Who is the biggest loser?

Last night, I sat myself down on the couch, kids finally in bed, and turned on the tele.  I had to do this manually, because my little delights had either hidden or misplaced the remote control again.  It’s very retro.

Running low on farks, I picked any old channel and plopped myself down.  I wasn’t prepared for quite how infuriated I would become.  You see, the first ad I was subjected to was the exciting announcement that our airwaves were soon, once again, to be bombarded by the objectionable, horrific car crash that is…

THE BIGGEST LOSER

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The two very buffed, smiley people heading up this year’s Biggest Loser

Indeed.  It appears that Network 10 has coughed up once more to document the ‘incredible transformation’ of a team of fat, unworthy souls, into improved thin people.  Meaning that once again, millions of viewers will be tuning in each week to watch larger bodied people with poor self-esteem (and even worse body image) being ruthlessly bullied, starved and demeaned, for our viewing pleasure.

…Or for their ultimate salvation, depending on the view you take…

The thing that devastates me is not so much that this terrible show exists (after all, reality TV has bought us some pretty dire rubbish over the years), but that come next week, the fat bullying will ramp up again.  And that a large number of generally well-intentioned members of the public will be sitting on their couches, soaking up the lies of the diet and fitness industry, and weaving these into their core values around food, body image, and what it means to ‘look after yourself’.

*hits head on desk repeatedly

I can hear the disgusted grunts and scoffs already, from some of the readers who have gotten this far.  Maybe you’re thinking to yourselves:

‘But those people are sad and unhealthy the way they are now.  This is helping them’

Or:

‘They’re lucky to be getting free diet advice and personal training from experts (cough cough), and they signed up for this’

Or my favourite:

‘This show proves that fat people can stop being fat if they just get off their asses, do some exercise and stop stuffing their faces with bad food’

Ugh.  Where do I start?  If you’re up for this… stick with me here.

Firstly, despite my ranty disposition, I don’t think you’re terrible people for being mesmorised by this drivel.  It’s pretty compelling stuff – I get it.  Hell, the ‘90’s me – fat-free yoghurt-eating, body-suit-wearing science and dietetics student – would no doubt have gobbled this shit up.

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’90’s Marnie was very into calorie counting and fat free food.  She keeps a museum of daggy cookbooks, to remind herself how uncool this was.

The fact is, we LOVE the miserable ‘before’ shots juxtaposed with the bubbly, successful ‘after’ shots.  It’s fascinating.  Seductive. And it’s why every week we see new diet books, online programs and ridiculous fat burning supplements popping up in our news feeds.  We all want a bit of that.

But what does this kind of entertainment really provide us with?  And why am I so fucking furious about the idea of watching fat people running around like sweaty turkeys, eating ridiculous portions of ‘clean’ food and being made to feel grateful for their chance to re-enter normal society?

It’s damaging, is the simple truth.  Damaging to both the people who are in the show, and the people who sit there and watch it.  And it’s perpetuating the myth that our worth and position in society should be measured by a number on the scales.

Let’s have a look at the sneak previews:

Steph is getting married.  She’s bought a dress that she can’t fit into (um.. alarm bells are sounding right there), and just wants to feel beautiful on her wedding day.

Simmo wants to find love.  Apparently, he is unworthy of love in his current (fat) body, so he wants to get a new body (by undertaking excessive exercise and restricting his food intake in an unsustainable way), so that he can become loveable, and secure a mate.

Man.  That just makes me feel really sad.

And what about Lynton, who stands to lose his job as a pilot, if he doesn’t slash his current body size?  I want to see the research that explains why fat people can’t fly planes.  Is it because they’re too busy thinking about donuts to concentrate on the flying?  Or do they just not make pilot uniforms for those with a BMI above 30?

No matter how socially acceptable it is to dis fat people, I assure you that they are no less worthy, or intelligent, or loveable than thin ones.  You absolutely can have a BMI above 30 and be healthy.  Just as you can be a thin, dashing looking pilot and suddenly collapse dead from a heart attack and bring everyone on board to an untimely, fiery end.

What does happen to people who bully their bodies into temporary smaller sizes?  Do they suddenly become happier and healthier?  Maybe on some level, and by some people’s measures.  Maybe for a nanosecond, in their long lives, they feel like they’ve reached their goal and fixed all their problems.

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If I knew who wrote this, I’d credit the author (and give them a high five)

But most of them – in fact 95% of those who diet – end up back where they were, plus a few extra kilograms and minus a few weeks/months/years of eating food they enjoy.  Not only are they fatter than they were ten years ago, they are now saddled with new feelings of self-loathing and fear, around the simple act of eating food.

I see people every day in my consulting rooms who have yo-yo’d up and down for years.  They’ve fallen on and off countless diet wagons, and progressively felt more hopeless and out of control.  And the overarching theme that always comes up is that they feel worse.  They feel like failures, who just didn’t have the self-control to sustain the diet.

Here, I beg you to watch this piece from exercise phyiologist, scientist and psychotherapist Dr Linda Bacon, explaining the complex physiological responses that happen in our bodies when we diet.  Linda says it much more eloquently than I, but a key player in this picture is the hormone called leptin.  Calorie restriction reduces the production of leptin.  Reduced leptin signals our metabolism to slow down (less calories burned).  It also increases our hunger levels, and makes us think more about food.  The result is that chronic dieters have lower levels of circulating leptin, slower metabolisms, and are hungry all the time.

I could go on (and on… and on) here, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll skip to the chase.

What is the take away answer here?

The Biggest Loser is sensationalist, misleading, fat-shaming rubbish.  Please don’t watch it, and don’t expose your kids to it.

Mind your own business. Keep your eyes on your own bloody plate.  Don’t denigrate your own (or anyone else’s) body in front of your kids.  And think about why you are judging people based on their physical appearance.  Then stop it.

Concentrate on your own health. And by health, I don’t mean weight.

I mean nourishing your body with a range of foods, eating what satisfies you and makes you feel good on that day, at that meal.  Eat the chocolate, or the cheeseburger, but learn how to eat it mindfully, and don’t make it your daily choice.

Be thoughtful about your food – sure.  But don’t buy into the clean eating rubbish that tells us carbs are addictive, sugar is the devil and anything processed is unholy.

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Favourite Christmas present this year – my profane pencil case

And find activities that move your body in ways you enjoy, and help it feel stronger and better.  Rather than desperately sweating it out just to budge a number on the scale, or squeeze into that too-small wedding dress, let your body find it’s comfortable, natural set point.  And appreciate your body for all the things it has done, and continues to do for you, every day.

If this post resonates with you, but the idea of rejecting dieting sounds kind of scary and impossible, you’re not alone.  Sometimes it feels safer and easier to drift back to the dark side, and try the next diet. Or fat pill.  Or detox.

Instead, consider seeking out a supportive, experienced, ‘weight neutral’ dietitian, who understands and practices the Health At Every Size paradigm.  They can help you understand how, why and what you’re eating.  They can help you let go of that tight grip you’ve had on food for so long (which hasn’t served you so well thus far), and show you a better approach to eating without the restriction, calorie counting and bullying.

We are out there.

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