Thursday, September 24, 2009

IDEA Writer Weighs in on The Biggest Loser Discussion


Behind "the Making of" The Biggest Loser IDEA article

The article I wrote for IDEA Fitness Journal on The Biggest Loser is getting attention. A number of media outlets have picked up the topic (they're going with variations of the headline "why fitness pros criticize The Biggest Loser").

Last time I checked, AOL Health had 202 comments to a post about the IDEA piece.

I suppose it's time for me to weigh in on my own article.

I won't rehash what's already out there. Instead, consider this a behind-the-scenes look at The Biggest Loser IDEA article.

Here are six observations I made before, during and after writing about why some fitness experts question what they see on NBC's The Biggest Loser.

OBSERVATION 1. There's a wee disconnect between the fitness industry and the general public about what endorses a fitness expert to be a fitness expert.

Is it a high profile? Products that sell well? Current certifications? How much a trainer cares about clients? How a trainer acts with clients? Opinions vary, and what counts for one person might not hold weight for another.

OBSERVATION 2. A lot of Biggest Loser fans defend the show on blogs by saying the industry sources quoted in my article are overlooking one important point: The Biggest Loser is television, not real life. Duh! I think we're all clear on that, thanks.

It's television that has a very real impact on the perceptions, practices and expectations of SOME viewers. And those viewers might come to our gyms, fitness classes, boot camps and training sessions.

If it's true that people are inspired by a television program, why can't they also be influenced by what they see on that TV show?

OBSERVATION 3. This is just a hunch: The Biggest Loser isn't used to press that isn't bend-over-backward full of praise. This might be why some fans of the show don't understand it when fitness pros get all worked up over details like industry certifications and trainer conduct.

OBSERVATION 4. It seems like some fitness pros who've formed a negative opinion about The Biggest Loser refuse to see anything remotely good about the show. Come on, just try.

OBSERVATION 5. Parts of the fitness industry have stuff to work on, too, and this has nothing to do with The Biggest Loser or its trainers. I mean, when you make false promises over and over, it draws considerable attention to whatever you're trying to skirt around. (See: sidebar, page 35.)

OBSERVATION 6. Hats off to The Biggest Loser folks who spoke to me for the story. We're talking about a blockbuster show from a major television network, and here I am a reporter (in Canada, no less!) from a membership-only fitness trade magazine. (Of course IDEA is an important, respected association, but it's not Entertainment Tonight.)

When I wanted to know why the trainers yell so much, Bob Harper called and gave me an answer!

I told executive producer Mark Koops how some fitness pros accuse The Biggest Loser of being "an embarrassment to the fitness industry"; some say it's "dangerous." That's harsh criticism! Yet, Koops spoke respectfully and candidly as he defended the show.

The Biggest Loser folks could have easily brushed me off! Actually, one of them sort of did, but thankfully, everyone else chose to engage in the conversation.

What About a Second Chance?

In case it wasn't clear in the last section of my IDEA article, I think The Biggest Loser could learn from the fitness industry in terms of how it depicts exercise and trainer conduct.

Likewise, the fitness industry as a whole could learn from The Biggest Loser in terms of how the show inspires people to get moving.

What do you think? Do any of my observations stand out?

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6 comments:

Jonathan Ross said...

Observation #2 stands out for me, and here's why:

For those who brush off concerns with "C'mon, it's TV!" The main point you miss is this:

There are lots of reality shows with a big wad of cash at the end. But the Biggest Loser is just about the only one where week-in, week-out, the money to win is almost never mentioned and seems to be of little concern for the contestants.

They come face to face with their fitness and health challenges and can no longer run from them because all other distractions are removed. They can literally pour themselves into exercise. And for the first time in a long time, they rediscover themselves.

I can personally attest to the way in which the events on the show alter the perceptions of fitness and trainers in a public that is, in general, misinformed about healthly living.

It's not just TV, it goes beyond the contest, and does have an effect on the way people feel, think, and behave when it comes to fitness.

Jonny Fitness said...

Great post Amanda. I have been waiting for someone who can approach this topic more even headed, there are allot of emotional posts on both sides, which do not serve to further our collective understanding. Well done.

Amanda Vogel said...

Jonathan, I agree with you that the show is more than a televised contest.

It's a chance for the people on the show to change their lives and even influence others to do the same. In that sense, it's more than "just TV."

Jonny Fitness: You used two words in your comment that are the crux of what I was hoping to accomplish with my article: "collective understanding."

Thanks for your comments!

Missy said...

It is up to the every day real life trainers to educate their clients who may expect the same type of results.

I let mine know that those people work out for 7-10 hours a day and are iced off and on throughout the day for stress fractures etc.

The everyday person doesn't want that type of result (and no dr. would ok that anyway for us) and they can't expect that.

This show is all about showing unfit people what they CAN accomplish if they try.

Survivor Steve said...

So let me get this straight, you have a Master's degree from the University of British Columbia and the way you choose to express yourself is "duh?"
The your agenda to tear down The Biggest Loser misses the one point that any trainer in the world will defend: it brings them more business. People watch the show, see others getting results, and are motivated to buy a book, a DVD, maybe join a gym and get a personal trainer. A trainer who stands and yells how evil the show is will not get the client who is a dedicated fan. Bob and Jillian have sold millions of books, games and products outside the show. Your article is counter productive in that it feeds into the inherent self doubt and low self esteem of a person who may otherwise go to get help. You are giving people permission to be fat and lazy by saying how bad the Biggest Loser is. It is unethical.
I question your use of the Australian Study as well. Australia is a different culture than that of the US. Not better, not worse, different. The US version of the Biggest Loser is very different than that of the Aussie Biggest Loser. The Aussie version is on television almost every day for it's season run. They also have a different view of the "game" part of the program. Sure they are both called the Biggest Loser, and they have people losing weight, but it really is like comparing apples and oranges. It is misleading to assume a culture on the other side of the Earth would reflect the same values as another.
In standing on this soap box you have certainly gotten some attention. I disagree with what you are saying. People who want to use the Biggest Loser as their catalyst to a more healthy lifestyle will read your article and it will douse the spark of motivation within them. What your article is saying is the Biggest Loser hurts people by making them do things that is beyond their grasp. Great personal trainers help their clients reach beyond their grasps. Great personal trainers help their clients break down the walls of “I can’t” or “That’s too hard.“ Yes there is yelling, yes there is a game show, but NBC doesn’t focus the show around people winning money. You go further and personally attack Jillian by saying she may not even be qualified to train people. If I were a betting man, I would put money that you own a copy of at least one of Jillian’s books and have used the information that you found in them at one time. You could learn a thing or two from “Master Your Metabolism.” You have a Masters from UBC, you can afford a book.
The Biggest Loser is an imperfect vehicle that is piped into millions of peoples homes each week, motivating them to live better lives by showing others reaching beyond their own perceived limitations. Your article feeds codependency and doubt to those same consumers. Your statements are saboteur in nature and are unethical toward your chosen profession. You, Madam, are no expert. Your actions, your language and your stand attest to that fact. You are a parasite feeding off of the success of others. While I do not wish you ill, I do wish you would take up golf and leave the fitness industry to those who are dedicated to injecting it with a more positive outlook.
Good day.
Steven Williams

Amanda Vogel said...

Hi Steven,

Thanks for your comment about my Biggest Loser article. I appreciate that people have been weighing in on the article from varying angles. Thanks for your perspective (even if you felt the need to personally attack me--not sure why).

Just a reminder that I am a journalist who quoted many people in the article. The IDEA piece was not 5,000 words of my own opinions, I can assure you.

Seems you read into the sidebar about trainer certifications. All it states is facts--there are no accusations. (And no, I don't own Jillian's book, but I do have one of her DVDs and have enjoyed working out to it). Please consider going back and re-reading that sidebar to perhaps gain a more accurate perspective of the information there.

I urge you to re-read the last section of the IDEA article, as well. I think you will see that you and I actually agree on the show's power to help and inspire people.

Amanda