Is Reality TV Hurting Your Weight Loss Goals?

man relaxing in front of TV( — Reality TV shows focusing on weight loss have become all the rage. It’s obviously satisfying to see others battling the bulge…and it’s certainly inspiring when you see them get results. Suddenly, the “if they can do it, I can do it” adage becomes truer than ever.


Maybe not. The fact is, the truth is deceiving. What you see on TV is not necessarily what you really get. Past winners of The Biggest Loser have confessed to starving themselves and stop drinking water in hopes of winning the final prize. And it’s hard to know what happens once the curtain goes down and the contestants are out of the public eye.

And there are other reasons why these shows are just bad for you:

They Encourage Unhealthy Behaviors

BridalPlasty is a show that pits women against each other in order to win cosmetic surgery procedures so they can look “right” at their wedding. Hilary Kinavey, a therapist who specializes in eating and weight-related concerns, believes reality TV shows like this one are doing more harm than good.

“They promote a dieting culture that ensures a focus on body dissatisfaction instead of achievable health-centered behavior changes,” says Kinavey.

Other shows, like The Biggest Loser, focus on behaviors that can be easily considered as eating-disorder behavior: chewing gum instead of eating, obsessive calorie counting, and excessive exercise.

They Show Unrealistic Results

Wellness coach Suzanne Pantazis has a particular gripe with NBC’s new show, Heavy. In the show, two contestants are removed from their home and spend six months in a secluded facility, where they concentrate on their weight loss without distractions from the outside world. There’s no prize and no competition. The goal is simply to lose weight. However, Pantazis feels these people are doomed to regain the weight because of the unrealistic demands put on the contestants.

“For individuals who have been overweight most of their lives, a 3-lb. weight loss in a month is a huge improvement,” says Pantazis. “But based on what they see on television programs, they often feel like a failure!”

Instant gratification is in, and if weight loss efforts don’t seem to be working after a very short time, it is very discouraging.

They Make Exercise Look Like Torture

Watch The Biggest Loser and you’ll quickly start thinking “wow, that looks painful.” According to fitness and wellness consultant Luci Gabelma, these type of behaviors discourage people from starting an exercise program because they think they’ll need to kill themselves in order to do it.

Some of the exercises that the TV trainers do with their clients are actually dangerous, especially for someone carrying that much weight on their knees, hips, and back. Gabelma also points out that the shows highlight trainers yelling and screaming at their clients, making them cry and making them throw up, when this is really nothing like the experience one would (or should) have with a true professional trainer.

They Ignore Long-Term Needs

Dieters need a structured program and long-term follow-up to keep the weight off for good. Too often these weight loss shows focus on quick weight loss schemes that ultimately fail to teach people the skills they’ll need to survive in the real world. Weight loss plans that require you to go “all in” as in poker will never succeed because they’re impossible to maintain over the long run, according to Ed Boullianne, author of You Can’t Outsource Weight Loss.

Their Requirements Are Unrealistic

Weight-loss reality shows are, at best, unrealistic. At worst, they present a confusing image to society. On The Biggest Loser, contestants eat less than 1,500 calories and work out up to six hours a day. Nobody in the real world can spend that much time in the gym. As a result, there’s no way they can achieve the same level of results.

They Don’t Address Emotional Eating

Most of the people on these shows are emotionally overweight.

“These people are carrying around an extra 100 or more pounds of hurt, low-self-esteem, and unexpressed anger,” says Pantazis. “If they’re going to lose weight permanently, they need to rebuild their self-esteem and become familiar with how it feels to be treated properly.”

Although the shows sometime display the contestants talking about their problems, the emotional side never becomes a big part of their weight loss program.

At the end of the day, reality TV shows are fine if they encourage you to get off the couch and start moving. But don’t think of them as the ultimate solution to all your weight loss problems.