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Media Spot-Lite: Reality TV and Weight Loss

September 21, 2011

I am not a fan of “reality” TV. It’s a commonly known fact that the drama on these shows is scripted/egged on by producers, and the behavior displayed is more often than not degrading and/or boring and/or painful to watch. I find it hard to become invested (and seriously, it’s an hour of my time, I’d damn well better be at least somewhat invested) in these outrageous or flat characters, and what they put themselves through for their 10 seconds of “fame” or a “quick” buck. Competition shows have spiraled out of control, with such an extreme focus on appearance and money that ridiculous programs like “Bridalplasty” and “I Love Money” are popping up every season.

And there are countless “reality” TV shows about weight. The Biggest Loser, Celebrity Fit Club, Supersize vs. Superskinny (which I’ll focus on in another post, don’t you worry), Big Sexy, Losing It With Jillian, Ruby, Dance Your Ass Off, Extreme Makeover Weight Loss Edition…the list is virtually endless. Now, in the next few weeks, I will focus on each of these and go through their particular goals and and the various ways they go about accomplishing them (or don’t) because, even though I personally can barely stand most of this, I do understand and acknowledge the deep societal implications that each of these shows have. But, to begin, I want to discuss the “reality” TV weight loss phenomenon in general.

What is Reality?

I’ve been thinking about this issue ever since I worked at a weight-loss camp the summer after I graduated college, and the most recent cast of “The Biggest Loser” came to visit and give motivational speeches. While much of what they shared was in fact inspirational–sharing stories about the struggles they had as overweight people and then with losing that weight–the overarching mentality was “your life will be better if you lose weight.” This is a problem that I have with weight-loss in general, that people seem to think that all their life problems will be solved if they can just lose 10, 30, 100 pounds…only then will they be happy. And “reality” TV often promotes this misguided idea. Of course, your life will be better in the sense that physically you will be stronger and more capable, and your weight will not be a physical reality that weighs on you every moment of every day. But real change and happiness and fulfillment must come inside. Or else you will put the weight right back on…and guess what? Many of those “Biggest Loser” contestants had already begun to put on the weight they had lost. Without the 25 hour a day dedication to weight loss that the show promotes, and back living¬† on their own in the “real world,” many are left without the necessary tools to maintain weight loss and live a healthy, balanced lifestyle. Much like the camp I was working at, the participants on the show live in a weight-loss “bubble,” where losing weight is their main and only priority, with the rest of the trials and tribulations of life (which, by the way, is often a huge reason in why people are overweight to begin with–trying to work 9-5 and take care of kids and pay bills and make meals for the family can often be too much for people to juggle and they eat their emotions and/or rely on unhealthy fast food when time is constantly an issue) left behind for a set amount of time. Weight and health are issues that need to be a part of peoples daily lives and routines, not focused on exclusively for a specific time period and then “cured.” Weight-loss and maintenance is about making daily choices, a daily struggles, daily commitments indefinitely to living a healthy and well-balanced life and the majority of these shows simply lack that perspective.

There have (of course) been countless articles and blog posts recently about this very topic. “The programs speak to the fact that obesity has become an overriding cultural obsession, but some experts see them as an unhealthy influence,” The LA Times posits in a fascinating article which pits two weight-loss experts against each other with very different views on the matter. Lynn Grefe, the chief executive of the National Eating Disorders Assn., takes the side that “Reality weight-loss shows perpetuate stereotypes and encourage unhealthful behaviorswhile Lorette Lavine, a nurse and clinical social worker who treats obese patients at Loyola Medical Center in Ill., believes that “Reality weight-loss shows can have a positive impact” and both make interesting arguments about the impact of these weight-focused programs. Blogs such as IRunMyBody, DietWords, and The Frisky have also done really interesting posts on this topic. The Kaiser Family Foundation even published an incredible sociological study entitled “The ‘Reality’ of Health: Reality Television and the Public Health” which focuses on the impact of television on public perspective and issues of health.

Are there any of these shows that you watch? What do you learn from them…or do you? And what are your thoughts on the “reality” TV weight-loss phenomenon in general?

(Image Courtesy of IRunMyBody–fabulous site!)

2 Comments leave one →
  1. sexy curmudgeon permalink
    September 23, 2011 2:24 am

    “People think all their life problems will be solved if they lose weight.” I guess I’m still thinking about your post from last week, and the messiness and interconnected nature of psychological disorders and our physicality. After all, eating disorders develop for a lot of reasons, but a primary one is to find a means to control or deal with life. Maintaining a long -term healthy weight can definitely be a sign of a healthy emotional and psychological state. That’s why it’s so indicative of our lifestyles and our happiness that so many of us have difficulties with weight and/or eating habits.

  2. September 23, 2011 3:37 am

    Absolutely and very well-said. I’ve talked to many people with weight problems on either side of the spectrum and most have found that when their life feels the most out of control is when their weight is also the most out of control. Ah the mind/body connection–one of the great ignorances in our modern culture…about to post on this tomorrow!

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