Recently, The Biggest Loser, premiered its season finale and within minutes controversy ensued. On the show, fifteen people had spent nearly four months away from home competing to lose weight. Contestants lost as much as ten pounds in one week. The final three people then had to continue to lose weight for the next three months, home on their own.At the season finale,there was a final weigh in. The person who has lost the most weight would be crowned the winner. The single goal for these contestants was to lose weight.

The latest winner lost a grand total of 155 pounds, which averages to about 5 pounds a week. (Please note that healthy weight loss occurs at 1-2 pounds a week). This winner does not come close to holding the record for greatest weight loss but this time there seemed to be a slight problem. When the finalist made her grand appearance two of the trainers on the show had very concerned looks on their faces. Since the finale last week, audience members and past biggest loser contestants have voiced uneasiness about how thin this particular finalist looked. I am not here to comment on the finalist and her weight loss but I do want to talk about some of my concerns with the show.

NBC says that there are a team of doctors, nutritionists, and trainers who work with the contestants. Any yet, I have never heard the network or past contestants talk about a therapist being on the show, even behind the closed doors. I think it is a problem that talk therapy is not being discussed openly.  Losing and gaining weight is not only about calories or exercise. Weight and how people treat their bodies can also be a reflection of how they feel emotionally. This is something that society often forgets.  When someone feels life is out of control,  food can be used as a way of gaining control amidst chaos. A woman going through a very upsetting breakup may begin to cut back on calories because her body becomes the only thing she feels she can control during this depressed time in her life. On the other hand, someone might feel that he or she has to be perfect in front of others.  Bingeing becomes the only way to lose control—and purging becomes a way of becoming perfect again and regaining control. Eating disorders are complicated and different for each individual.

The above examples might make you think of someone suffering from either Anorexia nervosa or Bulimia but there is another eating disorder not discussed as often, Binge Eating. Sometimes people see a heavy person walking down the street and immediately think they are lazy and simply don’t try or care to lose weight.  Being overweight can be a sign of emotional stress as well as a sign of Binge Eating.  Men and women who have a hard time expressing and managing their feelings may have learned that food could comfort them or help distract them from having to deal with uncomfortable feelings. Once a behavior is learned, it is extremely difficult to unlearn the behavior. The Biggest Loser may help people lose weight, but if people are not looking at the underlying causes related to their weight, they are going to have trouble maintaining their weight loss.  It is crucial that individuals think about their relationship with food, weight, and their body when considering any sort of weight loss.

The Biggest Loser has contestants on the ranch working out for multiple hours of the day and losing an absurd amount of weight in a short amount of time. The show screams unhealthy and unrealistic — yet it is clearly popular because it just ended its fifteenth season.  This brings me to my second point, our obsession with talking and thinking about food, weight, and our bodies. For this part I will speak from a female’s perspective.

Women tend to talk about food and weight all of the time. Women may go to their friends for reassurance about how they look or what they are eating without thinking about their friends’ own struggle with these issues.  Many men and women with eating disorders keep the eating disorder to themselves.   You may think you’re innocently complaining to your friend about how much you just ate without knowing that friend is struggling with his or her own issues around food. The topic of food and weight is so ingrained within women’s language that women are not realizing how much it is actually consuming their conversation.

Try paying attention to conversations you have with your friends over the next week and make note of every time either you or your friend mentions weight or what and how much food they ate.  The number will probably surprise you.  Shows like The Biggest Loser continue to propel these conversations.  How can someone watch a show like this and not comment on someone losing 15 pounds in one week?   I don’t know how we stop these conversations from consistently continuing but I think having awareness is the first step.