I’m writing this with The Biggest Loser finale playing in the background. This show is big news where I live right now. One of the contestants is local, and since being eliminated, he’s been working out at the gym where I worked before opening trio. I’ve met him. He is nice and personable and is certainly working hard, and the Facebook page this gym has created for the party that will celebrate him this weekend states a 150 pound weight loss for him since June.
Since June. Seven months. Both forever and no time at all.
Look, I want to love this show. I want to be as excited as my former colleagues who are no doubt having an awesome time enjoying the Biggest Loser celebrity status that has surrounded them for the last few months. I want see the men and women cross the stage tonight and not think about the articles I’ve read about the anguished lengths they go to in order to hide the loose skin that hangs on them after rapid, major weight loss. I want to listen to their taglines full of gratitude for the ‘second chances’ they were given by the show and not want to remind them that there are real life loved ones and trainers and support systems that will give them chances and encouragement and support even without cameras in their faces. I want to watch with a hopeful heart that they all really do realize that losing weight does not equate to finding happiness, and all of the jump squats or marathon training in the world won’t fix what was broken inside of them that lead them to be so severely overweight in the first place.
But I just can’t quiet the cynic.
A few days ago I posted a status update on Facebook. It said “You can always tell when the Spartans lose a game because Facebook grows eerily silent.”
Somebody I was connected to commented on my post, and then within seconds posted their own status update: #sadforthosewhofindjoyinotherslosses.
Yep. I was hashtagged. HASHTAGGED! Holy crapballs!
I ruminated on that for a long time. I just couldn’t figure out what to do about it. I mean, in one respect it didn’t bother me because it came from a person who OFFline has been toxic to my family and me many times. And in many ways. And on many forms of social media. (#GrantedMyselfPermissionToUnfriend #ShouldHaveDoneItYearsAgo #3Strikes) But to think I am the kind of person who finds JOY in others LOSSES? Is ridiculous. It is one of those statements that are laden with meaning, but meaning that has nothing to do with the actual words that were said.
Anyway, I’d pretty much decided to drop it. Until tonight. While watching The Biggest Loser. While I’m wondering why I just can’t get on the bandwagon and cheer for these folks without feeling kind of queasy and uneasy about the whole dog and pony show. And then it just kind of dawned on me why I can’t:
The part of losing weight that is the most difficult isn’t in the getting it off. It’s in the keeping it off. And maintenance? Just isn’t sexy. Nor is it easy. (Nor is it the subject of a popular television show). Yet it’s the point in which many of us fail in our journey. It’s when we stare down the demons. Handle the really tough stuff. Turn ‘dieting’ into living a healthier lifestyle.
And very often it’s when we realize we aren’t necessarily any happier, more fulfilled, more self-confident, or any more emotionally healthy at our thinnest than we were at our fattest.
I’ve known people who would have done just about anything to get on this show. People who pinned every single hope they had of becoming healthy on being selected to be a contestant on The Biggest Loser. People who were so convinced that being on the ranch was the only way they could possibly get on top of the mountain they were trying to climb that they did dangerous things – like purposely putting on even more weight so they might be more attractive to producers - and coming away from the whole process just wrecked.
I’ve also had casual, social-media based interactions with a few former contestants. There are many who put
all some weight back on. Who say the show abandoned them when the season ended. Who ‘expose’ all the ways that being on the show isn’t ‘real’ and who are pretty much back where they started.
I am uncomfortable as I watch this big finale because anyone who has any kind of experience at all with losing weight knows that this isn’t really a finale at all. It’s really just the beginning. We’re cheering for them like they’re done when we know darn well they have just barely gotten started. It’s not that I don’t want to cheer them on, it’s just that I want to cheer for the right thing. At the right time. So, while their accomplishment awesome and amazing in the short term, this kind of weight loss has an incredibly low success rate even when you do it under the healthiest of circumstances. But when you do it in a fishbowl where all of the resources that allowed you to do it in 7 months disappear and it’s just you? Well. It seems like we are applauding their setup for failure. And contrary to what you may have read about me on The Facebook, that’s just not the kind of girl I am.
It’s easy to support them now. But where are we all going to be a year from now? We’re not going to be there when the new-car smell fades and real life sinks in. When the now-contestants slip back into the anonymity of their real-lives, and when they tire of disappearing to the gym for hours a day. When there isn’t anyone to scream at them to work out until they barf. When their mates or spouses are tired of all of the focus and attention it takes. When the families or friends aren’t really on board with all of the ‘healthy changes’ and become catalysts for the bad habits to start creeping back in. When there isn’t the promise of a pile of money and
temporary fame keeping them motivated to cook every day and pack their lunches and take a pass on that second or third beer while they are watching the football game.
I really don’t understand why the show has to focus so much on extreme losses so quickly, except that it is probably too cumbersome to film a group losing the healthy 2 or so pounds a week. And I don’t know why they don’t do more to work with former contestants – both those who have maintained and those who haven’t – because it seems a natural way to grow The Biggest Loser brand. Except maybe to do that means to highlight what is wrong with the process in the first place.
But I do know that when I met the contestant from my town, we talked for a minute about trio fitness, and I welcomed him to come in any time. Maybe someday when the fanfare fades, and he’s working on maintaining this amazing loss, and it’s hard, and he’s discouraged or burned out or bored or thinking people don’t remember his name, maybe if there ever comes a time where he finds himself in a struggle, he’ll remember our conversation and find his way into our studio. Or any studio. I just hope when he needs it, he has a place that will find joy in helping him lose.