Weight Loss TV ‘Shows’ Create Unrealistic Expectations


by Matt Weik

A long day finally comes to an end and you’re winding down for the night on the couch watching one of your favorite reality weight loss television shows. You’re in awe of the contestant’s progress and their transformations. Seeing such amazing changes makes you want to hit the gym and make some changes in your own life—that’s awesome and I encourage you to do so. But the best thing that you can do at that moment is throw your remote through the television. I’m not saying this because I feel television is rotting your brain (which it is), I’m telling you this because what you are watching is just what the title states, a “show”. It’s not real life people. I’ve seen with my very own eyes and even had lunch with some contestants of a highly watched weight loss show on television. It’s all a fake. And the contestants will even tell you so—cause they’re bitter as hell over the experience. The show built them up just to drop them on their faces at the end.

Eating Lunch Opened My Eyes to the Tomfoolery

Through my travels several years back I sat down in a restaurant for some lunch before my afternoon meetings began. While I was sitting there some familiar faces sat down at the table next to me. They looked really familiar but I just couldn’t put my finger on where I would know them from as I was out of my home state on business. The group sat down and they made their rounds for drink orders and appetizers, etc. I then saw one lady put a protein shake up on the table. Being in the supplement industry at that time I politely introduced myself and inquired what protein she was using. She told me and we started conversing. I mention that several people at the table look very familiar to me but being that I am out of town on business, I told them I’m not sure where I would know them from. They smiled and said, “have you ever watched the show…” HA! You thought I was going to give it all away and tell you the show. Well, long story short, they were on one of the reality weight loss television shows. Looking at the crew I thought to myself “what the heck happened to them? They look nothing like they did when they ended the show.” And no, I’m not saying they looked great. In fact, they look like they did when they first started on the show. I explained who I was and what I do for a living in the fitness and supplement industry and many of them actually mentioned they followed my writing on Bodybuilding.com. After some laughs they asked if I would like to join them—I accepted their generosity and pulled my chair over. Let the truth bombs fly!

The Truth Will Set You Free

A million questions ran through my head regarding their time on the show. How were the trainers (even though I know a couple of them personally)? What really went on behind the scenes? Was the show even legit or did the producers do as they please to create drama and cliffhangers to keep viewers on the edge of their seat and coming back for more each week? I began asking them several questions—all of which they were very open to answering and didn’t bat an eye at anything I asked—their responses seemed to flow as if they were talking about just the other day. Their answers were very vivid and descriptive.

I felt like the contestants really wanted to spill the beans on their experience on the show—which I’m sure they probably weren’t supposed to even be talking to me about the show and what happened behind the scenes. They said it all started with the contract. They each had to sign a contract that explained to them that the show can and will at all times portray them however they wish. That ultimately this is a show based on ratings and that’s the nature of the beast. It also stated that they must follow the program in its entirety and anything the trainers asked them to do must be performed. There were also the normal clauses that said this weight loss program can obviously be dangerous and that complications due to the program can occur and that in the event there was a medical emergency (or death) that they are not held liable. Not fully understanding how they could possibly portray them in any light other than positive and inspirational, they all agreed and signed the contract thinking this was going to change their life. And change their life it did!

Let the Games Begin!

It was time for them to show up on “set” and begin this journey. They met all the producers, trainers, and staff and went over the guidelines and what to expect. They were shown the home they would be living in during their time on the show and all the amenities that they have. It all sounded good—that is until it all went sideways very quickly.

The taping of the show began and the trainers were putting the contestants through the ropes of their workouts. What they don’t tell you or show you on the show is that the contestants were working out in 100+ degree conditions every single workout in the gym. Total time spent exercising, between resistance training and cardio, was upwards of 6 hours—way above what any normal person could do on a daily basis due to work and home life. You also have to remember that several of these contestants left their home to partake in this show, leaving husbands/wives back home to take care of their kids. Mentally, that alone weighed heavy on the contestants.

Between workout sessions, contestants were locked in the house where they stayed for the most part. They weren’t allowed to leave the property to go sight-seeing or anything. The house was stocked with healthy and nutrient-dense foods to promote clean eating. There was zero junk food in the house for them to cheat on so there was zero temptation (good luck having that at your personal house, especially with kids). They were given very little guidance on what exactly to eat even though on the show the trainers would do a quick rundown of what they should be looking to eat to help lose weight.

Each contestant was also given prescription diuretics to prepare themselves days in advance for weigh-ins. This was never mentioned in the show for obvious reasons. Giving prescription diuretics to individuals for the means of simply losing water weight is not only ethically and morally wrong for the show to do, but it is extremely dangerous when no one is paying attention to their water intake—they could become dehydrated very easily if they weren’t taking in enough water and cause major complications.

So how about those scales on the show? Yup, you guessed it… FAKE. The weight that showed up on your television screen wasn’t truly the weight that they weighed. But being that they signed the contract that the show can do whatever they want, the contestants couldn’t say a word. This ultimately caused both drama and excitement for contestants. Some were completely devastated when they saw the scale not show significant weight loss (which they really could have lost but the show lied on the number to be dramatic) while others were jumping for joy when they found the scale telling them they lost twelve pounds in a week. Let’s get one thing straight. Losing twelve pounds per week is not safe. While much of that could have been water weight, a normal body can lose a healthy one to two pounds each week. Anything more than that and you’re either burning muscle or simply losing water weight which is only temporary and can easily be gained back.

Welcome to the Aftermath

The show ends, people are thrilled with their new physiques and “changed lifestyles”. All was well until they walked back through the doors of their home. What happened during their time on the show is not realistic. You don’t have time to spend six hours every day in the gym. You generally don’t eat the same way that they did on the show. And more importantly, they no longer have prescription diuretics to help them shed water weight and tighten up quickly. Another factor to throw into the situation is that what you saw on television with the contestants working with the trainers was ultimately the only time they spent with them. Contestants were working out on their own, figuring out their diet on their own, ultimately they weren’t learning anything from the show. It was all a sham.

These contestants came home learning absolutely nothing. That’s why you all have probably read that almost all of the contestants that were on these shows now weigh just as much as they did when they started the show or even more. They fall back to their bad habits, they aren’t burning as many calories due to not training for six hours each day, and nutritionally they learned nothing from the show so they go back to their normal eating habits with their family. Before they know it, they are back to their unhealthy-selves and their bad habits even though they might still be working out fairly regularly.

The group at the table that I had lunch with was frankly pissed off over the experience. The good news through all of this negativity the show brought is that for many of the people I sat with at the table, after they gained all the weight back something clicked in their head and they knew they needed help. Many of them joined gyms again if they weren’t regularly working out. Many of them even signed up with a personal trainer and nutritionist who they work with regularly. Slowly they are getting things back on track the healthy way and seeing progress.

So what’s the take-home message here? Stop believing everything you see on television. While many shows try and motivate you and show you that if “they can do it, so can you” they are tricking you into believing they are doing the right things to live a healthier lifestyle when in actuality, behind the scenes is a very disturbing place to be. Keep your head on straight, do it the right way, and put in the work. Stay dedicated and stay consistent with your training and diet. If you aren’t sure what to do or how to get there, sign up with a personal trainer and nutritionist and get a professional to help you. I applaud these television shows for trying to do the right thing, but in the end, you simply can’t change the façade that comes along with reality television because in the end, it all comes down to ratings and money.