Why ‘The Biggest Loser’ Loses to ‘Heavy’

America is a fat nation. According to the National Institutes of Health, about two thirds of American adults are overweight or obese. Yet one of the most popular shows on TV is NBC’s “The Biggest Loser” which pits teams against one another to lose the most weight. A&E has countered with “Heavy,” a weight loss reality show with no competitive component.

Although it lacks the ratings of “TBL,” A&E’s “Intervention”-like entry in the genre crushes its competition.

When Is a Week Not a Week? Kai Hibbard, one of the more high-profile contestants on “The Biggest Loser,” claimed in a 2010 interview on CBS’s “The Early Show” that “a week is not a week” on the series. Those double-digit losses that the big scale shows aren’t always one-week losses. A “TBL” week was sometimes ten or twelve days, said Hibbard.

The folks on “Heavy” sometimes lose ten or fifteen pounds a week–at first. Then they slow down. Sometimes they stop losing or even gain a few pounds of water weight. That’s the reality of weight loss: it’s a process of fits and starts for most, and only the lucky few show big losses regularly. Regardless of how much they lose (or don’t), a week is a week.

Do Bob and Jillian Hate Fat People? Bob and Jillian, the chief trainers on “The Biggest Loser,” like to work out. They get their exercise by climbing on fat backs, using large bellies for step aerobics, and gesticulating in disgust at jiggly thighs. For cardio training, they scream. If they touch a contestant, it’s to use the person’s body as a footrest or seat. The disrespect and disgust is palpable.

By contrast, “Heavy” trainers David and Britny regularly offer a hug or a hand to dieters. When they have contact with the show’s participants, it’s helpful or celebratory, not mocking. There’s no disgust, anger, or verbal abuse. It’s obvious that these folks see the show’s participants not as overstuffed ottomans on which to rest their feet after a hard day’s work of dishing out abuse, but as people.

Competition versus Cooperation “Heavy” participants pair up in cooperation, not square off in competition. They’re on the same side in the battle against the bulge. Their incentive isn’t money, it’s health. The prize is a longer, healthier life.

Consequently, they don’t need to pull the tricks that Kai Hubbard alleges “Biggest Loser” contestants have–not drinking enough water so they become dehydrated, wearing heavy clothes for workouts to sweat off water weight, and skipping meals. If true, these practices are unsafe.

“Heavy” Has No Hard Sell Both shows feature product placement, but on “Heavy,” it’s inobtrusive. “TBL” not only crams sponsors’ products down viewers’ throats, they also have their own products to push. “TBL” weights, food scales and diet books dominate their market niches. Jillian Michaels sells pills, although she’s currently being sued over those.

One show is “fatsploitation” that dehumanizes its contestants; the other exalts their participants’ triumphs of will and empathizes with their struggles. There’s really no comparison.


National Institutes of Health, Weight Control Information Network: Overweight and Obesity Prevalence Estimates .

CBS, “The Early Show”: “Biggest Loser” Contestant: Show “Hurts” People , June 18, 2010

Body Love Wellness: A Dose of Reality: My Exclusive Interview with “Biggest Loser” Finalist, Kai Hibbard , Golda Poretsky, June 9, 2010