The fall TV season is in full swing, and so is the latest iteration of “The Biggest Loser.” While I tune in once every few weeks, TBL isn’t on my must-see TV list (“Top Chef,” though, is—read into that what you will!).
There are many things I love about TBL. The honest look into the emotional journey required to be a “big loser.” The changes you see in contestants that go way beyond their waistlines—newfound confidence, for instance. The inspiration of seeing people begin to believe they can change for good. But I’ve started to wonder whether TBL and other television shows and magazine stories featuring super-heavyweights who lose extraordinary amounts of weight could actually be sabotaging people’s efforts to reach a healthy weight.
Of course, as someone who lost a little more than one third of her weight and kept it off for 20-plus years, I applaud weight loss success stories. I know the hard work (both physical and emotional) it takes to get there. And the dramatic transformations you see on the TBL grand finale, or on the cover of People magazine’s “Half Their Size” issue, are amazing. I have featured stories like those myself in the magazines I’ve worked for over the years, as well as on my own website.
But are we are setting people up to think that it’s necessary to go from plus-size to petite, to cut their weight by half, in order to reach a “healthy weight?” Are we turning off people from trying to make any healthy changes at all with the very stories meant to motivate them?
The fact is that you don’t have to drop your dress size by double digits to make a huge difference in your health. The magic figure, depending on the expert you talk to, is somewhere between 5 and 10 percent of your total weight. That’s right—by dropping 5 to 10 percent of your total weight, you can dramatically cut your risk for diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and osteoarthritis. That’s 20 pounds, if you weigh 200 pounds (aren’t my math skills astounding?)—a lot less than the folks on Biggest Loser are sweating off.
Don’t get me wrong: It does take work to lose 20 pounds. Just maybe not an in-your-face trainer dogging you through workouts more suitable for pre-season football players. It takes a commitment to being active most days, to walking, or swimming, or cycling, or something, and being conscious of and faithful to portion sizes.
If you are overweight and you do your own math, you may not think 10 percent is the solution for you. You may have higher (er, lower?) aspirations that involve a certain silhouette in the mirror, a certain pair of jeans in the closet, a certain long-ago number you want to reach.
There’s nothing wrong with setting your sights on a size where you’ll feel at your best inside and out–as long as you go about getting there in a reasonable, healthy way, that is. But just remember to use that 10 percent figure as a starting place when you’re setting that goal (or reevaluating it, as you should regularly). That’s the most important benchmark—anything more than that is, as they say, gravy.