Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Weight Loss TV

So the work trip to Hawaii went fine health wise. My numbers went up to the higher side of acceptable but stayed within the normal range. Happily, I was able to maintain my exercise regimen. Actually it's easier to do so because I really need the workout to decompress from our twelve hour days. It's funny how much easier it is to work out when I'm traveling, either for work or on vacation. I always end up working out regularly when visiting the in-laws because my father in law goes every day to his retirement community's gym.

Since the diagnosis, I've been fascinated with weight loss tv shows, particularly the Biggest Loser on NBC and Ruby on the Style Network. I am addicted to them because they are so out of line with my own reality. They are these bizarre weight loss bubbles where the participants are in sink or swim mode constantly. Nothing in either show feels normal or everyday. Nothing in either show feels like (title of our blog!) a lifestyle. Here are some thoughts I had about both shows:

Addictive as it is, I have huge problems with the Biggest Loser. The whole, work people to death to make them lose weight strategy makes for good tv but it's probably the worst thing you can do when getting healthy. Even the trainers, Bob and Jillian will talk in other media about how noone should do anything on the Biggest Loser to lose weight. The missing piece in the Biggest Loser is the whole idea that the work you are doing is stuff you should do for the rest of your life. By setting up this bubble where the contestants are being boot camped and their environment is completely controlled, this is a guarantee that they will gain their weight back. Witness one episode where they go on a trip to the Grand Canyon sans gym and trainer. The contestants make half-assed attempts to work out but then just poop out. When your concept of exercise is literal torture, it's no wonder that you won't do it if someone isn't forcing you to.

On Ruby, Ruby seems to be having the opposite problem. While exercise shouldn't be torture, you should push yourself and you should sweat. There are two things exercise does - 1) burn calories 2) build muscle. Exercise breaks down your muscle tissue to build it up again, but stronger, faster, better. This is why eating is so important because in order to build up your new better muscle, you need the building blocks. When it comes to exercise, Ruby is dependent on her trainer to push her, and has a lot of fear about injury. We've only seen one instance where Ruby does water-based training, which is easy on her joints and allows her to push herself. Instead the show seems hell bent on humiliating Ruby, putting her through aerobics classes where she's completely lost. Not only that, Ruby wears converse sneakers. As someone who is half Ruby's weight, I could NEVER do strenuous physical activity in anything other than my trusty Asics. I cannot believe a show that has Ruby complaining about how painful working out (and even walking) is, wouldn't put her in some shoes that give her adequate support.

On the Biggest Loser, one thing that is an afterthought at best and a product placement opportunity at worst, is cooking. The show spends about ten minutes for the season talking about healthy cooking, usually to promote Jenni-O turkey products. The whole label reading thing seems pretty foreign to the contestants. And seriously that's the most important thing about healthy living. Being fully conscious about what you are putting in your body. And their stupid challenges are complete bullshit. There's this on challenge where they have two food choices and have to choose the healthier option. In one case, the shows says that a plate of MacNuggets is better for your than a loaded fajita because the fajita has sour cream and cheese (along with lettuce, peppers, onions, and chicken). Are you kidding me? Then all of these challenges where desserts are dangled in front of them to show their willpower. If I didn't say it before, I'll say it now, willpower is a load of crap. Jillian Michaels pours candle wax on her bread basket to avoid eating bread. She obviously has the willpower of a gnat if she needs to ruin a basket of bread to avoid eating it but she's removing a temptation. If the temptation isn't there, you won't eat it.

Which of course leads me to Ruby and her incessant whining. Rather than show the daily struggles of losing weight, Ruby the Tv show, spends half its time dangling calorie laden food in front of Ruby and have her whine over and over again how hard it is to resist temptation. Why do we need to see Ruby go to a candy store to test herself? What about seeing her make the decision not to go to the candy store at all. And once again, Ruby seems to have a pathological avoidance of cooking for herself. She doesn't own a cutting board for god's sake. Thank god for her Hourglass meals. But that doesn't stop the temptation. She throws a party for a friend and somehow she doesn't think to makes things that she herself can eat. She doesn't prepare but eating her meal ahead of time so she will feel full and have less craving for food she can't eat. Not only that, but at some point she needs to stop eating the Hourglass. Healthy eating is a learned skill. It involves nutritional knowledge and label reading and knowledge of portions. She's learning nothing other than to eating an Hourglass meal.

What scares me about both shows is what happens when the training wheels come off. they are in this cocoon of professionals managing their every move. It doesn't seem like either show ensures people learn something.

1 comment:

Stef said...

I've never seen Ruby, but I totally agree with your critique of The Biggest Loser. I often think about how, sure, if I didn't have work and didn't have my usual social life and ate controlled food and was forced to work out for hours a day, I'd lose 100 pounds too. Good Lord... it's reality tv, not reality.