrote on September 29th, 2009
  28. I can’t stop watching it. I don’t agree with anything about the show in terms of their weight loss/health tactics, but I must admit that the producers know what draws people to watch. I get a weird sensation when i watch it to go do some sit ups… but my wife gets urges to go eat.. go figure.

    christian wrote on September 29th, 2009
  29. Like other commenters, I cannot stand the advice given on the show, but cannot also stop watching, which admittedly will just encourage them to keep producing the show.

    I think last season’s contestant, Ron, presents TBL producers with a contradiction and conundrum that they have simply swept under the rug, rather than to try and explain it.

    Namely, with Ron’s physical limitations, he wasn’t able to work out at the strenuous level of the other contestants, yet, somehow, he managed to keep his weight loss on par with the other contestants.

    Seems to me that sends a huge contradictory message to TBL viewers.

    Afterall, if a contestant can keep up with the weight loss without the beat-me-to-a-pulp workouts, then why are they putting the rest of the contestants through that sort of hell??

    Would love to hear the producers and trainers try to explain that one.

    Love following your blog, Mark!


    Dan wrote on September 29th, 2009
  30. I’ve been watching it for the past few seasons (don’t hurt me, I’ve only been enlightened for a couple months now) and I own all their books, etc. Never worked and I lost little to nothing and gave up pretty quickly. Since I’ve switched over to Low-Carb (July 30, 2009) I have lost 26 lbs and feel amazing, unlike the sluggish, starved feeling I felt while following TBL formats (diet only, I haven’t been exercising other than walking on either WOE). For me, that’s enough.

    Sarah Speier wrote on September 29th, 2009
  31. No matter what you say about the methods used on the show, the bottom line is that they work. Maybe there are other ways that would work better, but these people get their lives back. They have been obese for decades, if not their entire lives, and have tried everything. Whether their previous efforts were for lack of information, lack of motivation, or extrenal issues, the bottom line is they are placed in an environment where they can lose weight. Sure some gain it back, but most don’t. It is not as if these people do not know what they are getting themselves into. In fact, they are the lucky few that are selected out of tens of thousands that apply to be on the show. They have simply decided that the abuse, the workouts, and the eating regimen (however unorthadox or unhealthy it may be) is worth it for them. They are willing to show their obese bodies, to show their personal struggle, to show their lack of health knowledge to the world, all to take part in this chance to get their lives back. The contestants are not doing this for tv, or for the viewers. They are doing it for themselves, and in my opinion it is wrong for us to sit here and talk about the problems with the show. It is their lives, they knew what they were getting themselves into, and bottom line it works. You have to be kidding yourself to say that the transformations these people make are not amazing. I really dont think they are at a point in their lives to care that they lose some muscle along with their fat. I think it is wrong to point out the short term and specific problems with the show, while ignoring the long term and overall positive effects on the contestants’ health, body, and mind. If it wasn’t for this show, most if not all of these people would continue to struggle with their weight for the rest of their lives. Their kids and families would suffer from the same problems, if they havent already. These contestants in a sense have nothing to lose. The bottom line is this: the show may not be showing the “best” way to lose weight. All it is showing is how these people lose weight, and as viewers, it is amazing to see these people overcome their internal struggles to become healthier and more confident people.

    Sal wrote on September 29th, 2009
  32. The sad reality for many of these contestents is that they gain much of the weight back after they’re off the show….not very many people can keep up a regime like that for an extended period. I have lost 14 lbs since mid-July with the primal lifestyle and have never been hungry or felt deprived. The exercise has been tolerable with NO INJURIES and I’ve been able to stick with it.

    Cherie wrote on September 29th, 2009
  33. Sal, they’re being given bad advice that ultimately harms their health and the show panders this information to their viewers. My sister is seriously overweight and has paid to see a licensed nutritionist for this same type of conventional wisdom garbage. You don’t have to be hungry and kill yourself in the gym to lose weight. Eat meat and vegetables to your hearts content and you will lose weight and feel a whole lot better in the long run! It’s proven – you can find numerous examples in the people that follow this blog. I’ve seen the results with my own eyes in friends and family (except for my own sister who choses instead to bow down to the conventional wisdom gods). If you don’t believe it, try it!

    garthola wrote on September 29th, 2009
  34. The show legitimizes and glorifies the lie that you can spike insulin levels in metabolically challenged people with six feedings a day, and not suffer the autophagy of precious tissues. With circulating insulin, the muscle and even organ aminos become fare game for the extreme over training (self abuse).

    It strengthens the already entrenched notion in insulin resistance people that they are fat because they are simply lazy and self indulgent.

    Oh, and don’t get me started on the poor, fat starved people that ache all day long on the six meal a day, low fat dieting. I paid a diet “expert” hundreds of dollars for this program of breakfast/snack/lunch/snack/dinner/snack. I was hungry and exhausted all the time. I lost weight. I was mierable. after I went off program my self esteem hit rock bottom. The experience “proved” how hopeless my situation was, since I knew the program worked, but I also knew it made me feel horrible and sick. Go primal eating! Its the only plan that works AND is keeping me fed and happy and healthy!

    we need a primal oriented weight loss show,,”grok saves america!” lol

    rachel allen wrote on September 29th, 2009
  35. Sal, you missed the point here on several levels. This is NOT the best way for ANYONE to lose weight. The fact that they undergo impressive short-term transformations doesn’t mean “it works.” In fact, from what I have seen nearly every single contestant gains weight back at various amounts from their finale weight.

    Check out these

    It may be a few pounds and it is often 100. If TBL worked, I would imagine they would ALL keep trending towards a healthy body composition until they arrived and stayed there. That’s how weight loss should work. Instead, most work way too hard to keep from gaining any or all of it back because they don’t have people yelling in their faces anymore and they don’t have the discipline (actually, NO ONE does) to stick with 1200 calories a day for the rest of their lives.

    And I suspect it’s not “amazing” to most overweight people who watch the show looking for answers. As I said here, I suspect it’s a total turn-off for most of them.

    Mark Sisson wrote on September 29th, 2009
    • Actually, I very often have difficulty eating 1200 kcal/day. I usually end up eating an ounce or more of nuts an hour or so before bed because I’m falling short 100-200 kcal (or more!). I’m just not hungry enough on a primal diet to take in more than that without having to think about it.

      Then again, I’m very sedentary. Most of my exercise is involved in making one photograph a day, which usually involves leaving the house–if only for a short while. :)

      If I was more active I’d expect my appetite to increase accordingly.

      Cerebus wrote on September 29th, 2009
      • Cerebus, good point. Once you cover your bases with protein and fats AND you still have plenty of stored energy (body fat)to make up the difference AND you don’t exercise that hard, you find you don’t need to eat that much or that you aren’t hungry all the time, as you were on a carb-centric diet. Your 2.5/week linear fat loss is classic. I would rather you did a bit more exercise to build lean mass, but for now. It seems you have it dialed in. And, yes, if you did more work, your appetite would increase to account for that.

        Mark Sisson wrote on September 29th, 2009
    • Mark, I think you are looking too much into the final weigh in weight. Clearly, when $100,000+ is on the line, people will starve themselves, and reduce their waterweight as much as possible for a short term minumum. Wrestlers, boxers, mma fighters, etc. do this all the time for weigh ins. It does not mean that this weight is their ideal weight.

      The only person who gained back the weight they lost was the very first person on the very first slide, which leads me to believe you didn’t go through all the people. Every single other person settled in at a reasonable weight that was not much higher than their final weigh in weight. Considering that for the earlier seasons, several years have passed since the final weigh in, I think these numbers actually go against what you are saying. Not to mention, if you read the stories, they have all been proactive in sharing their story with their community and family to encourage others to take on a healthy lifestyle.

      I never said that anyone should be eating 1200 calories a day for the rest of their lives. Obviously you must be below maintenance to lose weight, and for almost anyone 1200 is well below maintenance. But once people reach their goal weight, they can eat at maintenance to keep their weight. For most people, this will be twice what they were eating on the show.

      Also, although it may be a turn off to some people, I think thats a pretty general assumption to make. I have been on different biggest loser forums for years now and the number of obese people who have used the show as an insipiration for their succesful weight loss efforts is tremendous

      Sal wrote on September 29th, 2009
      • @Sal: you still don’t seem to get it.

        The reasons why TBL is misleading to the public are:

        – Their diet is not aimed at improving body composition, but in generating simple caloric deficit.
        – On top of the caloric deficit, they force the contestant into an completely unsustainable painful training, coupled with emotional abuse as an extra “source of motivation”
        – Weight loss at the expense of body composition causes a lower basal energy consumption. ie, the same person will get fatter with the same amount of food because it’s body uses less calories to function.
        – Fat storage is not a function of extra calories, but of hormonal unbalances and inflammation, both consequences of a poor diet.

        So what’s the result of TBL?

        Lighter people with lower lean body mass, chronic inflammation and distorted appetite condemned to find a way to keep their bodies in starvation by eating even less than what they where eating to begin with and by carrying out completely unsustainable workouts.

        The reason why people become morbidly obese in America is not because they are lazy and eat too much. It’s because they eat trash, and trash changes their metabolism and drags them down into being obese.

        SerialSinner wrote on September 29th, 2009
        • I hate to double dip (unless it spinach dip with real butter :) but the cases I’ve researched with moderate to very low carb diet weight loss shows, that most women who loss lots of inches eating real food and exercising, end up back at their goal size much heavier than when they were at that size before their fat gain.

          Some up to 20lbs heavier. Now thats healthy weight loss!

          Your statement brought this home to me, thanks.

          rachel allen wrote on September 29th, 2009
    • Ah, that’s what I was looking for! Thanks for the link, Mark.

      Poor folks! The majority of them were 20 lbs or heavier (or even more!) and only a couple or so actually maintained their weight. If CW was so effective, you’d think they’d all loose even more after going home and applying everything they learned (which nearly all of them testified to doing).

      I guess torture is not as effective a weight loss regimen as the media would have us believe. lol

      Ailu wrote on September 29th, 2009
  36. I’m sure someone else had to have seen Jillian’s horrific kettlebell demonstration last week. There are blogs and videos all about how poor her form was and how she missed a great opportunity to provide proper training instruction to a national audience. Epic fail!

    erica wrote on September 29th, 2009
  37. Mark, I stopped watching this show after the very first episode of the first season. That’s when the male coach (who I assume was Bob, but I’m not sure if it was someone else back then) told a guy who had a “really big gut” that the only way to get rid of it (and they said this in unison) was “lots and lots of crunches.” After I picked my jaw off the floor, I turned the television off. I just couldn’t watch.

    Kim Birch, Nutrition & Weight Loss Coach wrote on September 29th, 2009
  38. This is the best post title ever.

    eero wrote on September 29th, 2009
  39. I watched the first episode because of another blog entry about it and lasted about only until the poor woman collapsed….and that was with lots of fast forwarding! I was appalled!

    Personally, I’d like to see someone haul off and punch one of the “trainers”!!

    Alcinda Moore wrote on September 29th, 2009
  40. They need as show like this except with Mark Sisson as the trainer. Now there’s something I would get behind.


    Rafi Bar-Lev at Passionate Fitness wrote on September 29th, 2009

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