The Biggest Loser: Lying for Profit

By: Keith


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.          


Dependant Losers:          


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.

19 Responses to “The Biggest Loser: Lying for Profit”
  1. Keith Wilcox March 20, 2010 at 4:34 pm #

    Testing comments because I was told they didn’t work. Let’s see
    .-= Keith Wilcox´s last blog ..The Biggest Loser: Lying for Profit =-.

  2. Dennis Yu March 20, 2010 at 5:30 pm #

    Hey– now comments work! I wish I had a TV at home so I could privately gawk at the spectacle on the Biggest Loser. I wonder how many people who watch that show will admit to this pleasure versus how taboo it is in public. Are there other things that people would watch, such as car accidents and domestic violence? Oh, wait— there already are shows for things like that. What is this world coming to?

    • Keith March 21, 2010 at 11:29 pm #

      Dennis: Trust me, Dennis. You’re better off without a TV. These shows are completely addictive, but only in a spectacle sort of way. Granted, watching it is super entertaining — but it’s a total time suck.

  3. Becky March 20, 2010 at 8:03 pm #

    C’mon. If they didn’t ask for help from the lame sponsors, there wouldn’t be a Biggest Loser at all. I feel bad for those who lack self control, go home, and fail because they don’t have people coaching them or holding them accountable for their every move 24/7. Do they offer any “after care” or post-therapy for the contestants at all? I’ve only seen one or two episodes early in its infancy, wasn’t impressed, and haven’t ever watched it since.

    • Keith March 20, 2010 at 8:47 pm #

      Becky: You know, I don’t know the specifics of the post show follow up that the contestants get. I’m told they all get personal trainers and a diet plan, but I just don’t know how that’s executed. Good question. You are right that sponsors are a necessity. I just wonder why they’ve gotten so blatant and seemingly excessive about it. Maybe Jillian inked a big huge contract and they need to pay for it ;-)

  4. Papa K March 20, 2010 at 9:40 pm #

    Deep dude… deep. One thing about the show that always got me was that most fat people could all lose 200 lbs if they could afford to have personal trainers, nutritionists and the ability to work out ALL THE TIME! I wish they had a show for dudes like me who can only find the time to work about 30 minutes a day. So I can become a super buff stud who could try out for the cover or Mens Health or something. Or maybe something a little less recognizable like Readers Digest or something…
    .-= Papa K´s last blog ..My Endorsement Of Someone Who Probably Doesn’t Need Endorsing =-.

    • Keith March 21, 2010 at 11:28 pm #

      PapaK: Good point! They’ve got so much going for them at that ranch that it’s almost impossible for them to fail. Until of course they have to face a real workday and real pressure of life. It’s the people like me and you, who only have 30 minutes to an hour a day, who a show like this does nothing to help. I don’t need to lose weight, but I watch the show and wonder how anybody can relate to the circumstances. It’s not like they’re doing things that real people can do. Thanks for the comment and taking time to read!

  5. J. Cruikshank March 20, 2010 at 9:46 pm #

    Jillian looks like she would chew your face off if she wasn’t mindful of caloric intake.

    • Keith March 21, 2010 at 11:25 pm #

      Mom: Jillian makes me laugh, and she scares me too. She’s pathetically frightening ! :-)

  6. Danny Grubb March 20, 2010 at 10:13 pm #

    I’ve watched a couple of seasons of the Biggest Loser. It is incredibly entertaining (though I still can’t get myself to watch midget tossing… what channel is that on?). I have some of the same qualms you do about the show Keith. The sugar free gum especially always had me saying WTF.

    I’ll probably continue watching it, if only to remind myself of my own fate (given my family history and past eating habits) if I don’t continue exercising and eating well. I use it as a motivational tool in the “Holy cow…. I think I’ll go for a run tomorrow” kind of sense. You should watch the first episode when the have the contestants visit the doctor… that guy is a character too.
    .-= Danny Grubb´s last blog ..A Glimpse Into The Life Of A Stay-At-Home Dad: Part 2 =-.

    • Keith March 21, 2010 at 11:25 pm #

      Danny: Midget tossing is pretty damn entertaining — but totally wrong (I’d like to stress that part) :-) I’ve never seen the point where they visit the doctor. That’s gotta be pretty entertaining. And, you’re right. If it works as a warning of what not to do then I guess it does some good after all ! Thanks for the visit, Danny!

  7. Joan March 21, 2010 at 11:37 am #

    I agree with your assessment on this entirely! I watched it a lot when it first came on TV and it was actually a good show. Now it is just an hour of typical reality show drama and the product endorsements are not even subtle.. they are just annoying and it makes me NOT want to buy any of them. One night when I watched it, it was GUM they were endorsing and I just wanted to punch the TV. Also, I think their “prize” is piddly in comparison to what it could be!

    • Keith March 21, 2010 at 11:18 pm #

      Joan: I thought the free food for a year prize was pretty cool. But, the letters from home thing was just stupid. For pete’s sake, it isn’t like they’re off fighting a war. They’re in mother loving LA! Oh, well :-) Dennis Called me from Walmart today to tell me about all the dumb products they’re selling with the Biggest Loser brand all over them. Not surprising I guess. But you’re definitely right. Very annoying and quite off-putting.

  8. PJ Mullen March 21, 2010 at 12:10 pm #

    I think Jillian’s roid rage is for real :)

    It is pretty funny how quickly she got linked to so many products, it’s a touch ridiculous.
    .-= PJ Mullen´s last blog ..Magna Doodle with magical powers =-.

    • Keith March 21, 2010 at 11:17 pm #

      PJ: I think you might be right. I don’t know how someone can have such a perpetually smug/angry face on all the time. It’s cringe worthy.

  9. burn fat August 9, 2010 at 1:25 pm #

    Well I guess that’s why its on TV. Althought it has it’s commercial money making ads and is a show to make money from, people are buying into. As long as folks can be motivated by it I guess its not all that bad. BUT I definitly do understand what you are saying, your points are very valid! A real segment would be on CNN.
    .-= burn fat´s last blog ..Fast Weight Loss Tips For Finding A Buddy =-.

  10. sheyla March 1, 2013 at 11:52 am #

    Ola me llamo sheyla y soy de PERU yo quisiera mandar a mi mama y a su hermano a THE BIGGEST LOSER yo se que pueden bajar de peso y tengo fe de que entre,se los agradeceria mucho si entraran ,yo siempre veo su programa y me fasina yo quisiera q mi mama y mi tio entren y logren todo eso con ustedes que son profesores profesionales porfavor me mandan mensaje a mi correo plizz plizzz plizz..



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