Why Fitness Pros Criticize 'The Biggest Loser'

Some trainers say the reality show sets a bad example when it comes to weight loss.

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Television viewers go absolutely gaga over The Biggest Loser, the NBC reality show that takes obese, out-of-shape people away from their regular lives and puts them on a punishing full-time fitness and diet regimen aimed at stripping them of pounds. The finalist who loses the biggest percentage of his or her starting weight is the winner. (Most people already know this; I'm more of a Top Chef kind of girl, so the details of the show were new to me.) But some fitness pros cringe when they watch the show, says a new article published in the September issue of IDEA Fitness Journal, the publication for members of the IDEA Health and Fitness Association, a professional association for the fitness and wellness industry. They worry that it gives people the wrong idea of what they need to do to lose weight and get fit.

The article, by fitness pro and writer Amanda Vogel, is available only to IDEA members, but here's the gist of her piece:

  • The show fosters unrealistic expectations about the pace of weight loss, many fitness pros say. Normal, sustainable weight loss is 1 or 2 pounds a week, not the 15 pounds that some contestants drop. The show's cocreator responds that the more substantial weight loss is more compelling and that it's hard for contestants to stay motivated without it. But in the real world, dietitians recommend adopting a food and exercise regimen you can live with for the rest of your life, and slow, steady weight loss powered by nonextreme dieting and exercise is the way to do that.
    • From what viewers see, it seems as if the contestants are quickly pushed into very challenging exercises without working through the basics—simpler exercises and shorter distances—first, say many fitness pros. The response from the show's cocreator and one of its personal trainers: The finished show captures only a fraction of the training that goes on. Contestants definitely start with the basics and then progress, as they should. But if viewers don't see that, will they get the wrong idea?
      • Pros wonder why the exercises in the Last-Chance Workout, the final exercise session of the show before the weekly weigh-in, are so "exotic," "bizarre," and "unnecessary," including moves usually reserved for more serious athletes, like sprints or repeated high jumps. One of the show's trainers counters by saying that the exercises are targeted appropriately to contestants based on their abilities.
        • Personal trainers interviewed for the article question the methods of the on-camera trainers, who are often shown screaming their lungs out at contestants in a way that many find bullying. One contestant, however, replies that the trainers give you only what you need to succeed. Clearly, the relationship between a trainer and client will vary depending on the people involved, but if you are afraid of hiring a trainer because you think you'll be screamed at, don't be. Shop around to find someone who fits your personality as well as your fitness needs.
        • What do you think? Does The Biggest Loser inspire you to improve your diet and exercise routine? Or are you discouraged when you don't get the rapid results seen on the show?

          [For more: Check out 5 ways a new school or job can help you get fit. Then see the 7 mistaken beliefs that prevent weight loss, and have a look at our 10-week workout routine.]