Reality T.V. shows on weight loss are sending the wrong message about health, says Natalie Ingraham, of the University of California and author of an ongoing study of “The Biggest Loser.” Ingraham presented her work at the 2011 American Public Health Association conference where she spoke on a panel about “The Politics of Obesity.”
At first blush, “The Biggest Loser” seems to demonstrate that anyone can lose weight. Yet the weight loss on this show is anything but realistic, according to Ingraham. Participants are sent to a ranch where they live in relative isolation, away from their families and jobs while working out several hours a day. They have access to services most average people on diets do not: celebrity personal trainers, meals prepared by chefs, and state-of-the art exercise facilities. Often participants lose up to 100 pounds per a season or up to 10 pounds a week; more than the recommended guideline of 1-2 pounds a week. If contestants fail to meet their state goals, they can be kicked off the show. The show also rarely talks about healthy eating choices.
Ingraham and researchers worry that shows like these set up unrealistic expectations of weight loss. These unrealistic standards can set people up for disappointment, feelings of worthlessness, and a damaged body image. Instead, researchers on the panel suggested that doctors encourage patients to track health improvements in other ways like through improved endurance and strength.
Often people confuse being skinny with being healthy. Yet Ingraham’s critique reminds us that being healthy isn’t exclusively about shedding pounds. It’s about maintaining healthy nutrition, a balanced lifestyle, preventive measures for disease, and having a positive body image. Since many chiropractors have nutritional training, they can speak knowledgeably about realistic weight-loss options and living a healthy life. A pilot study published earlier this year shows how chiropractors can act as effective weight-loss coaches.
Walker, Emily P. “’Biggest Loser’ Sends Wrong Message on Weight Loss’”. Medpage Today. November 2, 2011. Access November 2, 2011. http://www.medpagetoday.com/MeetingCoverage/APHA/29413