From Me To Oprah: Beyond The Biggest Loser..Thoughts About Long-Term Weight Management
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For Shay Sorrells, May 10th, 2009 was the first day of the rest of her life; not only was it her 30th birthday, but it was the day this California-based social worker, wife, and stepmother to two boys moved into what would be her new home for the next nine weeks—the ranch that houses contestants of NBC’s hit show, The Biggest Loser. It also marked the day she became the heaviest contestant in Biggest Loser history, weighing in at 476 pounds on her 5’8” frame.
I had the honor of interviewing Shay about her dramatic transformation over the past year for msnbc.com’s Chew on This column (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/37130960). She has lost a ton of weight, and seems to be well on her way to keeping her weight off (and her head I a good place) for years to come, and I certainly wish her and all other contestants the best. But if I’m being honest, I do have concerns about the show that I’d like to share.
As a registered dietitian and someone who lost weight and kept it off for decades (I realize losing 30 plus pounds pales in comparison to the exorbitant amount Shay has lost thus far, but still feel based on my anecdotal and professional expertise I can weigh in on this close to my heart topic), I have very mixed feelings about the methods used by The Biggest Loser to promote jaw-dropping weight losses (including several hours a day of extreme exercise—unrealistic and in my opinion, unhealthy amounts of weight loss). For me, weight loss happened over years—slowly, and gradually. It was about making small tweaks in my food and fitness behaviors over time. It was about getting in more daily movement..waking a few more blocks, or taking a new fitness class. It was about eating half a sandwich instead of a whole, or taking a few less bites at each meal. It was about focusing on the positive—and talking positively about myself and my body (out loud and in my mind) instead of focusing on all the things I didn’t like about myself. It was about incorporating more healthful foods—and though I resisted cutting out all unhealthy foods (I still love my chocolate!), I eventually decided to forego fried foods like fried calamari and French fries (my husband and I did this together—we decided we’re not getting any younger, and we did this as much to save our waistlines as our hearts). Anyone who has ever lost weight and kept it off surely went about it in different ways. But whether doing it for myself, or recommending weight-loss strategies to clients or consumers, my first focus is always on total health—and then on how all the healthful changes will impact body weight over the long haul. No point in making an effort to get to a better body weight if you’re not also doing things to improve your overall health, right?
Although so many Americans would benefit by losing weight—even a seemingly modest 5 to 10 percent (or 10 to 20 pounds for someone who is 200 pounds), Biggest Loser contestants are, for the most part, portrayed as people at the end of their weight rope—all of them seem to be in dire need of help to improve their food and fitness behaviors (not to mention emotional struggles that contributed to their body weight). But is it necessary for them to be yelled at, and pushed to extremes? Is tough love what they need to once and for all get fit and lose and keep off weight for life?
Having worked with the media for years, I understand that first and foremost, The Biggest Loser is about entertainment. The crying, yelling, screaming, and fighting has undoubtedly drawn in millions of viewers week after week over the last nine seasons. If you watch and enjoy the show, you know the stories of all the contestants are inspiring, heartbreaking, heart warming, and tragic all at once. You also know it’s not hard to get sucked in by the drama and to connect, in some way, with certain contestants and hope they win the prize at the season finale—even if that means losing substantial (and I believe unhealthy) amounts of weight week after week.
So whatever happened to the small, gradual change approach to weight loss? Isn’t that healthier? When did it become ok for someone to lose 20 or more pounds each week? Or workout 8 hours a day? As a registered dietitian, I’ve always promoted one to two pounds as a safe rate of weekly weight loss, though I concede someone who is morbidly obese can probably lose a few more pounds than that each week safely and sensibly. But I realize (and I’m sure most of you would agree) that watching people lose weight slowly and gradually over months or years won’t make for good television (much like The Moderation Diet won’t hit any bestseller book lists anytime soon).
My hope for all the contestants—including the extremely successful Shay Sorrells—is for them to bring home all the skills they’ve learned on the ranch and incorporate them into their every day life. Shay seems to be doing just that. I also hope they are able to stay motivated, and find a way to successfully deal with all the food and fitness challenges they will undoubtedly face on their journey towards life-long weight management. I also hope the former contestants (and viewers alike who need to lose weight) seek individualized support, when needed, from qualified heath professionals including registered dietitians, and trainers certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the American Council on Exercise (ACE), and to name a few. Getting personal and professional support, and taking one day at a time, will help anyone who wants to lose weight and keep it off for life a much better chance of doing just that.
Another important thing Shay mentioned to me was how valuable it has been for her to set goals for running, swimming, and biking. She believes that the more goals you set, the more likely you are to stay the course. I couldn’t agree more. What’s your personal goal for this week, or this month? Mine is to walk a lot and find exercises I can do to keep my biceps strong despite possibly having a torn hand muscle……(stay tuned!)…
Originally posted on RDs Weigh In Blog: http://bit.ly/berBRx
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