As a wellness professional, The Biggest Loser has been one of my greatest obstacles in helping people understand how to change their behavior. The Biggest Loser sells the fantasy that, with the right conditions, discipline and guidance, you can quickly become successful at permanent weight loss. You can be thin in a short period of time without having to face the issues that drove you to overeat in the first place. Hallelujah!
I know that I have to pry that quick-fix dream out of a client’s cold dead hands. As I try to help people change their relationship with food, there is always a contest/program/diet that whispers to them, “THIS COULD BE THE MIRACLE YOU HAVE BEEN LOOKING FOR!!!”. It gives people hope that a diet will finally change their life for the better.
Can we please stop perpetuating this myth? Diets are not long-term solutions. They are also not fun and harmless. Asking someone to take a major source of comfort from their life without replacing it with something meaningful creates discomfort. We don’t like to feel uncomfortable, emotionally or physically. That’s why people go back to eating. It feels better. Albeit briefly, we are comfortable again. This comfort passes quickly as disappointment, guilt and shame settle in. We can go from hope to shame in a matter of minutes multiple times a day.
Many years ago, I briefly oversaw wellness for a company that made a huge hoopla about their Biggest Loser competition. The grand prize was $6000. Yes, $6000. I weighed and measured 120 out of 330 employees. Only 22 actually finished the 16-week competition. One person won. Many that didn’t win perceived their loss as unfair and went back to eating more out of resentment and frustration. They gave their employer the bird by sabotaging themselves. Others celebrated the end of the competition by indulging in everything that they hadn’t eaten in16 weeks. Wellness participation plummeted.
The company also kept a public display of the past and present winners’ photos. I always wondered how the former winners felt about seeing their very slimmed down pictures on the walls of their workplace after they regained the weight. It was such a public declaration of a very personal struggle. In truth, they followed the intent of the competition: lose weight quickly. What they didn’t do was create a healthy relationship with food. It was still their comfort. Without addressing the dysfunction or creating better coping skills, of course people went back to their old patterns.
The Biggest Loser started as a brilliant idea for network profit and has been sold down the line as a realistic solution. It was never a solution. Ask science. Jillian Michaels has better abs than science so I get the allure. The Biggest Loser is a great way to make a LOT of money off of people who dream of change. The real contestants haven’t even had the long-term success that people are seeking.
Weight loss is a $60+ billion industry and they still want us to believe that we are one magical change away from our dreams. Diets, detoxes, cleanses, wraps, weight loss apps, shakes and multi-level mania want us to think that we are so close to being that shiny, smiling “after” picture of health and goodness. It’s so much more complicated with that. Appreciating the complexity of weight struggles as well as the emotional reasons that we eat will get us closer to finding real solutions. We can start but not only letting go of that fallacy ourselves but ceasing to promote it. As we try to help employees create better health, not encouraging dieting is the least we can do.
Heather Sayers Lehman, MS walks people away from food obsession, stress eating and weight struggles with the Emotional Eating Freedom Formula™. She shows you how to stop following all of the “rules” and start making your own. Find Heather at www.OvercomingU.com and download your first step to overcoming emotional eating.