The Big Fat Truth about Weight Loss TV

I made this blog weeks ago as a way to track my progress as I train for my first marathon, but abandoned it before I even made my first post. Honestly, I’m not sure if my day-to-day training is interesting enough to make a blog about it, but we’ll see how it goes!

Image result for big fat truthLast night as I was tossing and turning in bed, something caught my attention. I had the TV on, and was half-watching The Big Fat Truth on Z Living, which I had never seen before. The show features a new group of people (like teachers or nurses) each week and tracks their efforts to lose weight over 90 days. Although I tend to be skeptical about these kinds of shows (it’s produced by the same guy behind The Biggest Loser), I gave it a chance, hoping it would show losing weight in a truly healthy fashion for once.

Aaand I was quickly disappointed. On Day 1 of the group of teachers’ episode, one woman walked up to a white board, listed her daily food intake, and calculated how many calories she was consuming each day. The total came out to about 3,600 calories – an unhealthy amount for just about anyone. What caught my attention, however, was not the amount this woman was eating, but her response to learning this information. Understandably shocked, she vows to change her habits, notably by aiming to BURN the number of calories she used to consume instead of eating them. She promised herself that she would burn 3,600 calories through physical activity each day.

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Now, while I was laying in bed seething with low-key rage the second I heard the words leave her mouth, I don’t blame the woman for believing such a goal was a good idea. I remember when I set out on my weight loss journey; the excitement and optimism I felt initially made me want to work out ALL THE TIME, burn ALL THE CALORIES to help me reach my goals and form better habits. And when you’re just starting out, it’s hard to see why this could be a bad idea, especially with society throwing messages at you that we constantly need to be eating less, less, less. However, creating goals like burning 3,600 calories per day (which is about 5-6 hours of physical activity, depending on the person and the intensity) is downright dangerous for someone in this situation, and nobody bothered to tell this woman that – in fact, she hit her goal for all of the first ten days. By uncritically airing behaviors like this, The Big Fat Truth continues the trend of promoting unhealthy behaviors in the name of good TV.

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Some might wonder, why is this dangerous? This woman is just trying to become healthier, after all, and setting goals is an important part of that. Let me break it down for you:

  1. NOBODY should be burning 3,600 calories each day from physical activity, and certainly not on a daily basis AND while eating at a caloric deficit. At that point, you’re running on empty and slowly destroying your metabolism, and such a lifestyle simply isn’t sustainable.
  2. Working out that much every day is bound to lead to physical injuries and mental burnout, both of which can keep one from physical activity, leading to them going back to their old unhealthy habits. If you truly want to change your lifestyle, the best way to do so is to let your body adjust by going slow and steady, not by storming into the gym with guns blazing.
  3. Like I mentioned before, how it is presented on the show is also dangerous. No one steps in to suggest, hey, maybe you shouldn’t be working out for hours on end every day. This sends the message to the audience that this is a good way to lose weight, when in reality it sets people up for failure by throwing them into the deep end when they haven’t even learned how to swim.

But of course, if the people on these kinds of weight loss shows were told to eat with a healthy, reasonable 500 calorie/day deficit and work out for a solid 30 minutes to an hour each day, then they would “only” lose 1-3 pounds a week, and what TERRIBLE television that would make! I’d much rather prefer to watch people throwing up in the gym after 7 hours of working out and then be celebrated for losing 20 pounds in a week, or consoled for “only” losing 5 a week! Whatever keeps those ratings up!

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Shows like The Biggest Loser and The Big Fat Truth, like much of the rest of the “health” industry, profit off of our insecurities by sending the message that thinner = happier, and the only way to become thin/happy is to turn working out into a second full-time job, eat no solid foods for 14 days, or wear a glorified corset to make your waist appear thinner. All these shows and companies do is encourage disordered eating patterns by pushing us (especially women) into unsustainable and unhealthy habits, leading to weight gain, which then leads many people right back to where they started, looking for the next product that will give them a “quick fix.”

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We need to end the idea that a quick solution to weight loss exists. Like they say, if losing weight was easy, everyone would do it, and over 1/3 of all Americans wouldn’t be obese. I believe this starts with ending the association many of us make between health and weight or appearance. People tend to believe that losing weight will make them healthy as much as they believe being healthy will make them lose weight. Many are more concerned with the short-term, like losing 20 pounds in two weeks, rather than losing that weight slowly while building lifelong healthy habits.

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I wish more people used their common sense to realize that you can do juice cleans es until the cows come home, but if you go back to your old eating habits after those few weeks are up, why would you expect anything to change? Losing weight and becoming healthy is about changing your mind as much as it is about changing your body. Sustainable weight loss and healthy living requires you to change your relationship with food, yourself, your body, and so much more. And none of these things are going to happen over a few weeks. However, people love being told that they can drastically change their bodies in the shortest time possible, blind to any possible consequences – which is why The Biggest Loser has been on the air for 17 seasons now.

Ultimately, people will always be looking for the quickest route to their destination. As long as we have television shows leading vulnerable viewers to believe the only way to change their life is an (unknowingly to them) unhealthy one, the cycle will continue to repeat itself, with no one benefiting but greedy CEOs.