The Biggest Loser: Lying for Profit
I don’t typically watch The Biggest Loser. I’ve had the impression for a long time that it’s 9 parts circus to 1 part actually helping people. I felt that if I watched the show I’d be perpetuating the cycle of gawking at clumsy fat people in real life, which most people do but don’t admit to doing. Fat people on the show entertaining me by making asses out of themselves every week is really no better than watching midget tossing. This year I decided to watch a few episodes of the show because my sister, for some odd reason, is addicted to it. She said it was highly motivational and entertaining. Well, why not give it a shot, right? Maybe my impression was wrong. I’ve watched three episodes so far, and my sister is right about one thing. It’s entertaining as hell – for all the reasons I thought it would be – fat people pulling trucks and hoisting banners, becoming emotional about getting letters from home (as if they’re in Afghanistan), Jillian suffering from faux roid-rage and a case of I’m-less-awesome-than-I-think-I-am, dramatic sound effects and shocked expressions, etc… . It’s a circus. But that’s just drama, stupid and somewhat harmless. The worst offense of the show, which I didn’t expect, is that it’s also a shameless marketing campaign for useless products that do nothing to actually help people lose weight.
Marketing Kills the Intent:
I’m not trying to say the show can’t be motivational to some people. However, they’re subverting the message by trying to squeeze out every bit of advertising dollars from irrelevant products. They’re outright lying to people about the best ways to lose weight. The biggest offender as far as I can tell is Subway Sandwiches. Other products being shilled are 24 Hour Fitness, Lärabars, Ziplock bags and some stupid protein drink that I can’t recall the name of. There are so many product placements that I can’t even remember all the ones I tried to remember while watching the show. If there’s one fact that late night TV has taught us it’s that fat people are an almost endless supply of revenue for infomercial scammers. Does prime time TV need to get into the act too? From what I’m told, The Biggest Loser didn’t start off this way. They’ve always been a circus, but at least they didn’t wreck their message with silly product claims that are unrelated to fitness and health. Or at least they didn’t do it so obviously.
Jillian Michaels is a Shill:
How pathetic do you have to be to get on TV and make all the dumb commercials Jillian has been making recently? This new Nordic Track treadmill she endorses is downright silly. I actually heard an actor in the commercial claim she can burn 800 calories in 30 minutes. That’s a lie, folks. If your name isn’t Michael Phelps or Lance Armstrong you’ll be burning about 100 calories every 10 minutes at an intensity that you can maintain for 30 minutes. I know how many calories I burn. I burn roughly 1000 calories per hour, and I could exercise Jillian Michaels to death. If she’s willing to make a lie like that with a straight face then how can anything she says be believed?
You Lose the Weight, not the Products:
Subway sandwiches aren’t going to kill you if you decide to eat one. They aren’t a terrible food choice. But exactly how hard is it to make a boxed lunch? Furthermore, Subway also sells chips and soda which many well intentioned people mistakenly believe they deserve to eat after ordering a Veggie Delight. According to the book Mindless Eating, written by the director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, Dr. Brian Wansink, people actually consume more calories at Subway than they do eating at McDonald’s. Why? Because most people don’t have the self control to not eat the chips they think they deserve (and they order a 12″ rather than a 6″). People at McDonald’s know what they’re eating is terrible. Therefore, if they’re thinking of their weight, they don’t indulge in the extras. Bagged lunches are smarter, but they don’t make money for the show so Bob and Jillian aren’t going to advocate it. What about microwaved popcorn (which The Biggest Loser also endorses)? How about not eating popcorn at all or air popping it? Just a thought. Sugar free gum? Huh? 24 Hour Fitness? I don’t need a gym to get in shape. I’m in better shape because I don’t go to a gym. The point is not that any of these products are terrible, they aren’t. The point is that none of these products actually help anybody lose weight. They dilute the real message which overweight people really need to hear. It starts and ends with you. You won’t lose weight if you aren’t willing to suffer a little, and you won’t lose weight by buying anything special.
Like most marketing efforts in the world The Biggest Loser wants you to believe you can’t be normal without their products. They want you to believe that their products make your life easier, that without them you’ll be fighting an uphill battle. It’s the message at the core of the Nordic Track thing. “Without this device you’ll only burn 1/5th the calories” (or whatever ridiculous claim they’re making). Overweight people are particularly susceptible to promises and baseless claims. When trainers who have built a reputation for being honest suddenly become dishonest they’re likely to rake in big money. They do it at the expense of the very people they helped in the past who are too naive to realize they’re currently being duped. Instead of teaching personal responsibility and inner strength, The Biggest Loser is selling product dependence and weakness.
Don’t Expect Honesty from A TV Show:
If you want honesty, don’t look to people who can make money by lying to you – because they usually will. Jillian Michaels knows very well that none of these products help people lose weight. She knows real progress comes from two basic principles. There is no secret to weight loss and nobody can do it for you. It’s hard work and nothing makes it easier – nothing. She, and the show, are making money off lies because they don’t care about you as much as they care about the money. But are you surprised? It’s not the conman’s fault that people are desperate; It’s his fault he’s shifty, but not that other people are naive. Sitting on a couch watching other people get in shape is no way to get in shape yourself. The show is almost entirely designed for entertainment. If that’s why you’re watching it then you’re being honest with yourself. Admit you like midget tossing too while you’re at it. If you’re looking for inspiration and honest advice, you’d be better off going for a walk to think it over.