Tag: Biggest Loser

Heroism and Weight Loss

fat-supermanI’ve been thinking about writing this post for some time.  Everyone who reads this blog is probably aware of my distaste for weight loss in the media.  I know many find shows like the Biggest Loser to be encouraging but for me they are the opposite.

What bothers me is they paint fat people as bad, and reformed fatties as good and that just isn’t true.   As I often say,  ‘a lot of people lose weight in prison’… Losing weight is hard enough without having these types of morality judgments thrown in our face.

So that’s media but this post is a slightly different take.  I would like to talk about how we as a culture often couch weight loss in heroic terms and how this is almost never helpful.

Just the other day I was watching a show and the reporter asked the man how he had ‘overcome his heroic battle with weight loss’.  This is not uncommon phraseology for our average conversation. All of us, including myself, have used such phrases when talking about weight loss.

What’s wrong with that you ask? I mean losing weight is really hard.  Why is that not heroic?

Well, let’s start with some definitions-

Over on about.philosophy.com author Kendra Cherry asked her readers How Do You Define Heroism?  Pretty much every response is something like this:

“A hero is a person who would risk life and limb just to save people or a person. these people standout as brave intelligent and loving. these people need to be recognized”

So what are the elements of being a hero:

1. They are brave

2. They are worthy of recognition

3.  They are loving

4. They risk their own safety to help other people

It is this last aspect that is the most common thread in all the responses.  Another reader says:

“Heroism is when you act out of the kindness of your heart. Whether you’re helping someone on homework, or helping someone who got hurt, the main thing is that your helping someone who is having a hard time”

So, heroism clearly involves being unselfish and serving your fellow men and women especially when doing so is difficult.

indexHow does weight loss fit such a description?  I can’t think of any other change of appearance that is lauded in such ways.  For example, if someone gets a face lift they are often derided, criticized but I’ve rarely heard that when gastric bypass is done.  Why is one surgical enhanced change heroic and another isn’t?

You could say that gastric bypass is required where a face lift is not? Well, the research from the Health at Every Size movement would strongly disagree with that assertion, but even if you accept that gastric bypass is necessary I don’t see how it is heroic?  If I break my leg and have surgery on said leg (essentially fixing a problem in my body like GB) does that make me a hero?  No, it makes me a person with a broken leg that was fixed.

I can see no part of weight loss that involves risk to help other people. You can help people get in shape or encourage them to enter a race, but that’s not really the weight loss, that’s your service in the community and amongst your loved ones.  Anyone should be lauded who serves others no matter their size.  That is worthy of the hero label.

What about athletes? Who are they serving and we call them ‘sports heroes’?  One could argue such a term is misapplied to professional athletes but I would counter that most athletes are participating in a team or cause greater than just themselves.

For example, an Olympian is certainly worthy of individual applause but also their gift of performance on behalf of their country makes it worthy of the hero label.

There are a few sports like golf that are truly individual events and then I would say they aren’t really heroes but simply exceptional.  We like them because they are good at something and we are not. Nothing wrong with that!

But I hear you saying ‘Rachel it’s so hard.  Shouldn’t we be encouraging?’.  My answer is ‘of course, we should’.  However, there are lots of hard things we do in life that aren’t really heroic.  If I am a PHD candidate and I complete my thesis am I lauded as a hero? I’m encouraged, congratulated, cheered but unless there’s a disability or something extraordinary I rarely hear the kind of language we apply to weight loss for any other ‘hard thing’ in life.

Why? Because the diet industry in America is a 20 billion dollar industry.  They want you to spend money and what better way to get someone to spend money than to either make them feel really good or really bad about themselves.  A tepid, lukewarm person never bought anything.  They have a vested interest in convincing us that we need to change and that if we make said change we can be the hero.

Now, you might suggest that I am focusing on mere semantics and poor word choice.  I would argue back that according to the Huffington Post the average American woman has dieted 61 times by the time they are 45 and that’s starting at 16 (I would start much younger- 81% of little girls in America have dieted before the age of 10).

Assuming some marginal success in most of those diets, the average woman has been the hero 61 times,  and then fallen sometimes quite speedily off of her pedestal.  Then to make matters worse 35% of women gain more than they lost on said diet.

So, now we aren’t really a weight loss villain (to use the cannon of terms) that is probably reserved for sinful foods and the companies who pedal them but we are something even worse- the fallen hero.  I mean think about what that means.  61 times the average woman not only feels let down with her own frailties but is no longer the inspirational tool for her family and friends.  I’ve felt it and I bet most of you have too.  It is devastating.

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I actually remember one time my sister telling me ‘you can’t gain the weight back because then you wouldn’t be this person that we admire’.  She was very little and didn’t mean to hurt my feelings but is that not what all of us go through on the roller coaster of weight loss? 2012 I was at my peak of fitness and weight loss, then I had a personal crisis, chronic pain and a herniated disk in my back.  Things changed and so did my body.

I’m not making excuses.  That’s just what happened.  I felt guilty for a long time.  Like I’d let everyone down, which is insane when you really think about it.  What had changed was something in my body.  My other actions were exactly the same.  I still swam my races, I still blogged.  I still worked.  I still held book club and spent time with my friends.  I still traveled.  All of it.  I can’t think of one thing for other people I could do in 2012 and couldn’t or didn’t do in 2013.  So why did I seemingly let them down?

Because I wasn’t the hero anymore. 

That’s why this language about our bodies is so important.  It can have devastating repercussions that can make us feel like failures, and we already feel that way because of the way we look.  The language just piles on. And sometimes it is not just language.  I have friends who’s parents were vocally disappointed in them for their weight loss struggles. Instead of sympathy and encouragement they received pity and disgust.  (Luckily my parets have always been pretty good about letting me live my own life)

What worries me most is if being the fallen weight loss hero is hard for adults, imagine what it must feel like for a child who has so little control over his or her bodies in the first place?  That I do know.  I remember vividly the feeling of disappointment after diet, after diet, not only frustrated at not looking the way I wanted to, which is hard enough for a young girl, but letting everyone down in the process.  For goodness sakes, now these kids are even letting down the President.

So, in a perfect world where everyone took all of my advice what would I suggest? How would I encourage others in this hard thing called weight loss? I would treat it like the accomplishment of any other worthy goal.  ‘that’s great’, ‘I can see you worked very hard’, ‘great job’, ‘congrats’, ‘I’d love to go jogging with you’, or any number of responses without vaulting the person up as a hero because of the way they look.

What do you guys think? Have you felt like you were letting down people when you gain weight or fail to lose?  Do you think the hero narrative is helpful or hurtful?  Please share your experience, as this is just what makes sense to me.  Love you all!

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Fat Stigma- Biggest Loser

(Spoiler…this will be probably be the most controversial post I’ve ever done. Oh well.  Hopefully it will make you think)

Find this barbaric? horrible? demeaning?  Think we’ve come so far? Think we are so much more civilized now?

Don’t be too sure…

Barely clothed fat people on display for all to gawk at and criticize…look familiar? At least the fat lady wasn’t criticized for losing 22 lbs instead of 32…

Put all the glossy tags on it you want, exploitation is still exploitation.   People on the Biggest Loser are treated as a loser if they are heavy and they are not being set up for life-long HEALTH but only quick, 10 week weight loss success.

One example is “Kai Hibbard who lost 118 pounds on the show. She later blogged that she ate only asparagus, endured colonics and went through 6-hour stretches in a sauna to dehydrate herself enough to lose 19 pounds for the season finale. She jokingly said the entire weight rebounded to her rear end almost immediately.

“I left with a very poor mental body image, I found myself loathing what I looked like the more weight I dropped because of the pressure on me. And I found myself doing things like considering coffee a meal. And because of the mentality that I was surrounded with, and the pressure that was given at that show, it was considered acceptable to behave that way.”

Hibbard claims that contestants on the show were pressured to exercise even when severely injured, and to diet by dehydration. She says they were also told to ignore the advice of nutritionists and listen to the show’s trainers.”

Feel so inspired anymore? Let’s watch people starve themselves, fun!

I agree with this blog by Pat Barone CPCC, PCC entitled Why I Hate the Biggest Loser

“The contestants are being used. Yes, they might make a little money (Did not the world’s fatest mother make money? Does that somehow make it right?). They might rent some weight loss on the scale. But I’m already seeing a lot of them on Twitter talking about regain. I’m sure they didn’t know the truth before they started.

They let their desperation get to them. And nothing good is ever created out of desperation. The big winners here are the show’s producers and network. They’re making big bucks. Why should they care about the legacy of regained weight and broken bodies they leave behind them?”

I also agree with Barone about the negative effects of competition on weight loss:

“The truth is, contests can bring out the competitive streak in people but it cannot be maintained for very long. If you are a competitive type, use it elsewhere in life. When it comes to your body, be simple and healthy and keep moving.”

I have seen this over the past 2 years time and time again.  I work hard and have success but somehow it still feels like failure because it doesn’t match up with somebody else I know who has lost double, in half the time.  Particularly when I used to watch any diet themed show instead of feeling motivated I felt terrible. What  a horrible person I must be to still be over weight?  I must have to starve myself because pushing to the point of exhaustion obviously isn’t working…

But it is working.  I have made huge strides even though I have not lost much weight this year.  If I was going on scale alone I would be off the show darn quick; however, I am no longer a diabetic risk, my measurements have all improved, my self confidence and energy have gotten better and I have created a whole new life of swimming.

In my opinion shows like the Biggest Loser help to reinforce idiot opinions like the infamous Maura Kelly from Marie Claire (who I have quoted several times on this blog) who believes that if only fat people would “psych themselves up for the long process of slimming down” this pesky problem of obesity would go away.

Maura Kelly was just obnoxious enough to say what many people believe- that weight loss is purely a matter of will power and that those who fail are ‘boob tube’ watchers who are in the same league with heroine addicts and meth users:

“I’d be grossed out if I had to watch them doing anything. To be brutally honest, even in real life, I find it aesthetically displeasing to watch a very, very fat person simply walk across a room — just like I’d find it distressing if I saw a very drunk person stumbling across a bar or a heroine addict slumping in a chair.”

To the Maura Kelly’s out there how would you like to give up every minute of your free time, feel pain on a daily basis, be ostracized from social situations and parties, all the while defending yourself as a vibrant worthwhile person, and finally to be outright mocked because of a health struggle you face?

Someone I love used to think it was funny to video tape fat people at public events and laugh at the way they ‘waddled around’. Is this not the same as those who gawked at the world’s fattest mother?  Is gawking in the safety of our home somehow better than purchasing a ticket to view in person?

Thankfully I have tons of support as well but it is a tough road. Make no mistake about it- while my life expectancy may have been shorter a few years ago, it certainly has not gotten easier or less challenging.

Overweight people have many good qualities.  Why not help them to overcome a health challenge like we would any other disease or difficulty?  Why? Because that can’t be done in a 10 week film schedule.

Can’t you see that diet shows like the Biggest Loser fan the flame fat stigma and prejudice? Idiots like Maura Kelly are allowed to perpetuate their bigotry but even worse they are lauded for their benevolence to these poor fat people.  At least Kelly was so outright in her views that she received backlash.  Most people carefully couch their condescension in the guise of ‘the battle against obesity’. Really dig down deep there is a disgust of fatness and fat people at the core.

In the 1800’s there was a woman named Sara Baartman who was dragged around as a literal freak show because of her large behind (as well as other female anatomy).  (today she’d be a Kardashian…just saying). People gawked and mocked and even came to view her preserved remains because of their large size (she died at only 25).

Again, we think we are so much more civilized today and perhaps we don’t go so far but the motivations can often be the same…There can be a perverse human pleasure in seeing others fail but this  is not reality (and I say that being a reality TV fan in some cases- for instance,Amazing Race) and it is certainly not sympathetic.  I’m so tired of weight being used as a judge of someone’s character.  Its not!

On the Biggest Loser we see:

“the on-screen manipulation of them, which is sometimes brutal to watch (like our fascination with watching a train wreck) – but you don’t see the offscreen “revving up” process that happens right before they shoot. Manipulation is cheap, dirty and disrespectful. I don’t like to witness it. “

Barone says it well

“Losing weight just means the number on the scale changes.(What I would give if the world understood this, especially men) And that can be extremely unhealthy. Millions of people have mastered losing weight. They just haven’t mastered the regain phase that comes right on the heels of “losing weight.”

Obviously, I have no problem with people losing fat, but the American focus on losing weight is out of control and causing weight regain with ever increasing speed. (New studies report yo-yoing is more dangerous to overall health than staying heavy.)”

I agree.  This has been something I’ve wanted to say for some time but because of my many friends who love the show I have been hesitant.  With this season starting once again I just couldn’t hold my tongue any longer. I’m tired of having to defend myself because of my weight and feeling guilt for what seems to be such slow success.

I’m tired of living up to some image shown on TV- both the false success and the shameful beginning.  I am tired of feeling ashamed of my weight.  I am where I am and if that makes me a loser in the minds of NBC or Maura Kelly so be it. Good riddens!

Fitness Challenge

This week I am starting a new fitness challenge with my friends.  It is sort of like the show Biggest Loser where 10 of us are competing to see who can lose the most weight at the end of 12 weeks.  To make it more motivating most of us are contributing $25 to a pool for the winner.  I don’t know if I will win (some of the girls are exercising hours a day!) but the process will be a win in and of itself.  I feel more motivated than I have in years.  I’ve always hated dieting but this time I feel like I am doing it with friends- because I am!  It is also fun because my sister Anna has joined in.  Since we will be together more starting in September it is nice to know we can support each other. I will keep the blog updated on my progress.  I have definitely lost weight this week and all I have done is lower my calorie intake and exercised on my wii fit.  It’s fun and easy! By the way, it is not too late if you want to join in.  The only rule is it is only for girls and no diet tricks (pills, starving yourself etc).  Just let me know and I will email you a link to the yahoo health group we created.

I am particularly excited about this challenge because I have been going through some stressful stuff lately and the endorphins from exercising and eating right should help me deal better.

With this new fitness challenge I thought I would post a fitness related joke which makes me laugh every time.  Enjoy!

fitness cartoons 00TANYA the TRAINER

 

For my birthday this year my wife purchased me a week of private lessons at the local health club. Though still in great shape from when I was on the varsity chess team in high school, I decided it was a good idea to go ahead and try it. I called and made reservations with someone named Tanya, who said she is a 26-year-old aerobics instructor and athletic clothing model. My wife seemed very pleased with how enthusiastic I was to get started.

They suggested I keep an “exercise diary” to chart my progress.

Day 1. Started the morning at 6:00 AM. Tough to get up, but worth it when I arrived at the health club and Tanya was waiting for me. She’s something of a goddess, with blond hair and a dazzling white smile. She showed me the machines and took my pulse after five minutes on the treadmill. She seemed a little alarmed that it was so high, but I think just standing next to her in that outfit of hers added about ten points. Enjoyed watching the aerobics class. Tanya was very encouraging as I did my sit ups, though my gut was already aching a little from holding it in the whole time I was talking to her. This is going to be GREAT.

Day 2. Took a whole pot of coffee to get me out the door, but I made it. Tanya had me lie on my back and push this heavy iron bar up into the air. Then she put weights on it, for heaven’s sake! Legs were a little wobbly on the treadmill, but I made it the full mile. Her smile made it all worth while. Muscles ALL feel GREAT.

Day 3. The only way I can brush my teeth is by laying the tooth brush on the counter and moving my mouth back and forth over it. I am certain that I have developed a hernia in both pectorals. Driving was OK as long as I didn’t try to steer. I parked on top of a Volkswagen. Tanya was a little impatient with me and said my screaming was bothering the other club members. The treadmill hurt my chest so I did the stair “monster.” Why would anyone invent a machine to simulate an activity rendered obsolete by the invention of elevators? Tanya told me regular exercise would make me live longer. I can’t imagine anything worse.

Day 4. Tanya was waiting for me with her vampire teeth in a full snarl. I can’t help it if I was half an hourlate, it took me that long just to tie my shoes. She wanted me to lift dumbbells. Not a chance, Tanya. The word “dumb” must be in there for a reason. I hid in the men’s room until she sent Lars looking for me. As punishment she made me try the rowing machine. It sank.

Day 5. I hate Tanya more than any human being has ever hated any other human being in the history of the world. If there was any part of my body not in extreme pain I would hit her with it. She thought it would be a good idea to work on my triceps. Well I have news for you Tanya – I don’t have triceps. And if you don’t want dents in the floor don’t hand me any barbells. I refuse to accept responsibility for the damage, YOU went to sadist school, YOU are to blame. The treadmill flung me back into a science teacher, which hurt like crazy. Why couldn’t it have been someone softer, like a music teacher, or social studies?

Day 6. Got Tanya’s message on my answering machine, wondering where I am. I lacked the strength to use the TV remote so I watched eleven straight hours of the weather channel.

Day 7. Well, that’s the week. Thank goodness that’s over. Maybe next time my wife will give me something a little more fun, like a gift certificate for a root canal.