Prescribing to Fat People What We Diagnose in Thin People – The Biggest Loser

Angry FrustratedWe prescribe to fat people what we diagnose in thin people. I first heard this idea from the brilliant Deb Burgard, and I heard it again at the presentation that Hilary and Dana of BeNourished gave at the MEDA Conference. And I was reminded again when I saw Marilyn Wann’s petition to take The Biggest Loser off the air. It was prompted by a new admission to the New York Post by some contestants that they had been told to engage in extremely dangerous behavior while on the show. [Trigger warning for lots of eating disorder/disordered eating discussion throughout the post.]

Suzanne Mendonca from Season 2 told the NY Post:

People were passing out in Dr. H’s [Robert Huizenga, M.D, the show’s official doctor] office at the finale weigh-in. On my season, five people had to be rushed to the hospital. He knew exactly what we were doing and never tried to stop it….People would take amphetamines, water pills, diuretics, and throw up in the bathroom, they would take their spin bikes into the steam room to work up a sweat. I vomited every single day. Bob Harper tells people to throw up: ‘Good,’ he says. ‘You’ll lose more calories.’ ”

Joelle Gwynn from 2008 Couple’s season said

Bob Harper was my trainer, he goes away and his assistant comes in. He’s got this brown paper bag that’s bundled up. He says, ‘Take this drug, it’ll really help you.’ It was yellow and black. I was like, ‘What the f- -k is this?’…I felt jittery and hyper, I went and told the sports medicine guy. The next day, Dr. H gave us some lame explanation of why they got added to our regimen and that it was up to us to take them…

She also said that her trainer Bob Harper told her about her journaling

Lie and say you were following the directive of intaking 1,500 calories — but I want you to do 800 calories or as little as you can.

And of course this is on top of the excessive exercise and mental and physical abuse that they proudly show on every episode.

All of these are behaviors that would be considered serious red flags in a thin person.  Even if they were not part of a full blown eating disorder (which are complicated bio/psycho/social disorders and not defined only by behavior and that definitely need more attention, and accessibility to treatment, and are negatively affected by a fatphobic society) they would almost certainly, and correctly, be considered dangerous and disordered.

But for fat people they are encouraged, even prescribed by so-called health professionals, under the pretense of “health.” Not convinced?  Consider that fat people are encouraged to take dangerous drugs that could kill us, to have dangerous surgery to have part of our stomachs bound or partially amputated to force us to restrict food in ways that mimic behaviors associated with eating disorders.

A fat body is not a sign that all the concepts of what constitutes a healthy relationship with food, exercise, and our bodies should be thrown out the window in the pursuit of thinness. As a study of Biggest Loser Contestants recently reinforced, the truth is that intentional weight loss hardly ever works long-term, but when the same behaviors that we diagnose and treat in thin people are prescribed to fat people, it makes weight loss not just a losing bet, but also a dangerous and even deadly one.

The bottom line is that the relationships and behaviors around food and exercise that are dangerous and disordered in thin people are not magically super useful and healthy for fat people. The Biggest Loser perpetuates behavior that is dangerous, and a culture of fat hate, and so it has to go. Take a moment to sign and share the petition to add your voice to the group clamoring for an end to this horror of a television show.

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32 thoughts on “Prescribing to Fat People What We Diagnose in Thin People – The Biggest Loser

  1. Back in the 1970s, one of my aunts died of heart failure after having lost close to 200 lbs via similar techniques. The important thing to note is that this was forty years ago and apparently it’s STILL okay to kill people in the name of thinness. Thanks for continuing to speak out.

    1. The sad thing about things like this is that there would be people, including medical professionals who would still insist your aunt died of “obesity” rather than overexercise and undernourishment.

    2. I can believe it! I have fibromyalgia, PCOS, hypothyroidism, joint pain, serious metabolic damage…All because I spent my youth on diets and on losing and regaining weight. My set point pre-pregnancy was 300lbs, post-pregnancy now it’s 400lbs, and I am SURE I would be seriously disabled if I even did the weight cycling I did in my early 20s, LET ALONE lost more than half my body weight like I have to if I want to be ‘healthy’. Being ‘healthy’ is why I’m unhealthy. Deal with it!

      1. I’ve got Fibromyalgia too, it can be brought on by something traumatic (Like weight cycling or maybe weight stigma…) and my stupid rheumatologist wants me to go on an 1800 calorie diet to “lose weight fast” and “feel much better”. I’ve told him on my first two visits I never dieted in the past (he kept asking and asking) but I tried not to be too argumentative when he prescribed a diet because I didn’t want him to decide I was a problem patient and not prescribe me anything for my fibro, so I would just be not agree/not disagree when he said it, mostly just non-verbal hmming and grunting and then go home and live my life the way I normally do. Next visit I’m going to tell him I won’t be dieting though.

        1. Maybe that fall I had 6 yrs ago triggered more pain. It’s certainly been a before & after moment for sure.

  2. This is bizarre. Even if you really believe that fat is unhealthy, and you’re so convinced of this you think fat people should dehydrate and go on a VLCD and vomit it up and take speed and neglect friends, family, and productive/enjoyable activities to spend 8+ hours on a bike in a steam room trying to not be fat… since it’s well established none of that stuff will make us thinner for any significant amount of time (long enough to film a TV show or snap an “after” photo to meme out long after we’ve regained the weight, but not to get any of the purported health benefits), we now have organ damage from dehydration and malnutrition, serious vitamin deficiencies, an addiction to illegal drugs, hair loss, tooth decay, blown joints, muscle wasting, liver leisons, a skyrocketing risk for disease, AND we are fat. Before we were only fat. How exactly does anyone justify billing this as “self-improvement?”

    1. Seriously, why don’t they just film a military boot camp? It’s much safer, and there actually IS self-improvement. Especially because 1) they make sure you are reasonably healthy before you begin, and 2) they either put you on a leave of absence, or make you leave the program, if you become unhealthy – because ACTUAL HEALTH MATTERS in the military.

      It’s a whole lot less torturous, and a whole lot more beneficial, long-term. But you still get yelling drill sergeants, so I guess there’s your “entertainment value”?

      1. Well, health only matters in Boot (and even then, they don’t really give a shit). After that you’re screwed. Trust me, 10 years and an 80% VA disability rating later. Military doctors throw you 1600 milligrams of “Vitamin M” (Motrin) and punt you out the door.
        Not to mention the arbitrary “appearance” standards that say that even if you DO pass the PT test, if you don’t LOOK like someone who can pass the PT test, they can ruin your career. So you better make sure you don’t look fat and if you do they don’t give a shit about HOW you achieve the completely subjective standard.

        1. Yeah, but still better than what they do with Biggest Loser – sequestration, not allowing you to have any contact with your family, forcing you to sign contracts so that if you tell anyone about your experience, they can sue you for millions.

          Boot camp is not good, no. I’m just saying that Biggest Loser is SO. Much. Worse.

          And why do we televise this stuff, anyway?

  3. Absolutely DISGUSTING! I was on a LCD veering on VLCD for almost my entire puberty, I was severely underweight (5’9″ and 100lbs) by the time I went to college, to the point I grew an INCH with my freshman 15 which is very rare for an 18 year old woman! When I came home from sophomore year I was ‘overweight’ for the first time in my life…my parents and girlfriend put me on another diet, I lost 20lbs in junior year, I gained 70 in senior year. I didn’t speak to my family for 2 years after graduation, I was learning to be an independent FAT woman and the trauma of SERIOUS ANOREXIC-TYPE RESTRICTION throughout my important teenage years drove me away. I see them much more now, I’m mending some ties, and I’m close to my older sister Martha, also a fat woman who struggled with family imposed dieting. It is disgusting what thin people do to fat people!

  4. Also, off topic, but Ragen, when I tried to print out for Emery the body positive coloring, she was SO excited she didn’t even wait for me to print it out, or even get the tablet! She did it all in Paint, by mouse! And she used her favourite spray paint tool, except when she got bored at the end and used the bucket, which doesn’t work too well on most pictures… Here you go! 🙂

      1. She sure is! She’s 4 years old and already mommy’s little body positivity activist. She sees straight through all the fatphobia my family keeps trying to push on her, it’s amazing!

        1. That’s freaking awesome. You need to pat yourself on the back for that, That’s all you. Children learn and mimic behavior. A child raised in a body positive home will most likely learn body positive behaviors, while a child raised in a fat hating home (even where the mother/father is overweight but constantly trying to lose the weight) will not understand body positivity the same way, and most likely have a much harder time coming around to it, if ever. I think I got mine from Pooh Bear:

          “I am stout, round and I have found
          Speaking poundage wise
          I improve my appetite
          When I exercise

          I am short, fat and proud of that
          And so, with all my might
          I up, down and up and down
          To my appetite’s delight

          While I up, down and touch the ground
          I think of things to chew, like honey
          With a hefty happy appetite, I’m a hefty happy Pooh
          With a hefty happy appetite, he’s a hefty happy Pooh”

  5. Shit fire and save matches. Those yellow and black pills distributed by Harper are yellow jackets. Basically, it’s a metric fuckton of caffeine in a little pill. We used to take them in high school and college to be able to stay up all night and go to school the next day. They could kill a person who has hypertension or heart problems. But meh, who cares, so long as people lose ridiculous amounts of weight in order to “win” the abusive contest.

  6. I signed it. It’s so disgusting to me that this gladiator/torture show is still on the air.

    The people who run it should be JAILED for the torture they inflict on others, and the flat-out lies they tell.

    1. Seriously, can’t we do some sort of a class-action lawsuit on them for false advertising, at the very least? And the participants should get some civil suit going (if they can’t do a criminal) for the abuse, both physical and mental.

      Even military boot camp is not this bad. At least in the military, they don’t tell you to dehydrate, lie about how many calories you consume, take unidentified, definitely unprescribed, and quite possibly illegal drugs, or endanger your body by working out while injured.

  7. I do agree that the show biggest loser is highly dangerously health wise. I am lucky enough to have a mother who is a personal trainer and informed me of that. She routinely would say how the show promotes unhealthy living rather than truly changing a lifestyle.

    I do not think by Bob Harper telling contestants to lie in their journals constitutes as a healthcare professional encouraging eating disorders. I don’t consider trainers healthcare professionals in the same aspect I would consider a doctor or nutritionist. Clearly these individuals put together a healthy intake of 1,500 calories. Bob Harper encouraged his team to lie to the professionals simply because he would make more money, the almighty dollar.

    I do not agree that weight loss surgery is encouraged however. I’ve never had a doctor suggest this to me, but rather life style change. Even most health insurance companies will not cover this surgery without the patient trying other methods. In my experience with friends who went through it, it was seen only as a last resort.

    1. My doctor is CONSTANTLY trying to push stomach mutilation WLS on me. How much do you weigh, how tall are you?

      1. I’m 5’7″ and now at 220. I was at 250-260 wearing a 22. My doctor never approached the subject. I took out on myself because I was unhappy

        1. I’m 5’10”, 400lbs. Don’t take me wrong, but you have to understand…The problems smallfats face aren’t the same problems larger fat people do. As things slowly become more body positive, you might have an easier time seeing doctors. I still don’t.

          1. I’m 5’0″, and weigh 300, and the last doc I had recommended it on the 2nd visit. Fired them right away!

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