An Obesity Doctor on Why ‘The Biggest Loser’ Remains an Abomination
Dr. Yoni Freedhoff has spent 16 years practicing obesity medicine. He says the show is fat-shaming and unscientific.
American television continues to consider the dehumanization of people with obesity as entertainment. On January 28, USA Network is bringing back the fat-shaming reality show The Biggest Loser, after airing for 17 seasons from 2004 to 2016.
The show — for those fortunate enough to have missed prior seasons — involves housing men and women with significant obesity on a secluded ranch, where they spend months competing to see who can lose the most weight. During this time, trainers yell at them, producers put them in rooms with junk food to see who can “resist,” and week after week, tens of millions of viewers are taught that rather than simply measuring the gravitational pull of the earth, scales measure health, happiness, success, effort, and self-worth. The “winner” of the show receives $250,000, but honestly, when it comes to The Biggest Loser, everyone loses.
The show is harmful for all involved — from the contestants to the viewers. And that’s not simply my opinion as a physician who has spent 16 years practicing obesity medicine. It’s an opinion supported by science.
Not only do the people on The Biggest Loser deal with massive public scrutiny of their bodies and selves, which research suggests is an emotionally draining process for many contestants, but this scrutiny is also exacerbated by the fact that most of the people on the show regain most (if not all) of their lost weight and damage their metabolisms.
Dramatic weight loss will always cause a person’s metabolism to slow down. This is due to an unfortunate physiological phenomenon broadly described as metabolic adaptation. But the effect on The Biggest Loser contestants seems especially great. A much-publicized 2016 study of 14 former contestants found that even six years after completing the show, the metabolic rates among contestants were, on average, 499 calories per day slower than would have been expected simply consequent to their weight loss. That’s roughly an extra daily meal’s worth of calories that the men and women are no longer burning six years…