We 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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