Last night was the season finale of The Biggest Loser on NBC. If you have never seen it, the show centers on overweight contestants trying to lose weight to win a cash prize. The person who loses the highest percentage of weight loss over the course of the show wins. Many have criticized the show’s techniques as aggressive and unrealistic. After all, how many people can live on a ranch and dedicate themselves full-time to achieving their weight loss goal? How many people can realistically lose 15 pounds in a week? And keep it off?
I don’t watch the show regularly but I catch an episode every once in while. And I think that the show’s editors often miss an opportunity to show deeper aspects of health. With its focus on last-chance workouts and weigh-ins, the show focuses on physical transformations only. But as these contestants lose weight, there seems to be something happening off camera where they are facing demons and dealing with issues that are affecting their personal happiness and causing them to engage in unhealthy activity, such as overeating. As a result, they are not just thinner at the end of the show. They are happy. They hint at their personal struggles in some off-camera interviews during the show, but we never really know what is affecting them on the inside that is causing them to reach these unhealthy states.
For example, take this season’s villainous character, Conda. Viewers reacted very negatively to her. There are even Facebook pages dedicated to get Conda off the show. She angered many with her attitude and attacks on other contestants. Yet, by the end of the season, she had toned down her acerbic style and smiled more. She transformed from an aggressive, angry woman to the persona of a young mom finding health for the future of her family.
Some may say this is reality television at work. But I think there is more to it than that. I think that through her Biggest Loser journey, she faced some demons that allowed her to lose weight, like herself and change her demeanor. I think all the contestants did. And that’s the part of health that few discuss.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health in a simple, yet powerful way. According to the WHO constitution:
Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.
I think that is what’s missing in the show – the mental and social well-being part. These individuals change on the inside, and the show doesn’t explore their struggles. They have touched upon it in seasons, but the focus is on the physical transformation. I’m a big believer in fixing a problem by addressing the immediate need and also identifying the root cause of the problem and addressing that.
Health is more than the number on a scale. Health permeates every part of our being, so if we are struggling with trauma, overwhelmed by stress, feeling bullied or depressed or any number of other emotions, our health is impacted. Wouldn’t it be helpful to understand why these contestants started making poor food choices in the first place? Wouldn’t it be powerful to address not the immediate need for better diet and exercise but also the underlying cause of the weight-gain? And by fixing the real problem, wouldn’t we all be healthier?