Health & Fitness Supplement

Does The Biggest Loser do more harm than good?

Illustration by Brennan Bova

Point: Heavily inspiring

THE BIGGEST LOSER is one of the more controversial reality shows on TV these days, and most people either love it or hate it. Personally, I say what’s not to love? I think the show is a great way to promote an active lifestyle and prove to couch potatoes living healthy and losing weight can be done, with a bit—or a lot—of hard work. Watching the hundreds of contestants that have taken part over the show’s 13 seasons (with season 14 premiering in the new year), it’s obvious NBC is doing something right.

The competitive atmosphere on the show really brings out some of the most dramatic and inspiring transformations I’ve ever seen. The competition between contestants—along with the quarter million dollar grand prize—inspires people to put forth their best efforts, and therefore they end with the best results. The show also ensures the participants live in an ideal environment for their amazing journeys to take place. Contestants live on an isolated ranch with trainers and a chef, along with others facing the same struggles as they are. Would these people be able to get healthy and reclaim their lives without the competition and the safe and open environment they are in?

Furthermore, all of the blood, sweat, and tears the contestants put into their weight loss is motivational for a lot of viewers, including myself. Seeing someone lose more than 200 pounds makes me ask, “If they can do that, why can’t I lose just 20 pounds?” The show is inspirational for those who want to become more active but need an extra push to get going. There’s nothing like watching someone go from obesity to completing a marathon to get you to tie up your own running shoes and hit the pavement. A focus on fitness is a healthy approach.

The Biggest Loser also does an excellent job at showing how much hard work it really does take to lose weight. With multitudes of weight loss products available that are supposed to show great results on the bathroom scale with little to no effort on your part, it’s nice to see the reality of losing weight without taking any shortcuts or opting for the easy way out. The hard work the participants do is recognized and appreciated during the program, along with their phenomenal results.

Every episode of The Biggest Loser is emotional, and the audience and viewers tend to pull for the contestants who struggle so hard to get to where they are. This show promotes an excellent lifestyle choice, and with the way it’s helped so many people conquer their weight problems, it’s hard to think negatively of The Biggest Loser.

—Paige Vonk

Counterpoint: Not worth its weight in gold

NBC’S THE BIGGEST Loser, which is approaching its 14th season, is television at its worst. To think that every year, overweight people apply to be on a show that exposes not only their weight and eating problems, but also their personal lives and suffering makes me wonder what the world is coming to.

While the overall goal of being healthy is admirable, these contestants are put through insanely intense exercise and strict diets. Contestants on The Biggest Loser believe they have tried everything possible on their own to lose weight and that the show is their last chance. Regardless of whether this is actually the case, these stakes are high. When you consider the exhausting workouts and emotional upheavals present on this show, it seems unfair that this is what individuals have to put themselves through in order to get help with the common problem of obesity.

Millions watch, glued to their TVs, as people who desperately want to change push themselves to the limit—some contestants have even vomited or passed out onscreen. It seems like a crazy science experiment with unrealistic standards and questionably qualified doctors who intervene only when contestants’ health becomes an issue.

Also of concern is the possibility that contestants or audience members might develop unhealthy diet and exercise habits as a result of the show. Past contestants have proven this with stories of fasting, dehydration, and working out with layered clothes before weigh-ins. Some, such as season three contestant Kai Hibbard, have spoken out about struggles with eating disorders and other mental ramifications after the show ended. Although the results seem worthwhile to many, The Biggest Loser promotes the idea that extreme is the only way to get results.

Furthermore, the show turns watching heavy people doing grueling physical work into entertainment. Is it okay to laugh at someone when they can barely run around a 200-metre track? A ticker adorns the bottom of the screen throughout the show, urging the public to “participate in the conversation” on Twitter and through other social media, and let’s face it, audience feedback isn’t always going to be constructive or encouraging.

Even the show’s trainers may not have contestants’ best interests at heart, although they act that way on camera. The trainers are paid a ton to do the show, which also markets products like DVDs, CDs, books, and journals. One of the show’s regular trainers, Jillian Michaels, often poses for fitness magazine covers and endorses an entire line of supplements, which includes pills for calorie control, fat burning, and weight loss. She also sells books and DVDs of her own. It is unfortunate that in our society we sometimes overlook those who may be harmed or taken advantage of in a system where only a few can come out on top.

To sum up, The Biggest Loser promotes an extreme lifestyle that gets results in the short term, but harms contestants in the long term. Is the entertainment value really worth it, or should we find a way to help these individuals without exploiting them?

—Krystine Therriault