The Biggest Loser tempts disordered eating
We’ve written about the weight-loss reality television show The Biggest Loser before here on the About-Face blog, whether it’s the scariness of trainer Jillian Michaels or the reports of previous contestants developing eating disorders after the show.
Recently, About-Face received an email from a concerned The Biggest Loser watcher in Australia. She was disturbed by a recent segment from the show in which contestants were told to consume more calories of one type of sugary dessert than the others, in order to avoid elimination from the show.
This particular challenge is called “Temptation,” a challenge in various countries’ versions of The Biggest Loser in which contestants must eat some or all of a certain food in order to gain advantages in the competition, such as immunity from elimination. Each time, different high-calorie foods are presented to them, tempting them to eat as much as possible.
But the irony is that by eating a high number of calories they are jeopardising their chances of being the “biggest loser” anyway, so they need the immunity more and more in order to stay in. This irony isn’t lost on the contestants. One says: “We worked so hard to get this weight off and we’ve come in here and we’ve acted like pigs cos we want to stay here. How stupid is it!”
Aside from making “good TV,” it seems that the purpose of this segment is to get the contestants to realise how much junk food they were eating before, and by eating it and feeling sick, they would be discouraged from eating it again. It’s a test of willpower, of how strong they’ve become at resisting their previous food choices, even if bingeing means that they definitely wouldn’t be eliminated from the competition yet.
Invariably, the binge eating makes the contestants feel sick (sometimes to the point of vomiting), and in some cases they then feel the need to over-exercise shortly afterwards to burn off the calories. This mentality is not helped by the attitude of trainers like Michaels, who on a different season of the show said : “I’m proud that I made him vomit, that’s all that matters.”
Yes, the Temptation challenge uses binge eating as a tool for reward. And yes, the contestants do feel sick after eating so many calories, and do talk about how much exercise they need to do to work it off. Does this sound like healthy eating to you?
What do you think about the The Biggest Loser temptation challenges? Do they represent a responsible approach to weight loss?