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Biggest Asshole —

September 29, 2011

Once again, while working out at the gym, I was held hostage by The Biggest Loser.

I hate this show. I really hate this show. And I hate the message it sends to people.

I consider these viewing experiences as a sort of anthropological opportunity to observe weight loss culture first hand.

This time, however, I didn’t have closed captioning, so I could only see the action taking place. I thought this might eliminate the blood-boiling rage I feel upon each viewing (which is great for getting my heartrate up to target levels, BTW).

Turns out, even on mute, The Biggest Loser still sucks ass.

I went back and listened to the second episode of this season, which began with this odd “temptation challenge” where the winning team got to select the time slot for their daily two hour exercise routine (5 a.m., noon or 9 p.m.). The “game” involved contestants eating as many little donuts as possible. All but two contestants abstained completely.

They followed this up with the typical workout montage, which featured former NFL lineman Antone Davis riding a stationary bike while Bob Harper screamed at him until he literally collapsed off the bike wheezing and weeping.

Bob’s response comes straight from Fr. Karras and The Exorcist: “I’ve got to release the demons that are inside Antone”

But these incidents are par for course in Loserland. No, what I saw that demanded further viewing (against my better judgment) was during the medical assessment. We got to see three contestants visit Biggest Loser physician Dr. Rob Huizenga, and all three were reduced to tears.

Incidentally, something about this man’s head is not right. I mean, literally, the physical shape of his head seems… off. It reminds me of actor Robert Z’dar.

But I digress.

Curious as to what he shared that broke these people down, I spent the next day on Hulu aghast as Dr. Huizenga broke the news to one contestant on camera that he had diabetes, which caused him to break down. The diagnosis was even more heart-wrenching because the contestant had filled out his health forms indicating that he had no health issues, so this caught him completely unawares. But fine, you want to take someone’s personal medical revelations and wring them for all the tears your pathetic psychodrama can, so be it. It doesn’t really surprise me.

What really bothered me was the exchange between Dr. Huizenga, the contestant, Bob Harper, and, ultimately, the entire viewing audience:

Huizenga: There are people out there who say we have no business getting you to lose weight because here you are this successful, attractive person. I don’t agree with that group because here you are, 330 pounds and you have at least 155 pounds of excess fat. Within the next 5 years you havea  32% chance of becoming diabetic. It’s coming. That’s a guarantee personally from me.

Harper: Yup, I’d bet money on that.

Huzeinga: Disease is coming and you’re too young for that.

First of all, Huzeinga, as one of those people criticizing your show, I just have to say that it has absolutely nothing to do with whether the people involved are successful or attractive. A person’s success or attractiveness has absolutely nothing to do with the issues that we have with your show.

The main problem is that your show dangles a cash prize to whoever can lose the most weight and, over the years, it has been demonstrated repeatedly that the dramatic results you get are partially assisted by contestants turning to dangerous, unhealthy weight loss practices. That’s the natural result of turning weight loss into a game.

Furthermore, the officially sanctioned weight loss practices are enforced by a sadistic team of sociopaths who delight in the dehydration and physical illness. But we’ve come to expect this sort of “at whatever cost” approach to weight loss that has become the bread and butter of The Biggest Loser.

What really bothers me are these “predictions” you make about an individuals health. First you declare that her weight increases her risk of diabetes by 32%, and then you guarantee this woman will develop diabetes.

Yes, along with hawking his book, “Where Did All the Fat Go?” (answer: it has been directly injected into your ego) and the Biggest Loser Know Your Number HealthScore, Dr. Huizenga is now a medical prognosticator, taking a 32% risk factor for diabetes and determining your future health. It’s…

Nevermind the fact that 75% of obese people will never get diabetes and that the American Diabetes Association considers the “obesity leads to diabetes” claim a myth.

Set aside those realities and focus on this fact: severe weight cyclers have a 39% increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, according to this study by the Anti-Obesity Super Group, Walter Willett and Graham Colditz (Colditz being the lead author in this questionable study on the cost-effectiveness of weight loss surgery).

From the abstract, the conclusion implies no link, “Weight cycling was strongly associated with BMI, but it was not independently predictive of developing type 2 diabetes.”

The logical acrobatics needed to justify such a statement are impressive. Willett, and many obesity researchers like him, spend the bulk of their time and energy proving to us that obesity leads to insulin resistance leads to metabolic disorders (e.g., diabetes, heart disease, hypertension). These are foregone conclusions in any other research they publish.

But in this study, the link is rhetorically weakened. Of course, that isn’t what they actually found.

The team defined severe weight cyclers as women who intentionally lost more than 20 pounds over three times between 1989 and 1993, while mild cyclers lost more than 10 pounds over three times. How did weight cycling affect the diabetes risk of these two cohorts?

Weight cyclers were significantly heavier than noncyclers; therefore, when BMI was not controlled for in the statistical model, weight-cycling status in 1993 seemed to be a strong risk factor for developing diabetes (mild cyclers: RR = 2.57, severe cyclers: RR = 5.56).

When they looked at the raw data, weight cycling was significantly related to the risk factor for diabetes. Mild cyclers had 2 and a half times the risk, while severe cyclers had 5 and a half times the risk. That’s a 550% risk factor!

“But this isn’t fair!” the researchers concluded. After all, we all know it is the fatness that causes diabetes, right? So, they removed BMI from the equation (which, you will recall, is “strongly associated” with weight cycling) and, lo and behold, the risk factor “disappeared”:

After adjustment for BMI, however, neither mild (RR = 1.07; 95% CI, 0.87 to 1.32) nor severe (RR = 1.46; 95% CI, 0.98 to 2.17) weight cycling predicted diabetes. Further adjusting the model for physical activity, inactivity, and dietary intake further attenuated the severe-cycling effect.

But wait a second… although controlling for BMI removed the risk for mild cyclers, the severe cyclers still had an increased risk of 46%! This, the authors concluded, was “not independently predictive of developing type 2 diabetes.”

The fact that BMI and weight gain were independent risk factors for adult-onset diabetes highlights the necessity of using a measure of weight cycling that is not confounded by weight and weight gain.

Okay, so weight cycling and BMI is strongly associated, but they say they need to find a way to study the effects of weight cycling without taking weight or weight gain (which are strongly linked to weight cycling) into account.

What the ever-living fuck?

So if Walter Willett, Godfather of the Anti-Obesity Crusade, says that a 46% increased risk is not “independently predictive of developing type 2 diabetes,” then how in the hell is Dr. Huizenga capable of guaranteeing that this woman’s 32% risk will lead to diabetes?

Answer: He can’t.

I decided to look into Dr. Huizenga a bit more and I found relatively little on the man, aside from his history as the former team physician for the LA Raiders. The few interviews I did find are rather galling.

Take, for instance, this interview he did with a pair of thin, upper class* mom’s on YouTube.

After chastising one of the mothers for not exercising enough, she asks what the minimum she needs to do to be healthy. His answer?

A minimum — a minimum — of four hours a week. But it’s gotta be four hours at the edge of your envelope too. It’s not just lolly-gagging.

Four hours? Really? 240 minutes of exercise a week is the minimum needed to be healthy?

The American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association recommend 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, or 60 minutes of vigorous exercise. Why would Dr. Huizenga be recommending an additional 90 minutes minimum?

I had to listen to this interview with Dr. Huizenga and some slobbering sycophants to find the answer:

The whole country’s been sold a bogus bill of goods that you should work out 30 minutes 5 times a week. You can’t maintain your weight with that amount of working out.

He spends a healthy amount of the interview “pointing the finger” at doctors for not being as big a hardass as he:

The doctors are too hurried or uninterested or uninformed to tell people that are 400 pounds that just because your cholesterol and blood pressure appear to be okay doesn’t mean that still aren’t looking at losing an average of 15 years of life from this whole litany of diseases looming in front of you.

First and foremost, the 400 pound patient is rare, something like 0.42% of the population. But Huizenga has obviously confused Loserland with the real world, where the vast majority of those “suffering” from obesity aren’t that fat. Of the 33.8% of Americans who are obese, 83% of them have a BMI between 30 and 39.9. The vast majority of this “epidemic” aren’t 400 pound people, and even if they are, the Biggest Loser-style regimen is damn near impossible for anyone by Huizenga’s own admission:

Even the people on the show, the first 4-6 weeks is incredibly arduous. You really have to have massive team in place and motivation.

Dr. Huizenga’s laboratory for testing his theory that obesity can be “cured” with intense exercise regimens and caloric restriction in the area of 1,400 daily calories is bolstered by what Producer JD Roth calls, “the opportunity to have the best trainers, nutritionists, isolated scenario that you can ever get in your life to lose the weight.”

On top of that, they are incentivized by a $250,000 cash prize for losing the most weight and I only learned today that players were given a weekly $500 stipend in Season 3.

And people are losing hundreds of pounds you say? Surely this is the cure for obesity! Dr. Huizenga continues:

I think the answer is we have to come up with some sort of community outreach where people are literally pulled out of their couches and from in front of their TVs and with groups and with really incentivized followup.

I’ll just bypass the irony of a reality TV doctor excoriating people for watching TV. I’d rather muse about the kind of incentive program that can produce Loserland results, like a $26,000 annual salary, plus a $250,000 bonus for losing so much weight you’re pissing blood!

With so much energy and money being pumped into a small cohort of fatties, Huizenga sees big things in his future:

We’re seeing incredible results that were heretofore thought to be impossible, and as far as I’m concerned, Nobel Peace Prize, here we come!  We believe we have a solution to a deadly disease.

Roth contends that about half of their contestants keep the weight off, although this has not been verified independently, nor does Roth say how long they have kept the weight off. If you’re averaging in all the former contestants, then of course those who just finished Season 11 will have kept off more weight than those from Season 1.

I’m more interested in how many contestants have kept it off for five years or more.

But let’s not dwell on “facts.” Dr. Huizenga’s absurd prescription is the Cure! Obesity is solved. Somebody call the Nobel Committee!

*Assuming the house and furnishings belong to the women in the video.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. September 29, 2011 1:27 pm

    What an obnoxious git. I don’t know, I’m not in a good place mentally today. I suppose it’s horrid of me to wish he’d get run over by a tractor, but that’s what I feel.

    • September 30, 2011 9:48 am

      Sadly, the founder of the City Museum (an incredible architectural playhouse for kids in St. Louis) died when his bulldozer rolled over. Why couldn’t it have been Dr. Huizenga!!!


  2. September 29, 2011 1:55 pm

    I can honestly say I’ve never watched the show. Ignorance is bliss, maybe?

    • September 30, 2011 9:48 am

      Definitely… or at least ignorance is stable blood pressure. 🙂


  3. Fab@54 permalink
    September 29, 2011 2:22 pm

    What an asshole (Dr. Huizenga is). So here he is, telling two *very slender* women, that because their BMIs had a 6 pt spread between them (one was 23, one was 29, right?) that the one with 29 BMI was ‘destined’ for serious health issues and the other one wasn’t…. What a crock of shit.

    Well, then, why don’t we predict the worst case scenario for EVERY range difference in EVERY area of “health measurement” ?
    Yeah — like telling the person with a perfectly acceptable BP of 110/75 that they are a whole shitload worse off, health wise, than someone with consistent BP readings of 100/69.
    Let’s turn all our health defining measurements into a fucking comparative competition, (you know, like a REALITY show!) and forget all about individual chemistry markers, body types, genetics and health histories when determining, no, *predicting* FUTURE DIRE HEALTH CONSEQUENCES.

    As for any doctor using skewed, or INSIGNIFICANT percentage point “statistics” as a means of predicting awful future health prognoses, like cancer, diabetes, etc… go fuck yourself, is what I say. I don’t need a doctor filling my head with negativity and fear on the basis of nonsense and socially based bias and bigotry….
    I left my last gynecologist’s care because she chose to buy into the whole new “fat women get cervical cancer” rhetoric and decided to lay THAT bullshit on me when I was going through a very intense, very scary health crisis regarding my (unexplained, extended) uterine hemorrhaging.
    We had quite the discussion about this (I was furious!) and shortly after that I left her care, forever. So yeah, doctors pulling this on patients really hits home with me, whether those patients are fat, or average or thin. It all comes down to the FEAR of FAT; or fear of getting fat, or fear of being fatter than someone else NOT fat, etc.

    • September 30, 2011 9:51 am

      You are dead on, Fab, it’s all about instilling fear, then broadcasting the fear of the contestant to an unwitting public who hears “32% risk” and, without any context, feels that fear as well. And his estimates on the effect obesity has on lifespan are ridiculous… everything I read puts the estimate of morbid obesity at around five years of life lost, but that’s more a function of activity level than actual weight. If you’ are sedentary then, yes, you may have a shorter lifespan. But just being a man puts me at greater risk for mortality, and I’m not about to undergo hormone replacement therapy in hopes of a longer life.


  4. vesta44 permalink
    September 29, 2011 3:08 pm

    I’ve never watched the show either, I’m not fond of throwing things at my TV and having to replace it because I’ve broken it (nor is my husband fond of hearing me tell the people on TV what asshats and douchecanoes they are, especially since my language gets rather, shall we say, colorful).
    As for this particular douchecanoe, all he’s doing is cashing in on the “overweight epipanic” – and it is, it’s a panic about “overweight”, not “obesity”. Check the numbers – worldwide, 1.5 billion people are overweight, and of those, only 500 million are obese. Now, if my math is right, that means that 2/3 of the fat people everyone is so hysterical about actually have a BMI of 25 to 30, and only 1/3 of the fat people have a BMI over 30. Not exactly an epidemic, and as atchka says, those of us who have a BMI over 50 are something like 0.42% of fat people (those headless fatties they show to scare everyone into thinking that fat people are taking over the world and going to eat everyone out of house and home and destroy the world as we know it).
    As for Bob Harper screaming at an NFL lineman, I’d like to see him face off against Antone Davis on the football field and see how long he’d last against him. Davis may be fat, but you can bet your ass there’s muscle under that fat and he would flatten Harper’s ass in a New York minute. Why the hell these people put up with that kind of abuse is beyond me. You can’t hate yourself thin and no one else can hate you thin – it just doesn’t work.
    As for the abuse and the unhealthy ways they promote weight loss on this show, yeah, why do you think they don’t do reunion shows? They don’t want anyone to know that most of the “contestants” have regained the weight they lost while they were on the show. They also don’t want anyone to know how the health of those contestants has fared since they were on the show (want to bet their health didn’t improve?). Color me cynical, but this isn’t reality television, it’s fantasy – The Fantasy of Being Thin through mental, emotional, and physical abuse. Not something I want to watch, thanks anyway.

    • sweet Priscilla permalink
      September 30, 2011 7:58 am

      ” you can’t hate yourself thin and no one else can hate you thin” wow Vesta, that’s quotable! Like on a tee shirt quoteable!

    • September 30, 2011 9:32 am

      douchecanoe….im stealing that one.

    • September 30, 2011 9:54 am

      HA! I love this: “this isn’t reality television, it’s fantasy.” So true!

      And my dream is to see one of these contestants snap and wring Bob Harper’s neck. In this episode, he was with the team that got up at 5 a.m. and he was so obnoxiously manic I began summoning my Jedi powers to throw Davis on top of him. It didn’t work.


  5. September 30, 2011 10:23 am

    I am so glad that I don’t have cable.

    • September 30, 2011 11:19 am

      Don’t fret, vitty, it’s on NBC! And you can watch it for FREE on Hulu! Hooray!


      • October 1, 2011 8:33 am

        Thank goodness we don’t get Hulu in Canada, hehe. I doubt I coould watch this show without throwing stuff.

  6. MissFay permalink
    September 30, 2011 12:08 pm

    I hate the Biggest Loser too. They won’t be happy until they push somebody to their death.

  7. lifeonfats permalink
    September 30, 2011 9:09 pm

    I wonder how many contestants they turn away because they don’t fit their “casting” of the ultimate self-loathing fatty who could make for some good pathetic melodrama. At least Celebrity Fit Club had people who would mouth off to the trainers about how bogus they were, but again that could be the result of some creative editing.

    And about the diabetes predictions, if that “doctor” had any sort of rational thinking, he would realize that regardless of body weight, if you someone has a serious family history of genetics, there’s a good chance that he or she may develop the disease. But all he sees is fat and suddenly, he’s Nostradamus. He must have went to the MeMe Roth School of Body Bullshit.

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