Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Biggest Loser

Not a day goes by, it seems, that you can’t find a new study about the health risks associated with being overweight, and I can’t remember a time I clicked on the “Health” section of Google news without seeing at least one story on the front page about the toll obesity is taking on the American body and health industry.  The medical community will tell you that around two thirds of American Adults are overweight or obese (with childhood rates not far behind); they’ll tell you those extra pounds increase your risk of Heart Disease, Type II Diabetes, Stroke, Cancer, Liver Disease, Respiratory Problems, Arthritis, Hypertension, and a host of other problems.  Analysts will tell you if obesity continues to rise the way it has of late, it will wreak havoc on hospitals, insurance companies, and the healthcare system in general.

Then on the other side of the fence you have those who campaign about the self esteem of overweight people (especially kids); they’ll tell you pointing out peoples’ extra weight will crush their self esteem and cripple them emotionally.  They ask why we “can’t accept heavier people the way they are.”  They’ll tell you that focusing on weight loss and holding “thinness” as an ideal leads to eating disorders. 

If all this weren’t enough, much of the advice (preaching, really) centers on “weight loss” instead of “fat loss.”  Stories and magazine articles talk about BMI (Body Mass Index) which is just a height/weight ratio instead of educating about body composition and body fat levels.  Then there are those who try to label fat people as “victims” of genetics, Mc Donald’s, or pesticides.  It’s all enough to throw me into a heaving, raging fit if I dwell too long upon it. 

It is, however well understood that a lot of people have too much fat and that getting rid of some of it would be a good thing.  Finally, I bring you to the topic of today’s blog, The Biggest Loser: an NBC tv show/competition in which contestants compete to see who can lose the most weight (expressed as a percentage of their starting weight).  Some fitness professionals (even a few I highly respect) have criticized the show, and I even have a few qualms with specific aspects of their regimen, but you just can’t argue with their results.  They’ve taken many an obese, sedentary person and turned them into a thin, fit, personal trainer looking, marathon running “athlete.” 

I think by and large, they have an excellent program and that they have a good message to spread to their audience.  What’s their secret?  Exercise-centric weight loss.  The program is essentially “move more, eat less junk food, and don’t stuff yourself silly when you eat.”  That may be over-simplifying a bit, but not by much.  With all the fad diet and exercise programs assaulting us at every turn at the news stand, on the internet, and on TV, I appreciate the fact based program that gets reliable, repeatable, lasting results.  Let’s break down the philosophy into its two basic components, diet and exercise.

Anything you do to get moving more, will make you healthier, be that weight training, running, circuit training, cycling, hiking, rock climbing, etc.  In the show, they use many exercise modalities; it’s a constantly changing training environment, and that’s part of the reason they see such magnificent results.  Since their bodies are constantly being faced with new challenges, they are constantly having to adapt, to use many muscle groups, at different angles, at different speeds, for different periods of time.  It’s the sort of thing the body was built to do to survive in a primitive environment.  One day carrying heavy logs for building your house, the next walking many miles to reach another area, and the next sprinting for all you’re worth to catch your dinner.  The other aspect of The Biggest Loser’s exercise program that makes it so successful is the motivation and commitment.  Twixt the cash prize, the pressure of competition, and the personal weight loss goals, not to mention the screaming trainers, the contestants are giving close to 100% every day and not that, “Oh, I’m tired, I think I’ll quit,” 100%, but a real, “This is all I have to give,” 100%.  I’m not saying you should go from the couch to absolutely killing yourself in the gym in a week.  You most likely don’t have medical staff on standby and besides it will burn you out and make you quit altogether.  Sticking with it is the key.

The diet plan on the show is remarkably simple.  They cut out sugar, excessive saturated fat, and starchy, “high glycemic index” carbs.  They add in more fresh fruits and veggies, and eat SMALLER more frequent meals.  To quote one of my favorite bloggers,

Granted, all this is easier said than done in the real world where you’re pressured for time and cost on every meal and doubly so when eating out, but the principals hold true, nonetheless.  Something they mention from time to time but don’t harp on too much is hydration.  In Basic Military Training, trainees are required to drink two to three gallons of water a day; when your body is working that hard, it needs a lot of water to cool itself, transport nutrients, get rid of waste materials, digest and absorb the things you eat, etc.  Your body just works better when you put plenty of water in it.  You typically see the Biggest Loser hopefuls carrying their water bottle everywhere they go.  If you always have water with you, you can sip on it all day, and you might be surprised how much water you can easily drink in a day.  A side benefit of drinking lots of water is it gives you a way to keep your mouth busy instead of munching on M&M’s or Red Vines all day.

Now, it does seem a little antithetical to sit on your butt and watch a show about exercising and losing weight, but as long as you use it as motivation to get or keep your own program going, it’s probably not so bad.  Truth be told, I’m not much of a true “fan” of the show.  I think it’s in its ninth season, and I only ever watched one season.  Specifically, I watched season eight on after the fact because someone got me to watch a few and I got a little hooked.  Anywho, it’s not a bad show, and a fair bit better than most reality shows, in my opinion.

-Now, go do some push-ups-