Reality TV vs. Real Weight Loss
|Christine Pellegrini, Post-Doctoral Research Associate|
Most people have watched the weight-loss reality television show, The Biggest Loser, or at least have heard about the successes people have had from being on the show. Each season, a select number of individuals are chosen out of thousands to compete in a weight-loss challenge and have the chance to earn prize money at the end. And every week, we watch these contestants struggle with the exercises and food temptations. We also see them overcome barriers and complete tasks they never thought were possible. The contestants come from a wide variety of backgrounds and are dealing with various issues in their lives. Most of us can even relate to at least one of the individuals or relate to the struggles they are facing. At the end of the week, we see them get up on the scale and lose up to 10-20 pounds per week. By the end of the 3 months, we witness some contestants who have lost well over 100 pounds.
The show provides educational messages and helpful exercise and nutrition tips from the experts. They also can be extremely motivational and encouraging. However, these shows can also be discouraging. If you're trying to lose weight and are losing 1-2 pounds per week, you may be wondering why you can't lose 20 pounds per week like you see on TV. This large difference in weight loss could make you feel like you are failing because you aren't losing as much as they are on the show.
Researchers in Australia conducted interviews with a group of individuals on their perception of The Biggest Loser, and found that the majority of participants believed that the show's overall concept was negative and the weight loss approaches were unrealistic for most people who struggle with their weight. For instance, many individuals mentioned that the weight-loss techniques used on the show were not accessible or affordable, such as having a personal trainer, access to expensive exercise equipment, or being able to take off work for an extended period of time to lose weight.
Before you tune in for the latest episode, here are a few things to remember to help prevent any discouraging thoughts that may be produced from watching these types of shows:
- Try not to compare yourself to any of the contestants and especially avoid comparing your weekly weight loss to their weight losses. Although it is possible to lose a significant amount of weight each week, here are some of the probable differences between their lives on the show and yours at home:
- You have access to fast food and sit-down restaurants, candy dishes (probably full of Halloween candy right now), snack foods, and high-calorie beverages, which means that you are constantly tempted with excess calories. On TV, contestants are in a controlled environment designed to produce weight loss and are not tempted with all of these foods. If you were in a location where you did not have access to unhealthy foods, weight loss would be a lot easier because you would not have any other options besides eating healthy, low-calorie, low-fat foods. And remember, you are not in a controlled environment, and so, watching what you eat is more difficult.
- You still have to work and/or take care of children and family, which means you are unable to dedicate the majority of your day to exercise. If you can get in 20-60 minutes per day, 5 days per week of moderate-intensity walking, bike riding, or swimming, that's fantastic. However, it is not nearly the amount of hours of vigorous, intense activity that the TV show contestants get in every single day. So while you are burning maybe 1,000 calories per week from exercise, the contestants may be burning double or triple that amount! Don't get discouraged and just focus on doing what you can do.
- Your ultimate motivation for losing weight is probably different from what you see on TV. Some people may talk about losing weight for their health, family, or appearance, which may be similar to your reasons. However, you have to also remember two big motivators the contestants have for being on the show. These motivators include the opportunity to win thousands of dollars and also knowing that they will be on TV with millions of people watching their progress. If you could win money by losing weight or knew you would be weighed in front of millions of people with your shirt off, most likely you would be more motivated to watch what you eat and exercise more.
- Even if you had all the money and resources in the world to buy gym equipment and have your own personal chefs and trainers, weight loss is still not easy. The best proof of this is Oprah. Despite access to great trainers, personal chefs to cook healthy meals for her, and other resources, she still struggles with her weight. It is not easy, but if you stick with it, it is doable!
Thomas, S., Hyde, J., & Komesaroff, P. (2007). "Cheapening the struggle: Obese people's attitudes towards The Biggest Loser." Obesity Management, 3(5), pp. 210-215.
For more information, questions on weight management, or to provide feedback, please contact Christine Pellegrini at email@example.com.