by Beth Shepard, M.S., ACE-CPT, ACSM-RCEP, Wellcoaches Certified Wellness Coach
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, weight-loss reality shows are wildly popular, inspiring many people to get off the coach and get moving. While some fitness industry insiders tout the motivational aspects of these shows, others find them disturbing.
On the Bright Side
Weight-loss reality shows bring media attention to the problem of obesity, and this could be seen as positive — if it motivates viewers to achieve sustainable weight loss or change lifestyle habits that contribute to weight gain and obesity. Success stories hold irresistible appeal, and seeing a morbidly obese person achieve a healthy weight through diet and exercise is understandably captivating, inspiring viewers to believe these results are personally possible. If nothing else, the shows underscore the power of social support in facilitating health behavior change — even if the level of support portrayed is not available to most viewers.
The Real Deal?
A top concern of many fitness professionals is that reality shows don’t accurately portray the way real-life certified personal trainers work with clients. Client safety is the top priority for fitness professionals certified by the American Council on Exercise, the American College of Sports Medicine, and other organizations accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). Certified fitness professionals adhere to a code of ethics and industry standards that include conducting a pre-exercise risk assessment and obtaining physician clearance and recommendations as needed. Then, an individualized, progressive exercise program is designed, taking into account the client’s health history, exercise history, fitness goals, psychosocial needs, and preferences. This process is not typically seen on reality shows — instead, contestants jump right into high-intensity workouts.
Asking an obese, sedentary individual to run, dance, lift weights, or otherwise exercise to the point of vomiting, falling, or passing out might boost television ratings, but it’s flat-out negligent, dangerous, and would never be done in an everyday personal training situation — whether or not a medical doctor is waiting in the wings with emergency equipment. Viewers of these shows may feel inspired to exercise at inappropriately high levels on their own, risking injury or even death.
Human beings deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, regardless of body size. There’s no excuse for berating or yelling at people — period. Have we fallen so far as a society that we now find it entertaining to watch obese people put their bodies on display and accept verbal abuse and inhumane treatment in the name of weight loss? Does the end really justify the means?
Demeaning someone is not the way to teach skills for long-term self-management. It amazes and angers me to still hear people say, “Well, they did it to themselves.” We all have challenges, health issues, and imperfections. Obesity is an easy target because it’s easy to spot — but it’s a complicated medical condition, not a moral failing. Nobody intentionally becomes obese, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution.
True fitness professionals take a compassionate, collaborative approach, involving the client in planning the exercise program, identifying short-term and long-term goals, potential barriers and solutions for addressing barriers. We hold clients accountable while working with them in a manner that is professional, positive, and respectful.
Keeping a Healthy Perspective
If you’re inspired by weight-loss reality shows, keep your personal weight loss expectations in check. The more sensational the antics on these shows, the more viewers they attract and the more money they generate. If you’re looking for an evidence-based approach to fitness, follow established guidelines. For lasting results, most health experts recommend losing ½ to 2 lbs. a week. Work with a certified fitness professional who will treat you with respect and help you create a realistic exercise plan. And keep in mind that despite the fervent wishes of millions of people, there’s no get-thin-quick plan that is safe, effective, and long-lasting. Sustainable results take time.