The Biggest Loser debuted in 2004, quickly attracting a growing audience with its then-unique premise of defining the winner as the person who shed the most weight.
Set to become stars in their own right, trainers Bob Harper and Jillian Michaels urged the obese contestants to spend their days on the show dieting and exercising to take home the big prize.
However, despite high ratings, The Biggest Loser came under criticism from experts who expressed concern that the rapid weight loss made possible only by devoting days to intense exercise and rigid diets was not realistic.
The criticism grew when, during season 15, ultimate winner Rachel Frederickson began her time on the show at 260 pounds and ended at 105 pounds.
Even the trainers couldn’t hide their shock at what turned into a controversy about whether The Biggest Loser had caused Rachel to develop an eating disorder, noted the Today show.
Despite all the controversy of the past, The Biggest Loser returned this year to the small screen. This time around, Bob Harper has taken on the role of host rather than a trainer.
But does the show still have the potential to endanger contestants with its message that you “win” by losing weight as fast as possible?
Licensed Therapist Kati Morton analyzes The Biggest Loser pros and cons
Kati Morton, a licensed therapist who is a licensed marriage and family therapist, recently authored, “Are u ok?: A Guide to Caring for Your Mental Health.”
In an exclusive interview, Kati discussed the pros and cons of The Biggest Loser when it comes to permanent, healthy weight loss.
Reflecting on how The Biggest Loser is based on the concept that you’re a winner only if you achieve the most weight loss, Morton acknowledged that there are some positives to the reality TV show.
“I think the pros of this concept are that they help people better understand how to feed themselves, and how our emotional eating habits can be,” said Kati, who runs a private practice in Santa Monica, California and also has a popular YouTube channel about mental health.
But Morton also sees multiple negative aspects to the premise of The Biggest Loser.
Although the show has offered more support for the emotions involved in weight loss, Kati feels that The Biggest Loser should use the term “eating disorder” and explore “why these contestants struggle so much with overeating.”
Moreover, Kati expressed concern that The Biggest Loser limits potential contestants to those who have large amounts of weight to lose.
Because of that restriction, The Biggest Loser puts the focus solely “on being thin and using that as the goal, instead of supporting different shapes and sizes.”
Viewers of The Biggest Loser have seen how the weight loss competition show takes contestants and puts them in an isolated environment, where they focus only on diet and exercise rather than experience the outside world challenges such as family and career.
That isolated environment results in another concern from Morton.
“The [Biggest Loser] is so intensive and isolated it can be hard for people to continue on this healthier path” after that get home, pointed out the licensed therapist.
Kati, who specializes in working with individuals experiencing eating disorders and self-harming behaviors as well as all other aspects of mental health, also discussed the distinction between The Biggest Loser campus and the contestants’ real-world lives.
Does weight loss on the show necessarily translate to continued slim-down success when the contestants return to their everyday lives?
“[The show] doesn’t take into consideration what our real life is like. In real life we don’t have someone making all our meals, telling us what to eat and when to work out. Most of us struggle to fit everything we need to do into our days, and adding in these changes can be hard. It’s like when my patients come out of a treatment facility, the slow step down in support and care is pivotal for their long term recovery.”
Want to win at weight loss but can’t qualify for The Biggest Loser? Kati Morton has suggestions
What if you have struggled to lose weight for years, watching the scale go up and down, going on seemingly endless fad diets, and heading to the gym faithfully, but aren’t obese enough to qualify for the show?
Kati has some tips.
“I recommend seeing an eating disorder specialist (this could be a therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist) and making time to see a dietitian,” suggested Morton.
“Types of therapy that have been shown to be the most successful are CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy).”
— BiggestLoser (@biggestloser) March 5, 2020
The specialists you choose depends on your issues, added Kati.
“However, if we have other issues like addiction or a traumatic past you will want to seek out a specialist in those areas,” explained Morton.
“This will help us deal with all of the emotional problems that led to our eating issues while also helping us manage our food choices, portions, etc, with meal plans.”
Ultimately, Kati feels that having a professional who specializes in emotional health as well as a specialist who focuses on nutrition can provide “well-rounded support and guidance.”
The Biggest Loser, which recently shifted from NBC to the USA Network, began its 2020 season with 12 individuals who had battled their weight for years.
The contestant who loses the most weight is the winner of $100,000.
In addition to host Bob Harper, trainers Erica Lugo and Steve Cook work with the contestants to push them to diet and exercise to win the prizes of the most weight loss and the money.
Watch The Biggest Loser on the USA network Tuesday at 9/8c.