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The Unreality of "Reality" Weight Loss Shows

We've all seen or at least heard about the quick and amazing weight losses achieved on popular television shows like The Biggest Loser and Thintervention.  Most of us realize that the body transformations of the contestants that occur over a few weeks are far from typical.  Yet, we are still drawn to watch.  How realistic are these shows and is our national obsession with rapid weight loss healthy?

Like anything in life, these shows possess both a positive as well as a negative aspect.  On the up side, millions of viewers who watch are often overweight or obese themselves.  They may feel hopeless and depressed about their poor dietary and exercise habits and these shows can be quite an inspiration to confirm that change is indeed possible.  Seeing others struggle with their weight on television gives them someone to relate to and learning what determination and nutrition education can accomplish may give them the boost they need to make some changes in their own lives.

The big problem, however, is that the folks on these shows have the assistance of personal trainers and are given instructions on what exactly to eat.  Most of the public does not have the privilege of these services.  In taking a peek at some of the food diaries of the participants, the amounts of food are extremely limited and lacking in sufficient fruits and vegetables.  And who has time or the desire to exercise four to six hours a day, which is what many of them do!  There is also the other whole issue of the huge focus on food and body image in connection to eating disorders. 

These shows are basically sending the correct message- that eating habits and physical activity are the keys to weight loss.  The unrealistic aspect of them is that such drastic measures are taken to obtain the shocking physical changes.  Extreme weight loss can be dangerous to your health as well as difficult to maintain.  According to former contestant Kai Hibbard, most episodes were not shot weekly as depicted on television; more time elapsed in reality thus exaggerating the amount of weight lost in one week.  Also, she states that she was taught to dehydrate herself to manipulate the numbers on the scale, to ignore the advice of the nutritionists and listen to the show's trainers, and was left with a very poor body image of herself. 

Keep in mind that generally the quicker the weight comes off, the quicker it will go back on.  If you've ever had the flu and didn't eat for a couple days you know what I am talking about- you may have been excited to realize that you lost a few pounds.  But it wasn't permanent, was it?  As soon as you began eating as you normally did your body reclaimed those lost pounds just as quickly as it lost them.  Slow and steady wins this race.  You didn't gain all that excess weight in a matter of a couple of weeks so you cannot expect to lose it that fast.  Start yourself on a realistic exercise regime and a sensible plant-based, whole-foods, nutrient-rich diet and you'll be on your way to having the healthy body that you want.

Corinne Goff is a Registered Dietitian who is absolutely passionate about food, health, and nutrition. Corinne has a BA in Psychology from Salve Regina University and a BS in Nutrition from the University of Rhode Island. As a nutritionist, her objective is to help people reach their health goals by offering a personalized holistic approach to wellness that incorporates natural foods and lifestyle changes. She works together with her clients to develop daily improvements that they feel comfortable with and that are realistic. She believes that the focus on wholesome, nutrient-rich, real food, is the greatest possible way to become healthier, have more energy, decrease chances of chronic disease, and feel your best.

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