Grey Water —
Trigger warning: This post is about Biggest Loser weight loss bullshit.
As a child, i would drink anything but water. I was raised on Kool-Aid and skim milk. As I got older, I swapped out Dr. Pepper (no ice) for Kool-Aid, and still downed a gallon of skim milk every three days or so. Since adopting Health at Every Size, I have stopped drinking soda almost entirely. By paying attention to my body’s response to soda, I began to notice that I felt “sugared out” really quickly and that my thirst was never really quenched.
Consequently, I started drinking more water at work, then at home. I’d make myself either or a coffee or chai tea in the morning in the office, then refill my bottle or cup from the filtered water machine throughout the day. At night, I’d drink skim milk until our kids went to bed, then make myself an enormous glass of water while Veronica and I played games or I wrote. Sometimes, when we go out to eat I’ll get a sweet tea, but that’s the only time I have something sweetened to drink.
As a result, I have lost over 75 pounds!
Just kidding, I haven’t lost a damn thing, but I have gained an appreciation for ice cold water. I drink ice water because it quenches my thirst like nothing else and I haven’t missed the excess sugar, which exacerbates insulin resistance over time. My own personal health goal is to improve my insulin sensitivity, so switching to water has helped me achieve that goal.
But if you listen to the pro-water propaganda, you’re led to believe that eliminating the calories from soda will lead to a predictable reduction in weight. For instance, this article tells you how much weight you can lose simply by switching from soda to water.
To get an idea of how much weight you could lose, remember that to lose one pound you need to reduce your caloric intake by 3500 calories… Replace your Double Gulp with water to reduce your annual calorie intake by 209,875 calories or almost 60 pounds in a year.
It’s this kind of back-of-the-envelope biology that leads to ridiculous expectations of how our bodies respond to changes in diet.
So when I first heard about Michelle Obama’s Drink Up initiative to encourage Americans to drink more water, I felt like it was something I could get behind. This was especially true since Sam Kass, Executive Director of Let’s Move, told Huffington Post that they wouldn’t be talking about any of the health benefits of drinking water, including its purported weight loss properties:
Yet Kass explained that the tone of the initiative will purposely not emphasize these factors, unlike some past public health pushes. Instead, the campaign is focusing more on “being positive and not getting [into] details about what a glass of water can do,” he told reporters on the call.
I can respect a campaign like this, especially when Michelle Obama promotes her initiative by saying things like “if we were going to take just one step to make ourselves and our families healthier, probably the single best thing we could do is to simply drink more water. It’s as simple as that. Drink more water.” It’s simple, direct, and doesn’t target a single group (fatties) with its message.
Because it’s true. there are all kinds of incredible health benefits of drinking more water, aside from reducing sugar or calories. This is a message I can get behind because there’s no shaming, no false promises, no weird obsession with fat people — just a clear, simple message that says that water is good for you and your family. Would that all health campaigns took this approach!
There’s just one little problem…
In order to promote the Drink Up campaign, the First Lady will be returning to The Biggest Loser.
In April 2012, Mrs. Obama first appeared and I was utterly disgusted, as you may recall.
I’m sorry, but if [Biggest Loser] is where Michelle Obama goes to promote the [Presidential Active Lifestyle Award Challenge], then I have lost all respect for her campaign to improve the health of the nation. I gave Mrs. Obama the benefit of the doubt that Let’s Move was a well-intentioned, but misguided, attempt at helping kids get healthy, but promoting The Biggest Loser as a model of healthy behaviors is simply beyond the pale.
On the surface there’s quite a bit of synergy between Drink Up and Biggest Loser in that they both share a sponsor: Brita water filters. Brita’s vice president recently brushed off questions about how his company would benefit from the First Lady’s campaign, modestly stating that “It happened so quickly that we haven’t had time to make projections. But the macro benefit is the message to encourage Americans to drink more water.”
Brita has been a sponsor of Biggest Loser since at least 2008, when the company encouraged drinking filtered water as a way of reducing plastic bottle consumption. Since then, TBL trainers have repeatedly hawked water strained through Brita filters as a key to losing weight. And Brita has found the partnership quite rewarding, with over 75,000 people (PDF) signing an online pledge on FilterForGood.com to stop buying water in plastic bottles and, presumably, use Brita filters.
I’m conflicted about the whole thing because I do believe it’s good to encourage healthy behaviors. My daughters and I have talked about how nothing quenches your thirst like water and how water is good for you. And while I don’t use a filter myself, I understand why people do use them. I don’t think the Brita product is nefarious or problematic, but because they sponsor Biggest Loser, a show that is, in my mind, tainted by unhealthy extremes and a surfeit of negative messages, I now feel negatively toward Brita products. Call it guilt by associated douchebaggery.
Because you wouldn’t expect to find the Drug Abuse Resistance Education collaborating with Breaking Bad, would you?
So why the hell would the First Lady of the United States lend the credibility and integrity of her office to a show like Biggest Loser? Last year, I documented an entire season of Biggest Loser and shared the multiple, unnecessary injuries and illnesses sustained by contestants. After I crowned Jillian Michaels The Biggest Dickweed, I swore I would never watch another episode. Then, I recently shared how I was disappointed that Holley Mangold would be a contestant this season and how I didn’t know if I would watch it.
Until I read about the return of the FLOTUS, I hadn’t planned on watching. But I decided to check out the first episode just to note what Mrs. Obama is hitching her wagon to, once again.
Consider this a mini-recap of what the hell is happening on Biggest Loser ranch.
It began with Jillian Michaels, Bob Harper and Dolvett Quince interviewing potential contestants, as they would get to decide “for the first time in Biggest Loser history” who would join the show. When asked why she wants to join the show, Holley says, “I don’t just want to be an Olympian, I want to be a medalist. I think the one thing that has been limiting me is my weight.” I found this odd because in the interview I did with her, she said that having a higher weight was an advantage for her.
Once the contestants are chosen, we see them enter the driveway of the ranch where banners line the sides all the way down the path. Each banner has a former contestant’s name, season and the amount of weight lost. One of the new contestants spots one particular banner.
“That’s my boy, Danny Cahill,” the contestant said.
Now, as you see the hundreds of banners down the drive, it’s pretty impressive. But let’s keep in mind that, as I pointed out in the final recap, Danny Cahill is no longer 239 pounds lighter.
He’s obviously not as heavy as he was before, but it’s worth noting the contestants’ ideal weight, as represented by those banners, is not the reality. And Cahill isn’t the only past contestant who has regained the weight. And that link includes just the contestants I could track down!
We then see the contestants marching to the gym in their jerseys, each of which lists their starting weight.
In the gym, we get to see the spectacular failure of these 15 contestants, as they are pushed beyond their limit on the very first day. As a result, we get a montage of contestants falling down, puking and whining, while Bob makes fun of them.
“I’m looking around this gym,” Bob says, “and within a few minutes there are people puking, passing out, crying,” he says this, mocking their tears with a cry baby hand gesture, “and Jillian screaming ‘The whole world is coming to an end,'” he pretend-screams like her. Then he gives a shit-eating grin. “Day 1 Season 15 workout, that’s appropriate.”
Is that true, Bob? Is it appropriate to have your trainees puking, fainting and crying during their first workout? Mrs. Obama, is this how you want people to view exercise? As something painful and degrading, rather than fulfilling and energizing? When Jillian tells a contestant that “when you puked, it was love,” is that the kind of person you want promoting your health messages? And are these the images you want associated with Let’s Move, Michelle?
Or how about this woman who couldn’t open her eyes as she wobbled side to side?
Or how about this guy, who collapsed on the floor and had medics called for him?
Or how about the messages of humiliation and self-loathing? Like the woman who said, “Wearing this weight I feel like I’m just broadcasting to the world my failure.” Or how about when Ruben Studdard is getting out of the ice bath and Jillian laughs at him?
And then there’s the weigh-in, where you’re considered a failure if you “only” lose 13 pounds in a week. As one unfortunate contestant put it, “You know, 13 pounds sounds really good when you’re at home. Here, the number 13 won’t save my team. I was devastated.” You may recall that in my recaps I recounted the multiple instances where a contestant was praised for their hard work one week, despite not losing much weight, yet told over and over that if they worked hard enough the results would show up on the scale. This perpetual contradiction and invalidation left me staring at the screen with the same face Holley made when she first gets weighed in:
The most irritating thing of all, though, is the fact that one contestant manages to lose 38 pounds (nearly 10% of his starting weight) in the first week, and everyone treats this like a completely normal occurrence. It’s not. Most dieters will be lucky to lose 10% of their starting weight after a year of healthy lifestyle changes, which should tell you something about the lifestyle promoted by TBL.
You see, most of the weight this contestant lost was water weight. This is why the first week of TBL always boasts huge amounts of weight loss before they hit the so-called “second week curse” when they lose barely anything at all. Most weight loss programs work this way: at first, you see a lot of progress due to water weight, and then it levels off.
So maybe that is Mrs. Obama’s message:
Whatever the case, Michelle Obama is being incredibly irresponsible in her choice of messaging platforms. Biggest Loser does not promote health. It is a game show that pushes people to unhealthy extremes and mocks them for the completely normal reaction their body has to the acute stress of a workout program that is too intense for beginners.
It disgusts me that Michelle Obama and Sam Kass feel like this is the best way they can reach Americans. Perhaps it is, given the success of the Brita experience, but by doing so they are tacitly approving all of the other messages buried in this terrible show. Shame on them for selling out their positive health message by legitimizing a negative health profiteer. I had hopes that the First Lady learned her lesson, but I guess my initial misgivings were correct.
If you’re pissed about this, be sure to sign the Change.org petition circulating.