So imagine there’s this show which takes some of the sickest anorectics in the country, puts them in a house and tries to fatten them up. There’s close up footage of their tears and temper tantrums. The talented videographers zoom in on their late night binges and frantic attempts to exercise in their room. Each week they’re weighed in their underwear and a bra (if they’re female), their bones and mottled bruises on show for the nation. Each week there are frantic tears and “oh I’m so disappointed, I expected to go up 5kg this week. All I’ve done is sit and eat!” and “No matter how hard I work, there just doesn’t seem to be anything changing!”. Sounds completely wrong and unethical for a television channel to endorse such an idea, right?
Now imagine there was a show which took the most tragically obese people, put them in a house and tried to slim them down. There’s close up footage of their tears and temper tantrums. The talented videographers zoom in on their late night binges and frantic attempts to exercise in their room. Each week they’re weighed in their underwear and a bra (if they’re female), their rolls of fat and ample excess skin on show for the nation. Each week there are frantic tears and “oh I’m so disappointed, I expected to go down 5kg this week. All I’ve done is go to the gym and restrict my caloric intake to what’s almost considered one of starvation by the world health organisation” and “No matter how hard I work, there just doesn’t seem to be anything changing!”. Sounds completely wrong and unethical for a television channel to endorse such an idea, right?
Yet Channel 10 does. Every weeknight and once on weekends for the next few months, Channel 10 will be endorsing such a program. They’ll put people desperately needing help on show, allowing them to become a real life human example of Just How Bad Being Fat Really Is. This year, as every other year, in a ruthless and respect-less fashion, they’ll push these people to the edge, emotionally and physically. The entertainment value, of course, being in that Big Girls Do Cry. So do big boys, for that matter.
Former Biggest Loser Host AJ Rochester reveals in her book Confessions of a Reformed Dieter that she struggled with anorexia and bulimia. She also reveals that her weight loss journey was slow and steady. She was seeing a specialist in eating disorders, a psychiatrist, to deal with the underlying emotional issues of her eating disorders. She was expected to eat more of healthier food and more regularly and to lose weight gradually, no more than a kilogram a week for long-term sustainable weight loss. What never ceases to amaze me is that she herself, and the personal trainers on the show, expect their clients to pull big numbers. I’ve seen up to 8kgs a week lost on the show. Both Michelle Bridges and Jillian Michaels, the female trainers of the American and Australian shows have expressed concern over the impact this could have on the health of the contestants.
In Woman’s Day earlier this year, Michelle Bridges was quoted as saying “I have many sleepless nights concerned about their welfare, concerned about their health and concerned about their headspace. I would definitely say they take it to the edge.” In that same article, Jillian Michaels, risking her spot on the show, also came out saying “As the trainers, we have no say over the challenges. We worry about them.”
In the New York Times in November 2009, on the tender topic of waivers it was stated that on the American sister of our favourite 7.30pm show “no warranty, representation or guarantee has been made as to the qualifications or credentials of the medical professionals who examine me or perform any procedures on me in connection with my participation in the series, or their ability to diagnose medical conditions that may affect my fitness to participate in the series”.
English speak please? Basically, if you get sick from pushing your body too far, the person who treats you might not be a qualified medical practitioner. Um … WHAT? As well as that, contestants on the show are supposed to be “in excellent physical, emotional, psychological and mental health”. So while the show often promotes that this is “their last chance” because their obesity is going to kill them, they are similarly pushing waivers on people that ask them to sign to the fact that they are in good health. Puh-lease.
Last year I lost a high percentage of body weight. At the time, the percentage of my weight loss was on par with one of the main leaders in the competition. Over three months I went from having reasonable health and having blood tests which gave an indication of medical stability to literally laying dying in an emergency department in one of Sydney’s busiest hospitals with a drip in my arm giving me much needed fluids and potassium, the electrolyte partially responsible for heart function. My diagnosis? Eating disorder. The outcome? Four months on a psychiatric unit’s eating disorders program and slow and steady recovery. I’m amazed this hasn’t happened to any of the contestants yet - both the dying and the anorexia/bulimia thing. Frankly, I’m amazed none of them have dropped dead.
No one is stupid enough to say that obesity isn’t an issue in Australia. It is. But so are eating disorders. Often obesity and eating disorders are linked, yet it’s virtually impossible to get treatment for eating disorders unless you; a) have private health insurance to your nostrils, b) are dying, quite literally or, c) have excellent people to advocate on your behalf as to why you need life saving treatment. The diet industry makes billions a year off women’s (and men’s) insecurities, yet our waistlines are rapidly expanding, at an alarming rate, or so the government anti-obesity campaigns like to tell us.
What we need is healthy lifestyles. Healthy attitudes to food. The Biggest Loser most certainly doesn’t inspire health. It is a representation of torture, cultural ideals and placing self worth and value in thin. We certainly don’t need devastatingly overweight people being pushed to the point of vomiting and crying. We most certainly do not need that at 6:30pm (dinner time for a lot of families) every weeknight.
Vote with your remote. Turn it off.