Dr. Seth Meyers, Clinical Psychologist

Dr. Seth Meyers, Clinical Psychologist

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Guest Blogger: Amanda Kane, LSW

Are you Below the Yellow Line?

Lately, I've been watching The Biggest Loser, and I find it pretty riveting TV. As many of you probably know, this reality program sequesters contestants at a weight-loss ranch and films them losing massive amounts of weight. The experts at the ranch give contestants the tools, advice, and most importantly the time to reflect on their health and goals.

While many reality shows seem to attract contestants who simply want their 15 minutes of fame, The Biggest Loser has a different pool of contestants. The people on this TV show are truly at the end of their rope in terms of attempting to lose weight--many are on the path to untimely death. If you've ever watched the show, it is clear that the contestants are in a lot of emotional pain.

In this blog, Dr. Meyers and I often write about topical issues relating to mental health and relationships. These problems are frequently private--problems that an individual can hide from co-workers, family members, sometimes even romantic partners. Having a weight problem is different because it is so public. Everyone knows. Navigating society's reaction to your body is a reality that obese people must cope with on a daily basis. It is very painful and intrusive to have others make snap judgements about you based on your body size.

This pain can perpetuate the cycle that leads to obesity. We live in a society that values the superficial. If you can't get into a pair of skinny jeans then you may begin to question your self-worth. If you don't feel good about yourself, you may not take the time and energy that is necessary for exercising and planning healthful meals. Thinner people get positive reinforcement about their appearance, which probably helps them maintain their weight.

I like The Biggest Loser because it gives the contestants a couple of tools which are invaluable for weight loss--social support and time for true introspection. Because the contestants are removed from the "real" lives they are forced to prioritize themselves and examine some of the issues that brought them to this place. The social support of the other contestants playing the game reinforces each individuals motivation to change. A safe space is created where the contestants can begin to examine their emotional baggage. It truly seems secondary that they are playing a game where the person who loses the highest % of body weight is crowned "The Biggest Loser" and gets $250,000 in prize money.

While most of us do not have the luxury of dropping out of our regular lives to film a weight-loss TV show, I think it is important to incorporate both social support and introspection into any weight-loss plan. The idea of social support (and accountability) is what makes programs like Weight Watchers successful. Because significant weight loss isn't as simple as eating less and exercising more, I would encourage readers on their own weight journey to talk to a therapist. Or join a support group (online or with friends) to connect with other dieters with similar weight-loss goals. Dieters need to express the range of emotions that comes with significant life change. Losing weight is really hard work and everyone needs validation and support to sustain their motivation. Spring is a great time to start fresh and incorporate these elements into a weight-loss plan.

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