In today’s pop culture, where image is so closely tied to beauty, everyone wants to look their best. But with the recent popularity of weight loss reality shows, it seems that the executive producers for this type of programming have found a way to showcase those that are clinically obese. All over the world, in virtually every major market, the small screen has become filled with the obstacles and very personal challenges these overweight contestants are faced with in their desire to be thin.
With shows like “The Biggest Loser,” “Losing it with Jillian,” “Excess Baggage” and dozens of clones and spin-offs, experts are at odds as to the good and bad influences this type of programming brings to its millions of viewers. One thing we can agree on, though, is the spotlight these shows tend to bring to our cultural preoccupation with being thin and looking good. The problem with this obsession to be skinny is when it is presented with methods that are radical, extreme and potentially dangerous to an overweight viewer who wants to lose weight too.
The Medical Dangers Are Very Real
Much like the dangers that can exist with some of these heavily promoted fad diets (see our article: why diet pills dont work) when television contestants are losing thirty to thirty five pounds in a single week, it sends an unhealthy message that medically, this is OK to do. Of course, the reality is that losing this much weight so quickly could be potentially life-threatening without medical supervision. Dehydration, loss of electrolytes, reduced bone density, and heart problems are all possible when we dramatically reduce calories combined with exercise that is too intense for the participant.
Behind the scenes, these contestants undergo medical screenings and are monitored throughout the series by physicians and medical staff. Inherent luxuries that the chubby, copycat fan at home probably won’t enjoy… and we won’t even get into the “Release of liability in the event of death” contract that all TV contestants are required to sign. All of this tends to show the potentially dangerous influence these reality shows can have on millions of overweight viewers.
A Message of Hope and Inspiration
However, proponents of these shows are quick to point out that these programs can bring inspiration to the flabby masses, providing motivation to get out of their chairs, exercise and begin eating a healthier diet. This in turn will reduce the viewers’ risks for many of the medical maladies that typically plague those that are overweight. The health benefits of losing weight outweigh the risks that may come from copycat viewers who go it alone – with diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and strokes being dramatically reduced.
Not only this, but advocates also believe that these reality shows do more than just provide inspiration. They instill the need for being competitive and not complacent when it comes to losing weight. Participants are shown working with chefs, who prepare tasty meals without sacrificing nutrition and calories. Viewers are able to see first-hand success, failures, excitement and disappointment… typical emotions that can often be difficult to understand without first having some sort of role model to fall back on.
And finally, couch potatoes watching from home will see first-hand the value of having a personal trainer, a coach, or even just a support group. Viewers quickly learn that teamwork is so important in terms of maintaining drive and staying motivated. Win or lose, it becomes obvious that contestants are able to keep going, to push and continue trying because of the support and accountability they get from their team. The message these shows clearly send is that going alone could be a recipe for disaster.
Putting It All Together
So there you have it: clear arguments from both sides as to the good and the bad aspects this type of programming can have on society. The Nervous Nellies sound the alarm for the possible medical emergencies – like heart attack, dehydration and stroke – that are quite possible when trying to lose weight so quickly. Then we have the opposing camp, bold and optimistic as they shout from the rooftops a message of inspiration, teamwork and hope.
Personally, I think both camps have valid and helpful points of view as to the impact these weight loss reality shows have brought to the masses. And despite the sort of hidden truth that the producers and networks are only trying to line their pockets, the lessons we should probably learn from this is to try and harness the enthusiasm and teamwork, but getting a physical first and following our doctor’s advice.