I had a really cool experience recently that doesn’t exactly happen every day. I got to see one of my friends, on TV!
My awesome, funny, kind-hearted and compassionate friend, Patrick Ferrari, was cast on this season of NBC’s hit show, The Biggest Loser. I told him as soon as I found out he had auditioned, “Pat, there’s no WAY they’re not gonna pick you! You’re gonna be on the show!!” And I was right!
I was thrilled to see Patrick lose 11 pounds his first week. I was moved to tears (big time) to watch him overcome emotional obstacles and gain the confidence he needed to start truly believing in himself. I was not at all surprised to see him selflessly sacrifice his spot on the show for the good of his teammates.
But I was absolutely heartbroken to see the unhealthy, USDA-driven, low-fat, crap-filled dietary doctrine pushed at Patrick by the well-meaning trainers on the show. Here he was, pushing his body to the absolute limit, subsisting on a diet that simply did not allow him what he needed to be healthy — nourishing, nutrient-dense food with plenty of fats for energy, recovery, and tissue repair. It was very difficult for me to watch. I wanted to reach through that TV screen and feed my dear Patrick some raw butter, pastured egg yolks, and a nice marbled, grass-fed T-bone!
Starving for Nutrition
I know I shouldn’t be surprised to watch them hock this horribly malnourishing diet at the contestants — after all, every Registered Dietitian in the country is supposed to push the same fat-free nonsense to everyone, especially those aiming to lose weight.
But it truly baffles me the degree to which the mainstream nutrition field chooses to ignore the science behind food. What does the body need for quick energy, such as with high-intensity activity for working out in a gym? FAT. What does it do with an overload of long-chain polyunsaturated oils? CREATE fat.
Here’s what you eat on the Biggest Loser diet:
The 4-3-2-1 Biggest Loser Pyramid sets the stage for number of servings from each of the food groups:
- 4 servings of fruits and vegetables
- 3 servings of protein — lean, vegetarian, or low-fat dairy
- 2 servings of whole grains
- 1 extra of fats, oils, sweets, alcohol, or your choice, equivalent to 200 calories (source)
A typical daily diet for a contestant on The Biggest Loser, or anyone who is following the brand’s meal plan, looks like this:
Breakfast: 1/2 serving protein, 1 serving whole grain, 1 serving fruit
Snack: 1/2 protein, 1 fruit
Lunch: 1 protein, 1/2 whole grain, 1 vegetable
Snack: 1/2 protein, 1 fruit
Dinner: 1/2 protein, 1/2 whole grain, 2 vegetables (source)
If you’re a Real Food follower like me, reading this list is surely making you wonder, “Where’s the fat?!” And how could you possibly consume enough calories (read: nutrients!) on a diet like that to sustain your body for a typical day, much less one filled with hours upon hours of strenuous exercise?
Thankfully, the diet at least appears to center around some amount of whole foods, and does advocate the inclusion of fresh produce. Except, no mention of course that it be from local, sustainably-farmed sources, nor that it be eaten with proper amounts of saturated fat to ensure that the FAT-SOLUBLE vitamins in those foods are actually assimilated!
Please — wake up, America! Fat doesn’t make you fat!*
(*except modern, industrially-processed vegetable oils and trans fatty acids — those definitely do!)
The Biggest Loser Diet, not surprisingly, advocates only minimal amounts of “healthy” fats. And guess what doesn’t make the cut — saturated fats! The very nutrient that an active body needs most, is not allowed on the Biggest Loser ranch. These poor contestants are working excruciatingly hard in the gym for HOURS every day — they need proper fuel, and they aren’t getting it!
Did you know that Olympic athletes in ancient Greece used to drink straight raw cream to fuel their bodies for endurance running? That’s because they knew the saturated fat in cream stabilizes blood sugar and leads to lasting energy without insulin spikes! (Okay maybe they didn’t exactly know about insulin, but, still.) So shouldn’t the hard working athletes-in-the-making on Biggest Loser be provided the same traditional nourishment?
Oh, no. Whole foods that naturally include healthy fats are shunned by Biggest Loser and virtually every dietitian in the country. It’s all a part of a corrupt system that caters to the subsidized, politicized Big Food industry, not the health of our people.
Follow the money
Anyone who watches the show can see that The Biggest Loser is obviously paid off by numerous companies within the corporate food industry to promote their processed, industrialized products. Some of these sponsors include:
- Subway. Those “heart-healthy” Subway sandwiches sure are full of it — and by “it,” I mean toxic junk. Think that “whole grain” bread counts as a part of your required daily servings on the BL diet? Well, the whole grain part of Subway’s “whole grain” bread, comes in fourth place on the ingredient list, right behind high fructose corn syrup and processed, refined white flour. That’s right. There’s more corn syrup than there is whole grain in the bread. Please don’t even get me started on what’s in their “chicken” or “steak.” (Hint: I stopped counting after the first fifty ingredients in one of them.)
- Yoplait yogurt. Among the stellar list of ingredients in this fine fake food are processed CAFO fat-free milk, oxidized and denatured powdered fat-free milk (which *ahem* — actually does cause stroke and heart disease), gelatin made from CAFO cow parts, genetically-modified corn starch and high fructose corn syrup (several teaspoons of the stuff in every cup), petrochemical food colorings, and chemical preservatives.
- Jennie-O. The food giants over at Cargill weren’t the only turkeys selling millions of pounds of diseased birds to consumers this year, which they later had to recall due to salmonella outbreaks. Okay, sorry, Jennie only had to recall 55,000 pounds, but the birds are still all from factory farm CAFOs with animals that are fed a steady diet of antibiotic-laced ground up animal parts and genetically-modified corn and endocrine-disrupting soy.
But there’s more money to be made in spreading nutritional misinformation than just by the products you see sponsored on the show.
The Biggest Loser Online Club has about 50,000 subscribers paying $19.95 a month “for diet and fitness information tailored to their goals.” Cheryl Forberg, RD, who helped to develop the program, had the following to say to WebMD about it:
“We emphasize the quality of the calories so you can meet your nutritional needs [and] enjoy more natural, healthy whole foods and lean proteins that will help you deal with hunger before it happens,” says Forberg.
And you won’t be eating any “appetite stimulating” white foods like bread, pasta, or potatoes.
The meal delivery program that the Biggest Loser brand sells through eDiets.com mails packaged, processed foods mostly devoid of the nutrition a person with a weigh loss goal needs, straight to your door. But, you can also buy toxic Biggest Loser protein powder, processed “shakes” and snack bars, and these packaged meals, called “Simply Sensible Entrées,” individually at stores like Wal-Mart. I wanted to try to get my hands on one so I could read the ingredient list, but I couldn’t find any. Curiously, the Simply Sensible website lists nutrition facts, but not ingredients. ‘Cause all that really matters is that they’re only around 200 calories per serving, right?
What I do know for certain, however, is that these processed meals are not “sensible” in the least. They undoubtedly contain CAFO meat from abused, diseased animals, providing hugely disproportionate ratios of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids; ingredients with genetically-modified organisms; and chemical preservatives, fillers, and everything else you would find in processed foods that have the “heart healthy” stamp of approval from the AHA — since it doesn’t have any of that dreaded saturated fat or cholesterol! Give me a BREAK.
“A” for Effort…
With all this said, I still very much appreciate The Biggest Loser for its intentions to get people healthy and for the way it has become a platform for everyday Americans to transform into inspirational figures who motivate others to achieve their goals. I’ve always loved the show for the way it portrays such meaningful, raw emotion (it’s very rare that I’m not moved to tears while watching it) and for what a huge impact it has made in so many lives. I know it has changed Patrick’s life for the better, and for that I am grateful.
And even though the Biggest Loser diet is basically just a “lite” version of the SAD, it does have some redeeming qualities as I mentioned earlier. They claim to emphasize whole foods, fresh produce, and avoidance of trans fats — and those are all good things. It’s definitely a step up from eating a dozen Big Macs in a sitting as some of the contestants have admitted to doing in their days prior to coming onto the BL ranch.
But it’s missing so much of what’s needed (read: (NOURISHMENT!) for healthy weight loss that I would never in a million years recommend someone go the Biggest Loser route for achieving a healthy body weight.
A Smarter Way to Lose Weight
If I were to advise anyone with a weight loss goal on what their diet ought to look like, I would hand them this book — Eat Fat, Lose Fat by Dr. Mary Enig and Sally Fallon. You cannot establish health while cutting out one of the most important nutrients our bodies are designed to thrive on — saturated fats. Weight loss is no different. This book teaches how to use healthy fats in your diet to accomplish weight loss goals in a manner that makes biological sense and has lasting permanence, as opposed to a diet like on Biggest Loser that creates malnourishment and cravings which first lead to denial, stress and guilt, and then to overeating and “yo-yo” dieting. Or worse, for all the weight to come flooding back, just like with this Biggest Loser winner who gained back 175 pounds after the show. Starving yourself of fat is clearly not the right way to lose weight.
A nourishing diet is crucial. Weight loss is much more about eating the right foods than it is about exercise — and actually, I’m not really keen on all the chronic cardio that goes on in the Biggest Loser gym, but maybe that’s a topic for another day. It’s a shame that the working out aspect is the focus of the show, especially when what should be the focus — proper nutrition counseling — is so grossly misrepresented.
Maybe someday, there will be enough of us Real Foodies in the world to buck the low-fat trend and get nourishing foods in mainstream media like Biggest Loser! Let’s all keep spreading the word.
What do you think about the Biggest Loser show and the nutrition advice it promotes? Have you ever tried to lose weight on a low-fat diet? How would you like to see contestants like my friend, Patrick, be advised in their weight loss goals?
Oh, and P.S., everyone please root for Patrick to win the marathon on the show so he can get into the finals! I wanna see him win this thing. And then, I’ll buy him a copy of Eat Fat, Lose Fat and a nice hunk of grass-fed butter to congratulate him. 😉