Service of Extremes: When A Winner is a Loser

February 17th, 2014

Categories: TV, Weight

Much of the coverage of this year’s winner of the TV reality show “The Biggest Loser” focused on the danger to the health of the 24 year old who dropped almost 60 percent of her body weight to take home the $250,000 prize. When the season began she carried 260 pounds on her 5’4″ frame. After daily six hours of training and a 1,600/calorie diet, she ended up at 105 pounds.

In her New York Times article, “A Big Reveal Touches a Nerve,” Jennifer Conlin quoted a finalist in the show’s third season who lost 118 lbs and felt unhealthy in the process. This finalist’s hair began to fall out due to lack of vitamins and in the journal she kept she recorded that the day before weigh-ins, so as to lose water weight, contenders would stuff themselves into layers of clothes so that they’d perspire excessively during workouts, and consume only coffee which is thought to reduce a body’s water.

You couldn’t help but notice the weight extremes in this year’s winner from stout to skinny, a woman who was once on her school’s swimming team. A book, “Almost Anorexic” by Jennifer J. Thomas, addresses the strong relationship between obesity and anorexia. Thomas is also the co-director of the Eating Disorders Clinical and Research Program at Mass. General in Boston and assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School. She told Conlin that she’s concerned by the attention and reward given the winner in this show because of the unhealthy approach to weight loss seen by people with eating disorders. She admitted that if the winner came to her clinic “we would be worried about her.”

Does this TV program address the obesity crisis or is it even supposed to? Can a TV program that deals with weight alone do a disservice to a person such as this year’s winner who for unknown reasons went from average to overweight and then to thin? Might some of the contenders have other health issues that have caused them to gain weight that when ignored by an extreme approach to weight loss might be a danger to them? And who can maintain for long a schedule that includes a job and six hours of training daily?


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11 Responses to “Service of Extremes: When A Winner is a Loser”

  1. Lucrezia Said:

    Can’t comment on a program I don’t have the slightest interest in watching. Like everything else, it probably benefits some. As long as it enjoys good ratings, unlike Leno, it probably will survive.

    Now if you’re really looking for a winning loser, you need go no further than an Olympics skating event, Saturday, where after two embarrassing pratfalls, the contestant went on to win gold. Is this the way it’s supposed to work?

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:

    I didn’t see the skating on Saturday so I can’t comment but it sounds as though the title of this post fits what you describe. I’ve never seen a Gold medalist in figure skating take a fall.

    What nationality was the winner?

  3. Edward Baecher Said:

    My maternal grandfather said “everything in moderation”, I have dropped twenty pounds in a year and a half by changing eating habits that I can live with, not in two months of misery. from what I have seen, extreme weight loss is usually countered by extreme weight gain and then some.

  4. jeanne Byington Said:


    Good for you!

    Moderation seems like a sensible approach to weight gain or loss. Diet programs such as those featured on the TV program appear to assault a person’s body. What’s the sense of that?

  5. JPM Said:

    Gibbon laid a good part of the blame for the decline and fall of Roman civilization on the demoralization of its population by its rulers’ custom of feeding it a steady diet of “bread and circuses”.

    This reality nonsense is all part of today’s updated version of “circuses”. It has no redeeming quality justifying any further spilling of ink or pixels on the subject.

    However,I will say that I find even thinking about these sorry creatures and the sorry creatures who waste their time watching them, deeply depresses me.

  6. RCF Said:

    Hi Jeanne – you strike a chord here –

    I just read in my local paper about a woman who had a bypass operation; and lost a lot of weight. She said her reasons for doing it included the deaths of her mother and sister from obesity-related illness, and from her frustration at having tried and tried to use “normal methods” to lose weight. She decided that the risks of staying obese were greater than the risks of the operation. and it worked, at least as far as the article says. She looks fine in the photo they printed (no “before”,only “after”).

    What struck me was her knowledge of how obesity could threaten her life. And it seems that in some ways she had inherited that tendency – physical or emotional. The stories of women and men who lose enormous amounts of weight by diet and exercise trouble me too. If it is made a public thing, it seems it is being used to sell something, not health. The long decision process the woman in the local paper went through makes it an education to read, and helps to understand what people go through who become “morbidly obese.” Thank you for bringing this up!

  7. Jeanne Byington Said:


    The answer to so much slipshod work I address in this blog is greed. Reality shows are no different. They are cheap to make. I’ve heard that many are tricked, but nevertheless cost very little because they don’t rely on expensive actors and high-priced script writers.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    You obviously have excellent reporters at your newspapers.

    Having an operation is serious business. My husband was in the hospital recently and we met quite a few people who underwent a similar operation to the one you describe. [There are several procedures with the hopeful outcome of weight loss.]

    One patient was in my husband’s room for a brief period. I overheard him speaking with another patient who had undergone a similar procedure. They spoke about the foods that they would miss eating. I hope for them that they lose their taste for the food and sweet drinks that got them into trouble to begin with and that family members help and support them. I also hope that there are some foods that they look forward to eating that they can continue to enjoy.

  9. Lucrezia Said:

    The winner in Saturday night’s skating I mentioned was Japanese. He was skating solo, and fell not once, but twice. This [win] was based on previously won points. All very well and good, but such a blemish should disqualify winning a medal. A different method of scoring is in order.

  10. Martha Takayama Said:

    Any comments I make with respect to this posting have to be prefaced by admitting that I intensely dislike reality programs, find them anything but real or realistic, yet always in bad taste.

    I don’t believe these programs ever try to address any crisis, but rather to take advantage of whatever topic seems to draw negative attention and concerns and which feeds in to the viewers’ anxieties.

    Clearly a TV program that deals with weight alone does not make any positive attempt to address the erratic behavior, medical or emotional, of a person such as this year’s winner. The motivation for her radical variations in weight seem to be of no concern. There seems to be a blithe neglect of medical issues with respect to the contenders. I consider the program highly irresponsible to the participants and the viewers. However, besides wondering how any individual can dedicate so much of their waking hours, outpatient, to the type of schedule employed, I wonder why people find it gratifying or positive to spend time watching such a program.

  11. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I don’t know the answer to your question about why people find it gratifying or positive to spend time watching such a program but if millions didn’t they wouldn’t be so popular with more shows coming yearly covering so many topics–cooking, dancing etc. I’d rather catch up on my sleep.

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