Talking back to The Biggest Loser

As I’ve mentioned before, The Biggest Loser is my ultimate guilty pleasure reality TV show. Ethically, it goes against pretty much everything I stand for — it’s foundation is (sugar-coated) fat hate, body shaming, fat shaming and reinforcing the SHEER WILLPOWER diet. But I love a good makeover story – always have – and seeing individuals slim down from size 32 to 8 is fascinating and horrible at the same time.

Still, as I watch, my teeth tend to grind of their own accord, on a regular basis. I find myself talking back to the screen, countering some of its damaging assertions. Let’s tackle some of those, shall we?

Why aren’t you happy? (they actually ask this of people, in the beginning, assuming they are unhappy by default of their size)

The assumption is that fat people can’t be happy, and that unhappiness MUST be the reason one is fat. Personally, I EAT WHEN I AM HAPPY. You can have a happy fulfilling life, even if you are fat. Now, you might have become obese because you are scared, or due to internalized self-hatred (which can be separate from happiness) or, simply, because you have a compulsive eating disorder. Not all fat people are miserable!

I want to be beautiful!

Oy, this one. Always said by the women, and they always get the “weeping at the beginning about feeling ugly; heaped with pretty praise later in the show” edit. FAT PEOPLE CAN BE BEAUTIFUL. I know this is a SHOCKING notion, but it’s totally true! Getting skinny doesn’t automatically make you beautiful. Yes, losing your extra chin(s) and not having any fat rolls is awesome and lovely, and certainly confidence building. But the notion that skinny = beautiful is ANNOYING and DAMAGING. (also, JFC, you’d think fat chicks NEVER fall in love and get married… except they TOTALLY DO!)

I want my life back/I want the life I’ve never had

Well, damn, I didn’t realize that fat people didn’t have lives! They don’t have jobs, get married, have kids or anything that “normal” people do! Frankly, this dichotomy is fascinating — half the contestants are “doing it for their family” — they are married, with children and presumably have jobs and homes and hobbies. But they “want their life back.” The young ones, usually single, say they’ve never had a life, so they want one now. While being fat/obese certainly limits ones choices & experiences in life, the indication that a life fat is no life at all is terribly reductive and simplistic. You want an active life. Yes, ok. You want an unhindered life? Ok. Hell, just flat out say it — you want a life where people don’t discriminate against you and treat you like shit? OK. But the reinforcement of the idea that fat people can’t have lives and be happy = DAMN ANNOYING (and not true).

You’re fat – so you’ve obviously given up on life

Oh, this. How many contestants go on and on — or are told by the trainers — that they clearly “gave up on themselves”/life because they became so morbidly obese. What a bizarre notion. People who are fat/obese don’t care about their life? Really? If anything, I’d say fat/obese people care about their lives very much — often it’s emotional turmoil (and inappropriate emotional reactions to and relationships with food) that leads to substantial weight gain. That’s a whole lot of caring about life, people and problems. Frankly, if there are obese people who have “given up” and “don’t care,” perhaps it is a response to the constant onslaught of being told that they are worthless, lazy, stupid and disgusting for being fat. And the annoying converse: that all thin people automatically love life? That they can’t have problems or not care about themselves? And often “giving up on life” is equated with not caring about your health, so if we assume the opposite about “thin” people, it reinforces the fallacious thin = healthy myth.

 He/she/you/I is/are/am going to be a TOTALLY DIFFERENT PERSON!

I’ve already covered this, but it’s worth saying again: LIES. You do not become a “different” or “new” person just because you lose a ton of weight. Unless by “totally new person,” you mean someone with a BRAND NEW eating disorder and neuroses you didn’t have before, because that’s the most common takeaway from losing so much weight in such a short period of time. If by new you mean “totally disconnected from your body,” yeah ok.

You may acquire new hobbies as the result of a body change. You may acquire new friends and acquaintances. But you do not become a different person. Your core being remains. If you were a nasty, miserable person fat, you will be a nasty, miserable person thin. If you hated yourself fat, you’ll hate yourself thin — just in a slightly different way (helllloooo Fear Of Getting Fat Again Former Self-Hate). If you were a happy, positive doormat fat, you’ll be a happy, positive doormat thin. Though, well, you might not put up with being a doormat once you get your hands on some thin privilege!  The whole body & personality transformation myth is exactly that: a myth.


I like The Biggest Loser, I do. I obviously watch it (marathoning season 8, currently!), but hearing these tropes, trotted out time and time again, when I KNOW they’re not uniformly true AND can be damaging, I have to say something.

Do you watch? Is there something done/said on the show that bugs you, too?

The problem with Extreme Couponing

I have a confession to make: I have become enthralled with TLC’s show Extreme Couponing. The stingy saver in me is fascinated by how these (mostly) women save SO MUCH MONEY on so much food/lifestyle products. The show is over for this season (WOE), but one thought lingers with me.

After watching episode after episode, something began to niggle in the back of my mind. As the camera flashed over stockpiles and items spilling into carts, I noticed a pattern: by only purchasing food with coupons that make the food incredibly cheap or free, these shoppers are, by and large, feeding their families — and children! — ABSOLUTE CRAP.

Some of the products I saw families buy in bulk to feed their families:

  • frozen pizza (and not the “good” kind)
  • Mentos candies
  • Butterfinger bars (in bulk?!?!)
  • Gatorade
  • Mountain Dew (and all manner of soft drinks)
  • ramen noodles (and all possible permutations on this/brands)
  • potato chips/Chex Mix (etc.)
  • juice boxes
  • high fat crackers (such as Cheez-Its)
  • instant Mac & Cheese (ie: Kraft)
  • cake mix
  • high sugar cereals (all varieties)
  • instant rice (and other high sodium “instant” items)
  • ice cream
  • salad dressing
  • Pilsbury frozen crescent rolls (and similar)

And you know what I saw only TWO families buy all season? Fresh produce.

I am no saint — I eat some of the above, or grew up eating it. But I did not and do not subsist of an entire diet of these highly processed, heavily marketed “foods.” Watching these families buy 200 packages of ramen, it made me sick to my stomach knowing they were raising their KIDS on this “food.” Most of these products aren’t ones that any family *needs*. But if you have a coupon and it is cheap or “free,” they’ll buy it.

The problem is, food manufacturers tend to provide coupons for the worst of their foods — the brands they want to push onto American families, and especially to their children — high sugar drinks, snacks and the like. These foods have little to no natural ingredients, are high in sugar, sodium and “flavor enhancers.” The expense of buying in bulk and eating cheap may be these families’ health.

I am all about the non-food items these extreme couponers get – I am jealous of their deodorant & shave gel stockpiles. But you couldn’t PAY me to eat all that processed junk… but is essentially what food companies are doing via their coupon deals. Paying American families to buy their crap, and perpetuate their brands as essential.

What do you think? Did you watch? Do you extreme coupon?

Here is one of the moms who actually bought produce. There were no coupons in the paper, so she emailed the company and asked for a deal on bananas.

You can watch more videos here.

Reality TV & the Transformation Myth

On this week’s Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition, trainer & life coach Chris Powell made a comment along the lines of “She’s made a transformation. She’s going to look in the mirror and forget who she used to be. She’s a totally new person.”

No. Just, no.

It’s time to call out this ridiculous reality TV transformation myth — that a) you lose a bunch of weight and are a New And Different Person and b) just because you look different, everything is OK and you will never think or feel the way you used to again.


When you’ve spent the majority of, or a large part of, your life overweight or obese, that never leaves you. Just because you see a skinny person in the mirror, doesn’t mean you *forget* who you used to be.

In your journey, you do change. Things that used to be second nature for you, be it eating habits or attitudes or how you put on your shoes in the morning, no longer are. You have new routines and habits, and sometimes stop and go “huh,” because you didn’t quite notice when the old (often bad or inconvenient) habit stopped being one, or when you replaced it with this new, more normative one. Others see you differently — and treat you differently — and you internalize that to a certain degree.

But the transformation myth of reality TV isn’t realistic. It isn’t “oh, I love hummus now and I used to eat chips!” or “I walk with a bit more swagger now because I am more self-confident.” It’s the extreme:  I WAS THE MOST MISERABLE HUMAN BEING ON THE PLANET, SRSLY I WAS NEVER HAPPY EVER IN MY LIFE WHEN I WAS A HORRIBLE FAT PERSON, BUT NOW I’M THIN AND MY LIFE IS AMAZING AND I AM NOW THE MOST INTERESTING, FABULOUS AND HAPPY PERSON EVAR.

And it’s like magic! I’m sorry, but comments like Chris are comments made by a man whose job is to transform morbidly obese people into much smaller people but has never been fat himself. Losing weight isn’t like changing your hair color! It was the mirror comment that killed it for me — really? Just because you don’t SEE an obese person in the mirror, because you see someone thin, you’re going to forget your previous life and be a different person?

I want to hear from you guys — many of you are further into your “transformations” than I am, or are on the other side of this.

Do you look in the mirror and see a different person? Forgot who you used to be? Do the reality TV platitudes bug you as much as they do me? Let’s discuss!

What do you think of Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition?

Two weeks ago, ABC’s Extreme Makeover Weight Loss edition premiered, airing Monday nights at 10 p.m., following The Bachelorette. Weird combo, right? Thin, beautiful woman “falls in love” with every guy she spends five minutes with, followed by morbidly obese people sweating their butts off and losing ridiculous amounts of weight.

I wanted to wait to “weigh in” (ha!) on the show until I’d seen more than one episode, as I wasn’t bowled over by the pilot, which featured a woman named Rachel. The concept is EMWLE is just like the Home Edition — ginormous undertaking + schlocky music + shameless tear-jerking stories = broadcast gold. In this incarnation, personal trainer/life coach Chris Powell picks a morbidly obese individual (generally those too large for something like The Biggest Loser) and works with them for a year to lose half their body weight. The format:

  1. Chris picks a subject, then flies them to CA for a one week “detox” and assessment
  2. When the subject gets home, they arrive to a BRAND NEW gym/work out room, provided by the show.
  3. Chris “moves in” with the subject for three months (I have my doubts about this), and sets them a large goal, incentivized by a prize — for Rachel it was a trip to Greece; for Alex season tickets to the Braves
  4. Chris “moves out” and assigns the subjects a smaller, but still significant goal for the next three months.
  5. The subjects receive a final goal for the last three months (taking them to 9 months into the program) where they are evaluated by a surgeon who considers them for surgery to remove excess skin.
  6. At the one year mark, a “big reveal” party/final weigh-in is held with friends, family and community members.

Here’s the first episode, following Rachel:

So. A few things.

  • While following a subject over a whole year is admirable, it also means they have to cram A LOT into each hour long episode. Since it’s Extreme Makeover’s trademark to tell heart-warming/tear-jerking stories of triumph over whatever, a lot of the show is focused on the sob story and how miserable the subjects are, and the “Chris makes sure they stick to their goals” stuff.
  • What you don’t see
    • the contestants really changing their eating habits (you assume, but they mostly show them exercising)
    • any therapy/dealing with the psychological/behavioral complexities of obesity, food disorders and weight loss
    • ANY details of the skin surgery, included but not limited to the deets of the consultation, the actual surgery, recovery, discussion of risks/scars/etc.
  • Also because they try to showcase such a huge transition in one hour, I don’t feel connected to the subjects. One could argue The Biggest Loser drags things out *too* long, but by default of that, you really get to know each contestant. You feel close to them, and you can relate to their miseries, triumphs and struggles. I got nothing from EMWLE.
  • I know nothing about Chris Powell, other than the fact that he looks good without his shirt on. And maybe this is just me, but I don’t trust trainers as much, especially not those who work with obese individuals, who have never been fat or had an eating disorder. So as a viewer, I cannot relate to Chris, because I know nothing about him.
  • As I hinted above, I do not believe that Chris actually moves in with these people for three months. Three weeks I would buy, but three months? In fact, when I saw the first ep, I thought I had misheard it and it was three weeks. The man has a family, so there’s no way he moves in with strangers for three months while his family is sitting in Arizona. Secondly, he’s been filming multiple episodes of this show, so I’m presuming they had several subjects filming simultaneously. There’s no way they maintained a realistic shooting schedule with him living with people for three months. Just saying.

I guess this leaves me in a “I might as well watch it as long as I’m suffering through the Bachelorette” place, but I’m not bowled over. On the plus side, you don’t see the same amount of fat shaming on EMWLE because the subjects are competing to see who loses the most weight. Yes, you do see them “fail” sometimes (ie: not lose 60 lbs in three months), but Chris doesn’t shame them about it. He gets all sadface about not giving them whatever prize he was offering, but stresses that they’ve come a long way and just have to keep going.

What do you guys think? Love the show? Hate it? In the same place of “meh” as I am?

Let’s discuss!

Curvy Girl Dating – Robin Kassner, & humiliating the fat chick

Robin Kassner‘s disastrous turn on The Millionaire Matchmaker is old news, but last week she won a Soup Award, which reminded me of the debacle. I think it’s an excellent example of how overweight women are made to seem ridiculous and pathetic in a romantic situation, especially with “hot guys.”

Millionaire Matchmaker Patti Stanger seems to have issues with women in general, holding her female clients up to a more stringent standard (especially when it comes to who is/isn’t “in their league”) and generally having a hostile attitude towards them from the word go. But in the fourth season’s 11th episode (which aired January 2011), Patti displayed a special level of contempt for her client, Robin Kassner, an overweight PR guru. Patti calls her a “plumpty dumpty” and ridicules Kassner for wanting to date a Matthew McConaughey type.

Now, to be fair, Matthew McConaughey? Does that mean Kassner wants the smelly naked bongo playing bits, too? </joke>

Stanger tells Kassner she’s dreaming out of her league, and designs one of her social experiments on mixer night to put her in her place. She recruits Luke, a purportedly attractive (if you like cocky beefcakes) plumber with nothing in common with Kassner, who gives quips to camera along the lines of him not being attracted to Kassner, but up for letting her buy him things. In the other corner, we have a nice-guy, stocky, slightly awkward looking cop, who has tons in common with Kassner and seems to like her.

Now, as a viewer, I was rooting for the cop (Anthony), or really anyone *but* Luke. Not because I didn’t think a big girl like Robin deserved a “hot” guy, but because he played the part of the asshole (whether it was at the producer’s request is a legitimate question) and they literally had NULL in common. That said, I did think the cop was a bit of a under-reach — Patty says she think Robin needs to aim for a “5” not a “10,” and the cop was just a bit… meh. Are we surprised that Robin chose a young guy with a full head of hair… while she was drunk? Yeah, me neither. Who is Patty to tell Robin who she has to be attracted to? Yes, it’s key to not be superficial when seeking out mates, but what is it with people forcing fatties to downgrade? Patty *says* there aren’t that many 10s falling from the sky for people at any size. I call bullshit — she finds 10s ALL THE TIME, especially for her aging, pervy male clients.

Here’s the problem, with Stanger, the show and Kassner. Stanger thinks that Robin’s a silly fat girl who needs to lower her body/physicality standards. The show loads her up with alcohol (on camera they say there’s a limit; in post-show interviews Kassner has said they “force fed” her booze), and Kassner is apparently a light-weight. And then Kassner, who does have elements of the shallow and ridiculous about her, a sad parody of a young New York woman desperate to live out her Sex in the City fantasy, opens her tipsy/drunk mouth and makes a complete fool of herself. She simpers to a circle of men about thinking they’re all hot whilst sipping her cocktail, and talking about Hello Kitty, her pink apartment and her two dogs, Bruiser and Paris Hilton (no, really).

(Jezebel has the only clips I could find of Patty’s comments & the mixer. I can’t seem to embed them, so click to watch. See the ridiculousness that is Patty’s fat hating + Robin making a fool of herself)

And the date is a TRAIN WRECK. Happily, Hulu has a high-res clip of it:

Pretty bad, no? According to Kassner, much of it is a work of fiction. From an interview with her after the show aired:

They told Luke to be nasty to me. They told him to be obnoxious, that it was his role. I never said I wanted to have sex with him, they dubbed that in. I never offered him sex or a hand job. Me and Patti were talking about sex, and they dubbed that in to the middle of my date.

Regardless of whether or not Kassner is a little shallow, more than a bit ridiculous and a horrible drunk, the picture we get from this episode of The Millionaire Matchmaker is the sad, fat single girl who thinks she can throw money at an attractive (out of her league) guy so he will love her. She’s “easy” because she is fat and desperate. And we are meant to laugh and ridicule her, through well-cut montages and editing.

Kassner herself said it best: “It was both misogynistic and against curvy women.”


The message is the same one we get everywhere else — that if you’re fat, let alone a “millionaire” that you should take what you get. You’re over-reaching for a “10” — “5” or lower is where you should be. Any attractive man who goes out with you doesn’t actually find you attractive, and in fact is laughing at you behind your back. Other women, especially formerly “plumpty dumpty” women like Stanger, will be the most cruel to you in this respect. To wit:

Silly fat girl; love is for thins!

You can’t help but feel bad for Kassner, who probably went into this experience thinking she’d get some nice PR for herself and a date, and came out a national laughing stock; the latest poster girl for the silly, stupid fat woman with a dream. She’s still trying to milk her moment, including appearing on The Soup and trying to make fun of herself, but as she says the funny lines, her eyes are dead and you can just feel her sense of disappointment, and that hysterical despair we all feel every once in a while — everyone is laughing at me, because I dare to be fat and want love?

Funnily enough, The Soup is filmed in my building. I wish I had known Kassner was going to be here, because I would have gone down and given her a hug. I think she needs one.

Resources: Robin Kassner interview BEFORE she saw the show | Robin Kassner interview AFTER she saw the show

Addicted to Food – watch the first episode!

Oprah Winfrey is a smart lady. So OWN has done the very smart thing of uploading the entire first episode of Addicted to Food to YouTube. So if you missed it, now you can watch the entire ep from the comfort of your computer!

Would love to hear people’s thoughts in the comments. Let’s get a discussion going!

Fat on TV – Addicted to Food

Last night the OWN network debuted its new docu-reality show Addicted To Food, which follows a group of individuals with eating disorders at a treatment facility. At first observation, it seems like yet another Heavy or Biggest Loser, but it turns out Addicted To Food is more like Intervention — and it isn’t exclusive to “fat” people.

There are food obsessives of every stripe and color — compulsive overeaters, binge eaters, anorexics and bulimics. The treatment facility, Shades of Hope in Texas, treats all eating disorders as inherently the same: food addictions. It’s refreshing to not just see a bunch of obese people hoofing it at a resort, and to have a reality show that acknowledges that both large and small people live with debilitating food obsessions & disorders. Also a nice change? Racial diversity. Have you noticed that everyone on Heavy is white, despite the fact that obesity is an equally prolific issue in the black community? Yeah, I did too. The compulsive overeaters on Addicted to Food are racially diverse — thank you Oprah!

Addicted To Food has all the painful hallmarks of living with a Food Problem: the bulimic mom who sees her kids picking up her habits (and is in denial); the overweight & gaining wife whose husband has threatened to leave her if she gets any bigger; the 48-year-old virgin; the one with diabetes; the former recipients of gastric bypass who didn’t solve their eating habits and gained the weight back; the bulimic addicted to laxatives; the woman who is not only struggling with weight, but with sexual identity. There’s something painful and personal for each of us to relate to — anyone who has had any form of an eating disorder, a food obsession or body issues will recognize some facet of their own experience, or fears.

One completely different aspect of Addicted To Food is there is no focus on numbers. The participants step on a scale, but they are not told their weight. One of the counselors explains it — they strive to teach them that they are more than a number. I like this idea — while some find focusing on a number anchors them positively, for others, it’s just another opportunity to manifest your obsessive compulsions. There has been at least one documented case of a Biggest Loser contestant coming out with a reverse eating disorder – obsessing so much on the number, they stopped eating. If you have the disorded behavior to become obese, you equally have it in you to swing the opposite way to anorexia and bulimia, I believe. Shades of Hope aims to break the cycle.

There’s a heavy emphasis on therapy, especially group therapy — an aspect I’ve always felt was absent on The Biggest Loser and Heavy (at least on camera). The whole point is to figure out WHY each individual lives with these obsessive and destructive behaviors, and deal with it. Without that, diet and fitness changes just won’t stick.

And, of course, this is reality television, so there’s already a would-be villain — Elizabeth, a former actress and lifelong bulimic is truculent, judgmental, a know it all (she, unbelievably, is an eating disorder counselor!) and a Moira Kelly style bulimic/anorexic — she thinks fat people are disgusting (because she herself fears being fat). Put her in a room with a bunch of morbidly obese people, and you know this is going to be painful. During down time, she sits and tries to counsel her fellow food addicts and dares to play the relativity game — daring to say that her repercussions are deeper and more painful than the 350-ish pound man with diabetes sitting beside her. Really? Thankfully, in group therapy these ridiculous conversations are addressed, and talked through and not just milked for reality TV drama.

So far, I’m sold. Heavy stopped feeling as real as a nice glossy shellac went on mid-season, so an even grittier docu-drama is welcome. I will definitely be tuning in again next week.

The Biggest Loser, and the culture of fat shaming

I’ve blogged about The Biggest Loser previously, at which point I was a casual viewer, having watched approximately five episodes of the current season (season 11). Since then, I’ve drunk the Biggest Loser Kool-Aid in massive quantities and have marathoned the entire 9th season, added all my favorite contestants on Twitter and am very actively engaged in the current season and its trajectory. The show has turned out to be an important part of my weight loss/fitness “regime” (as I joked in the original post), as it does serve as a positive reinforcement each week and a reminder that I need to stay on track, and get fit. I have to credit The Biggest Loser with inspiring me to sign up for my first 5K. To wit: begrudgingly, yes, I’m a fan. It’s inspirational, and tells some good stories.

However, one of the finer points of  my initial revulsion to the series sticks with me: fat shaming. And not just fat shaming. Fat people fat shaming fat people.

One of the most frustrating anti-fat (people) messages we get is that if you’re overweight, and especially obese, that you are lazy and have no will-power. Hey, sometimes it’s true (being sedentary does have a correlation with weight), but as we all know, losing weight and turning your life around often cannot be done based solely on so-called “will power” and “not being lazy.” Even if you get off your butt and work out or you resist that cheesecake nine times out of ten, a lifetime of learned, disordered and destructive behaviors can set you back, stand in your way, or lead to relapse. Or, you may have a medical condition or genetic predisposition that makes “getting skinny” improbable or impossible. Not being able to lose weight, or struggling to do so, is not an automatic product of being “lazy,” or “not working hard enough.”

So this season in particular, its rankled me every time contestants (like Arthur or Q) have been chastised by their fellow contestants (Justin and Rulon) for “not working hard enough.” The trainers do it, too, which I also find problematic, but you can’t blame a super thin and buff personal trainer for thinking that working out six hours a day is a magic bullet to weight loss. That’s their worldview and their job.

But fat people need to give other fat people a break. Anyone who has struggled with weight and/or obesity knows how difficult it is – thinking about food constantly, weighing your choices, sometimes making bad choices, food guilt, feeling gross in your body, fat rolls, sweaty fat rolls (the WORST), super fast weight loss, almost no weight loss, plateaus, working your butt off and not seeing it on the scale, etc. etc. The reality of being an overweight person trying to lose weight is that it’s HARD, it’s unpredictable, different for everybody and “eat less, exercise more” DOESN’T ALWAYS WORK. Sometimes your body gets really pissed at you for eating less and exercising more and your metabolism skids to a halt. Some weeks the scale doesn’t correlate to your effort.

Yet we get fat people on The Biggest Loser “calling out” their fellow contestants for not working hard enough. Ok, is it possible a contestant didn’t work as hard as they could have? Yes. But people have different health concerns, pain thresholds, bodies and metabolism. They react differently to exercise, particularly different types of exercise (Moses, as we saw, works better with boxing as opposed to straight cardio), and food.

This season has been a study in extreme opposites: Justin and Rulon losing massive amounts of weight in the beginning and fat shaming their fellow contestants who has slow or low weeks (notably Q and later Arthur), and then BOTH eating humble pie when they slowed down, lost zero or, as we saw this week, cheated on their diet. I’m sorry, the Olympic Gold metalist who can clearly just work his ass off and drop a shit-ton of weight is cheating on his diet, yet he has the gall to chastise fellow contestants who have been sedentary and obsese their entire lives, are new to exercise and have a slow week? Rulon needs to gain a bit more understanding of his fellow human beings, and step outside his own narrow worldview.

But the ray of sunshine this season is Courtney, who through all the fat shaming and “you didn’t work hard enough” rhetoric has had the right attitude and message: every pound lost is a pound lost, and more recently, plateaus happen. While she was uncharacteristically not happy with her three pound loss last night, she is acknowledging her plateau, which is a normal aspect of a weight loss journey. I don’t know if it’s because she’s still a bigger girl or because she’s such a rockstar who lost over 100lbs on her own before starting the show, but on the weeks where Courtney hasn’t “lost a lot” (cue eyeroll), her fellow contestants and trainers have NOT fat shamed her or indicated she wasn’t working hard enough. Compare this to season 9, when Stephanie hit a plateau, losing only 1 or 2 pounds a few weeks in a row (and one week zero) and her fellow contestants, particularly the women, accused her of cheating and playing the game. When someone hits a plateau? Fat shaming and accusations of cheating don’t help. It’s amazing how cruel the very people who should understand your struggle can be.

I hope that people will take away from this season Courtney’s message of positivity, hope and realism. However, fat people shaming other fat people has become pretty standard for The Biggest Loser, so I doubt her attitude will prevail. What is it about overweight people being the hardest, and often the most cruel, to other overweight people? We reinforce the same ugly stereotypes about fat people that society/culture/media thrusts upon us — we’re lazy, slobs, gluttons, unloveable and invisible — when we look at another overweight person and say “well, she/he is clearly just not working hard enough.” Sometimes it isn’t that simple. Be happy for your own success and, yes, be supportive of your fellow fat friends. But fat shaming is NOT being supportive. Be understanding, offer positivity (not negativity disguised as positivity, ie: you just didn’t work hard enough, but you can next week!) and keep an open mind.

And don’t get me started on the “all fat people are miserable; all thin people are super happy” motif of Biggest Loser an the fact that often contestants slim down far beyond where they need to be, all for the big reveal. Why do you need to slim down to a size 4 or 6? No. But that’s a topic for another day!

Heavy vs. The Biggest Loser – is reality “fat” TV any good for us?

A part of my “diet plan” this time around is to watch reality shows that show obese people triumphing over fat, uttering cliches into the camera, tears and sweat running down their chubby faces as music swells in the background. Why? A mixture of positive and negative reinforcement, watching something like The Biggest Loser reminds me that a) I’m lucky I only have 70 pounds to lose b) yes, Virginia, there are fat people and c) that dropping 150 lbs on a reality show in six months is extremely unhealthy and unrealistic, so go easy on yourself, kiddo.

The juggernaut of reality TV weight loss

I’ve always had an inherent issue with The Biggest Loser, and have never made it past the first few episodes of a given season. Two hours each week of fat people sweating and crying is a bit much, and pitting them against each other in a weight loss battle seems a bit cruel. “You didn’t lose enough, go home” doesn’t exactly solve the problem, though NBC does give the ousted contestants personal trainers (they must) until the finale show airs, and we see the “losers” paraded in front of us — “look, they did it at home!!!” Despite the swells of uplifting music and the sob stories, The Biggest Loser is, at heart, all about fat shaming. Fat is Not Okay, you are Unhealthy and Unfit and so you Must Change. Ok, so it’s also TRUE — the contestants are generally unhealthy, unfit and need to change. But the method and the messaging of the journey is such: these people are miserable and unhappy fat. They are going to die. Look! They lost 150 pounds! Now they are Happy and Perfect.

Reality check: losing a ton of weight doesn’t solve all of your problems. Weight loss is not a fix-all. Food issues are forever. And I doubt all these contestants keep their weight off after the show. The Biggest Loser doesn’t focus much on eating habits and food issues; they push the (much needed) fitness angle and while, yes, if you do a lifestyle change and become a work-out nut, you likely won’t become obese again, but how many of the contestants really become fitness nuts? Plus, losing massive amounts of weight each week is NOT HEALTHY or sustainable. While of course the contestants have an abnormally high start weight, 10, 15, 20 pounds in a week is not normal, even for the chronically obese. The only way to achieve such drastic weight loss is to have these people on a starvation diet plus 5-6 hours of working out each day. How can you sustain that post-show? You can’t.

The fat shaming that goes on in the weigh-ins has me yelling at the TV each week. Contestants are shamed about losing 6lbs in a week. Or 4. Or 8. Doctors recommend you lose 1-2 pounds a week for healthy weight loss. But these people are made to feel ashamed of losing what is, for even the heaviest of people, an abnormally high number in a single week, after many progressive weeks of similar or higher weight loss. It’s not sustainable! Frankly, if a contestant who “worked their butt off that week” “only” loses 6 pounds, or 4, or, God forbid, GAINS, I’m thinking their body is telling them something: IT’S THE APOCALYPSE, WE’RE STARVING, HOLD ON TO THE FAT. That’s what your body does when you’re starving — holds on to the fat. However, when this happens on the show, the trainers belittle the contestants (Bob told someone this week “4 pounds is nothing to be proud of.” This same contestant lost 31 POUNDS his first week), and the host speaks to them in a condescending, judgmental tone. It’s awful.

Heavy doesn't have a competition element to its weight loss chronicle

But, yes, I’m watching it. Cynically, though! Now there’s Heavy on A&E, which takes the appeal of The Biggest Loser — seeing morbidly obese people lose weight — and puts a gritty spin on it. There’s no competition, just “reality.” Each week, two people from the same city are profiled. Over six months, they will be buddied together for support, and given the tools to change their life around. They spend the first month at a weight loss camp (fat camp for adults!), the Hilton Head Health Institute, where personal trainers and nutrionalists help them jump-start their journey. Then they head home, where the show provides them with a personal trainer for the remaining five months. If they don’t make progress, they have to go back to Hilton Head.

So far, I’m impressed with Heavy. It’s not just fat people with sob stories. It’s fat people with REAL sob stories, and struggles. Jodi and her husband’s marriage is on the rocks. Her mother (who is also fat) fat shames her and they don’t have a good relationship. Arnold is surrounded by a family who enables him to eat more than 6,000 calories a day, and not work (because he’s so large he can’t). Arnold relapses after he goes home, gaining 23 pounds back, and has to go back to Hilton Head for the rest of the program. Jodi kicks her mom out of the house and she and her husband attend therapy sessions. And at the end of the six months, while both have lost a considerable amount of weight (Jodi 77 lbs, Arnold about 150 lbs), they are both still obese and have significant life issues to tackle. The weight loss and the A&E program haven’t solved their life problems and made them happy. Maybe, once the cameras are off and the personal trainers aren’t free, they will lose the rest of their weight. Or maybe they’ll gain it back. Who knows. My only nitpick on the participants of episode one: neither appears to have a job. When that is the case, it’s a lot easier to dedicate yourself fully to going to “fat camp” and working out with a trainer every day. It will be interesting to see if in future episodes, people have jobs and other such life obstacles.

This is the reality of fat in America, and losing the weight. It’s hard, it’s nuanced, it’s expensive (normal people can’t afford personal trainers or the TIME you need to dedicate to these work out routines) and fixing one thing won’t fix another. Heavy has a leg-up on The Biggest Loser in showing the realistic journey, but unfortunately what NBC does do brilliantly is the big pay-off. I can tell myself a hundred times that The Biggest Loser isn’t healthy or realistic, but it’s still a thrill to see someone go from 400 pounds to 150.  The montage rolls and the music swells, and you think to yourself “I want that!” It’s intoxicating as much as it is wrong, but it’s also proving to be a pretty good motivational tool.

The Big Reveal is intoxicating