Reflections on The Biggest Loser “Tell-All”

I know, I know – I should be using today to issue a full review of the SAG awards red carpet.  And believe me, that post is coming!  But for now, something that’s been on my mind since it was posted (and re-posted, and re-posted…) on my wall a couple weeks ago.

As some of you know, I love the TV reality competition show The Biggest Loser.  Caveat: I’m not saying the show is perfect, or realistic, or a model I use for my own training career, or anything of that sort.

I am just saying I am a fan, I watch the program, and I have watched every episode since Season 2 (cut me a break, I didn’t have a proper TV when Season 1 aired).

Lately, there’s been all this hubbub about the “extreme” methods used to lose weight on the show and the “fat shaming” aspect of the entire franchise.  Former contestants are claiming “abuse” and noting that they’re all “fat again anyway.”

So what do I think of it all?  Well, some of it’s bullshit, and some of it isn’t.  

Here’s what’s bullshit:

  • the “only things eaten” are foods sponsored by the show.  Not true.  What IS true is that they have to demonstrate ways to cook with the sponsors’ food, which is why you see so many Jennie-O turkey tacos on the show.  But the kitchens on the ranch are stocked with healthy, whole, real foods – not just sponsored products – and contestants learn to cook for themselves (there are no chefs/cooks at the ranch).
  • the trainers get pleasure from watching clients suffer.  This is offensive.  Personal trainers are health professionals that use a variety of tactics to help clients push through their self-imposed boundaries – tactics that vary by trainer, but are never intended to humiliate, hurt, or shame clients.  Reminding a client that she is susceptible to severe health issues like diabetes, high blood pressure, and metabolic syndrome is not “shaming” – it’s being upfront and realistic, which many of these folks aren’t getting from their enablers back home.
  • the contestants are “forced” to work out too much.  I work out about two hours a day (granted, because of my job) and I am not even overweight.  The contestants work out 4-6 hours per day, primarily walking or low-impact cardio like swimming, and learn to build a schedule that is consistent and well-balanced and includes weight training, high-intensity intervals, and stretching.  Sure, 4-6 hours daily is not sustainable in the long run – but as a kickstart tactic to lose weight over a period of five months, it is completely reasonable and manageable.
  • the contestants don’t address the underlying issues surrounding their weight.  All the contestants attend therapy sessions in addition to their workout sessions to help them get a grip on both their personal problems and the stress and fatigue of being on a show like BL.  I’m not saying they leave the ranch with their problems solved (and the “competition” part of the show means each contestant’s journey ends somewhat abruptly anyway), but it’s not like they’re being brought there, yelled at, and left for dead.

On the other hand, here’s what I think is questionable and/or not so great about the show:

  • you rarely see the contestants cook or eat.  I think it’s important to watch these people prepare and consume their own food, so those watching at home can get a sense of what truly clean eating (NO processed food, NO carbs outside of fruit and veggies, NO alcohol, LOTS of protein on the plate) actually looks like – and what portions look like, both in the beginning and toward the end when their weight starts to stabilize and their muscle mass is significantly higher.
  • many of the contestants DO gain the weight back.  Why?  The same reason any of us would – there’s not $250,000 riding on your success anymore.  There are a lot of habits I could form (or break) in the short-term if someone was going to pay me for them – but true success comes from a lifetime of moderation, which many of the people on the show aren’t prepared for when the dollar signs aren’t backing them.  Again, are they bad people for it?  Nope.  Is the show bad to offer them money?  Nope.  But a paradigm shift and a lifestyle change is harder than it seems, and lots of people (on Biggest Loser and in real life) aren’t up for the challenge.
  • the level of exercise necessary to achieve fast results is not realistic.  Read this clearly: I am not saying that the methods to lose weight on the show are bad, I am saying they’re not sustainable.  No one has time to work out 4-6 hours per day, sure.  But that’s why this is a TV competition show and not a documentary series.  The thrill is in the results; the challenge is in maintaining them on a smaller scale with 1-2 hours of exercise per day and a consistently clean, well-portioned diet.

To the writers at Jezebel (should you be checking out small-time bloggers like myself) or the producers at The Biggest Loser (should you be looking for new trainer talent), I am not saying either one of you is entirely correct nor entirely blameless.  Weight loss is a sensitive, multifaceted issue, and one that tends to polarize even otherwise calm people.

But what I will not stand behind is criticism of the overarching concept of The Biggest Loser, which is that if you work out (intensely, consistently, and with a professional) and eat right (clean, low-sugar-and-sodium, with a focus on lean protein and vegetables), you will lose weight.  That’s the message that more people need to hear, and it’s the only one that will get Americans to reverse the pattern of sedentary behavior and processed junk food diets that have gotten us to the obesity epidemic we have today.

*drops the mic*

Do you watch The Biggest Loser or weight loss competition shows?  Why or why not?

Sisterhood of the World Blogger Award

My girl The Keen Peach nominated me for this fun award and I am honored – this is the first blogger-type award I’ve received and it’ll be fun to pass on the accolades.

Part of the nomination is to fill out this supershort and fun questionnaire, so here you guys go – a bit more fun about ThisFitBlonde!

In one word, how would you like your readers to describe your blog?

Must-read (hey, a hyphenated word is still a word).

Which is your most favorite among your blog posts and why?

A lot of my posts are fun, fab, and fitness-oriented in vibe, which is exactly what I want from this blog (and for you, my readers!).  But I wrote a piece back in August 2014 about body image and what it feels like to work in an industry focused so much on bodies, weight, and perfection – and I still think it has a lot of value.

What inspires most of your blog posts?

My own professional life as a personal trainer and group exercise instructor is the best motivating force for me to keep writing, but I am also inspired by current events (hello, red carpet posts!) and other bloggers (my Weekend Roundup entries).

What do you aspire to accomplish this year?

This is going to be a big year for me – I’m getting married, considering a big move, and working on building ThisFitBlonde into a more comprehensive brand.

What do you aspire to learn this year?

I need to learn more about blogging as a profession and industry rather than just a hobby, and I am taking an advanced prenatal fitness certification course to deepen my knowledge of working with pregnant women in a gym setting.

What is your favorite book? Why?

Even though I think she’s a crazy person in real life, Kristin Armstrong’s Mile Markers is a powerful, motivating reminder of why it is important for us women to keep running – no matter what life brings.

What is the most courageous thing you have ever done?

Move from Chicago to L.A. at age 16 to start college early.  Oh, and I jumped out of a plane once.

If you could be a superhero, what would be your super power?

To be able to fly, because then I could travel anywhere I wanted for free.

Who is your female role model?

I have lots – my mom, Hillary Clinton, Jamie Eason, Jillian Michaels.

And that’s it from me!  Now comes the time to nominate other bloggers.  For those of you reading on from other blogs, here’s how you “pay it forward” with the sisterhood:

  • thank the blogger who nominated you, linking back to their site
  • put the award logo on your blog
  • answer the ten questions sent to you (the same questions above)
  • nominate seven blogs

So come and git it, somedaysunny, The L.A. Good Wife, O at the Edges, We killed the American dream, Blonde Ponytail, Maria Mind Body Health, and This Is Why You’re Single.  You’re nominated!

The Skinny on Fat

Let’s have a chat.  A chat about fat.

All day long, I hear (primarily) women (though also some men) go on and on about being fat.  “I’m fat,” they’ll say, and they’ll point to someone across the gym, “and look at her, she’s so skinny.”  Then, almost like clockwork, she’ll sigh and say:

“I just wish I was skinny.”

There are so many things about this statement that drive me nuts, as a trainer of course, but also as a woman and as a health professional.  The (wrongheaded) idea that thin is in and fat is bad is so deeply ingrained in our culture that I don’t know if we (again, as health professionals but also human beings living in a reasonable society) will ever be able to fully reverse the black-and-white nature of that message.

But today, I’ll try.

Let’s start with the idea of fat.  What does it mean to be fat?  For a lot of women, especially women in L.A., being fat means having anything more than the medically necessary bone and skin layer to sustain life.  I’m not joking.  It does not matter if the “skinny” person in question is bone-thin, greying under the eyes, losing her hair, yellow of tooth, and bent-over in a pre-osteoporotic hunch – if she’s thin, she’s idolized.  That’s it.

I have a client that is a dead-honest size zero who has pinched some part of her skin in front of me, and claimed that she, indeed, is fat.  A strong, fit client of mine that can bench press over 100 pounds and leg press over 400 has a BMI that is above the normal range, which makes her “fat” by certain standards.  One client of mine was a full eight months pregnant (!) and honestly lamenting the fact that she had “gotten fat.”

I am not having this.  Any of this.

What matters to your overall health, and what should matter to your overall psyche, is not some weird, ambiguous definition of fat – or skinny, for that matter.  What matters is that you have a strong body composition – i.e. ratio of fat to muscle – and that you attain and maintain that composition in a healthy way (i.e. no starvation diets, cleanses, hypergymnasia, orthorexia, or any of those other “health trends” that are actually mental-health problems in disguise).

Moreover, being skinny in and of itself is not something to be idolized unless it is the naturally occurring shape of a body that is also muscular, well-fed, calcium-rich (since the thinner you are, the more at-risk you are for osteoporosis), and happy.  Nothing drives me crazier in the gym than seeing someone who is conventionally “skinny” listlessly working out on the elliptical for 20 minutes, hitting that weird and pointless abductor machine for a hot second, and then maybe throwing in a few crunches for good measure – all the while not being able to do a single bodyweight push-up, pull-up, or run a single mile.

Being healthy isn’t something that can be discerned from observing someone’s weight or body type – in fact, people who are overweight (BMI 25-30) actually have longer lifespans than people who are normal weight (and much longer than the obese or underweight).  And don’t even get me started on skinny-fat (people whose BMI is in a normal range, but whose body fat is dangerously and unhealthily high).

What, then, does it mean to be skinny?  First of all, I reject the word skinny.  In my opinion, It’s not a compliment for women who work out – it simply means you aren’t building visible muscle, and you just look weak.  If you’re trying to describe someone’s body type in a positive way, let’s be more accurate.  How about good old-fashioned thin? Better yet, fit?  Can I get a muscular?  Lean?  Healthy?  Strong?

Or how about we stop commenting on the shape of women’s bodies entirely?

I always tell my clients to focus less on numbers on a scale (although numbers from a body fat read can definitely be helpful – for more on how to do that, click here) and more on how they feel after we’ve been training together.  Do you feel more powerful when you work out?  Do you sleep better when you’re exercising?  Do you have more energy when you eat clean foods?  Do you love yourself more when you take care of your body?

If the answers to the above questions are yes – maybe the numbers on the scale and/or the labels you slap on your own body don’t matter so much anymore.

What terms do you use to describe yourself – and your body – to others?  

Love Your Body – For Real

I am conflicted about the whole “love your body” movement.  I mean, the basic message is airtight – be proud of what you have – but I feel like it too often goes one of two ways: either a) “love” your body but secretly still desire to be a size 0, or b) actually love your body, but prepare to be judged if that body is anything outside the accepted feminine norms of size, shape, muscularity, etc.

Rock and a hard place, as always.

That’s why I love events like the upcoming Annual Love Your Body Fashion Show, where women from all different backgrounds, shapes, sizes, and gender presentations are invited to come together and enjoy the things that make every body feel good – yoga, massages, manicures, tasty food, amazing clothing, and a community that accepts and welcomes the diversity of women.

My favorite part?  The event is open to girls age 8 and older, which means you can bring your daughters, nieces, and other important young ladies in your life to the event and show them what acceptance, beauty, difference, and self-love look like.  There’s not a woman on the planet who couldn’t use a dose of that every now and then – especially here in image-obsessed Los Angeles.

For more info, check out the event’s Facebook page and follow them for more info.  The event is Sunday, November 2nd from 10:30am-3:00pm and is completely free with pre-registration.  I’ll be there with my girl Jenny from Pugs & Pearls, and we’d love to meet up with fellow love-your-body bloggers, too!

Smile for the Camera

I’m no model – far from it.  I’m also not a celebrity.  But as a personal trainer, I can’t escape occasionally getting my photo professionally taken.

Whether I’ve had a photographer hired for business cards, a website (oh, hello) or some sort of promotional reason (I did once represent this Body By Jake product), generally a trainer in L.A. is going to want some decent photos to show around the industry.  And I’ve had my share.

bathingsuitMy first photo shoot (at age 23, bikini bod prime, haha) was on the beach with an awesome photographer – a luxury I didn’t realize until later shoots.  He helped me pose, had great artistic vision for shots, and took just enough photos to make it worth the cost without exhausting me completely.

There have been several shoots since – none of which gave me that same feeling of satisfaction.  Sure, that early shoot was a happy combination of peak physical condition (sigh), good photography, and a bit of beginners’ luck.  But moreover, I feel like each year I spend in the fitness industry makes it harder and harder to see my own body in a positive light.  And it drives me crazy.

We all struggle with body image, I know – whether you are tall, short, fat, thin, muscular, scrawny, shapely, or any other combination of descriptors, you probably have “ugly” days.  We all do.  But as a trainer (and this applies to lots of other jobs in the fitness industry), even on “ugly” days, you have to show up, perform in front of people, teach classes, train clients, and simply be the representative of what a “fit person” looks/acts/sounds like.  And it’s pressure.

185501_10100376270862005_1307483_nTake this photo, for example, from one of my least favorite photo shoots (don’t get me started on the fact that the hairstylist never showed up and the makeup artist was a joke). All I can do is tear this photo apart – my hair is flat, my arms look big, my thighs are enormous, my waist looks thick, my face looks shiny.  Nothing about this photo makes me proud to be me, and nothing about it makes me want to sell myself as a representative of my industry.  Yet these photos live on in different venues (this was a contracted shoot) and each time I encounter one being used to represent a fitness brand, I am not only embarrassed but horrified.  How could anyone think this is what a fit person looks like?

What a terrible thought.

I am the epitome of a fit person.  Not only is fitness my profession, it is my passion.  I work out daily, I do yoga, I run, I lift.  I make and eat my own clean, healthy food.  I don’t smoke.  I practice stress relief techniques, I get enough sleep, and I prioritize my time in order to do all of the above (exercise, cook, sleep) so that I can set an example for my clients and peers.  This is what a fit person looks like.  My body is healthy.  I am well.

After having an awesome photo shoot today (pics pending, guys!) with a fantastic photographer, I can’t help but be split between excitement and anxiety.  Of course I want the photos to turn out well, but more than that I want them to turn out looking like me.  The person I know that I am and the person that I want to represent my brand, this brand, ThisFitBlonde.

Do you like having your picture taken?  When do you feel like you are truly yourself?