This week, millions of Americans tuned in to the Biggest Loser show on NBC to be treated to a few surprises beyond the formulaic , publicly sanctioned, fat shaming that they usually expect. For one thing, First Lady Michelle Obama along with White House Chef and Director of the Let’s Move! campaign Sam Kass made an appearance to promote the Drink Up and Let’s Move! programs. This was unfortunate timing for those of us who are advocates working to combat weight stigma as that was also the day that I, along with Binge Eating Disorder Association Founder and CEO, Chevese Turner met with Let’s Move! staff to discuss our concerns about this “potential” appearance in the first place. It wasn’t until we were in the meeting that we found out the Biggest Loser appearance was indeed happening, as a matter of fact it would be airing THAT DAY and our efforts to petition the First Lady not to appear had failed. The White House, to their credit, allowed us to discuss why we would like to dissuade her from future appearances and they took the time to really listen to our concerns – thank you Let’s Move!.
Of all the concerns that Chevese and I expressed, the unsustainable lifestyle the participants are engaged in, the misinformation about how to safely and effectively reach health goals, the mistreatment and fat shaming that the show promotes within our culture… none of these will be as effective an argument against future appearances as was served up by the show itself. The winning reason not to go on TBL? I guarantee you that it has to do with CHEATING.
As it so happens, trainer Jillian Michaels was called out after having been caught providing her team with caffeine supplements, which is a big NO-NO! When allowed to comment on her strategy, her response was nothing short of (I’m doing the evil overlord, hand wringing thing here…) MAGICAL! Michaels said everything absolutely right – her moment to shine ‘as a professional’ let it slip that this show is NOT about health as so many people like to claim, this show is about sensationalism and weight loss AT ANY COST.
Though I’m certain Michaels was not trying to make my point for me, her statement, “Caffeine supplements are significantly healthier than unlimited amounts of coffee. My only regret is that my team, they are the ones suffering the consequences of my professional opinion” does just that several times over.
UN-Healthy Weight Loss – “Caffeine supplements are significantly healthier than unlimited amounts of coffee”
IF a person is working to attain a permanent reduction in weight (a complex issue in and of itself) caffeine supplements or massive amounts of coffee do not support long term results nor are they healthy. Anyone old enough to know what ‘speed’ is knows, caffeine to lose weight is a bad choice no ifs ands or buts. NOT HEALTHY.
Professional Opinion – What???? What on earth is she talking about. If she’s qualified to guide people into living healthier lives then why does she condone stigmatizing people, whether in her own ‘team’ or as a general rule.
The way she mentally and emotionally abuses the TBL contestants is notorious and one of the main reasons why people watch the show. You only need read through the Tuesday night #BiggestLoser Twitter feeds to see the voyeuristic bloodlust fans share when watching her “tear them apart”. She may be certified to work on weight machines and to develop muscle groups but her “professional” everything stops right there because she has not made the connection that good health (if we’re fooling ourselves back into the theory that TBL actually has anything to DO with health) involves a balance of movement, nutrition and mental wellbeing.
Perspective – This is a game and as such, there are rules to be followed. In this case however, the game is playing with the health of the contestants and by cheating, Michaels did more than take unfair advantage of a situation, she put the health of her team at risk. She showed unequivocally that to win by any means is paramount and to do so she is willing to compromise people’s lives – living, breathing, vulnerable, trusting, hopeful lives.
The fact is that the true impetus of the show is sensationalism, fat bashing, weight based bullying weight loss and NOT health management and lifestyle support. We KNOW this, whether we choose to accept it, that’s apparently another story, however, by being called out for cheating with supplements, this loss of perspective is easy to identify. In other words, messing with the long term wellbeing – physical, emotional and mental – of people is complex to track but being caught ‘doping’ is a quick and easily identifiable crossing of the line.
Whether or not you are engaged in the nuanced conversation about weight stigma, there is no doubt that you understand the concept of cheating. We all do and we all know it’s wrong. We were taught this lesson as children and we hold cheaters in low esteem. We see them as weak and unable to control their impulses to win at any cost rather than compete fairly with others. And in games as well as politics, nobody wants to be associated with a cheater.
So thank you Jillian Michaels for your unvarnished truth. The viewers, as well as the Office of the First Lady, can have no doubt about the intent or the character of the show. It’s a rare day when the opposing team makes my arguments for me but you did an eloquent and concise job!