It’s not a good week for The Biggest Loser. First, I read this post, which discloses some of the horrible aspects of the show by a former contestant. And then I saw this quote, from Shannan Ponton, a male trainer on the Australian version of TBL:
Reading this made me feel very sad and, after sharing it on my Facebook page, I saw that it angered a lot of people too.
Let’s first consider Shannan’s claim that you should eat plain, bland food to remove the emotional attachment from food.
I firmly believe there is no reason whatsoever why your food can’t taste great and why eating can’t be an enjoyable experience, yet also conducive to weight loss. Losing weight is ultimately about consuming less calories than you expend via the manipulation of food choices and portion sizes. It is completely possible, although perhaps not ideal from a health perspective, to lose weight eating nothing but junk food. The whole If It Fits Your Macros phenomenon is based on the very idea that you should be able to eat all types of food within reason and lose fat – and even step on stage.
Asking people to eat dry, overcooked and unseasoned food is a recipe for failure, and it is promoting a completely disordered way of eating. How many people would stick to that diet without crumbling after more than a day? Statements like this only promote the untrue idea that eating healthy and exercising regularly is all too hard for the average Joe.
If trainers are teaching contestants on TBL that they must eat plain food and never enjoy a meal, then is it any surprise that many of them gain weight immediately after leaving the show? Instead of putting contestants through such an extreme approach to weight loss, would it not be more useful to teach them how to prepare healthy and delicious meals that will encourage sustainable weight loss? Of course, that would not be as good for ratings.
Food should never be viewed as good or bad and, if you are dieting right, you should be able to include all kinds of foods in your diet – provided you want to.
There is nothing wrong with adding salt, pepper and other spices to your meal or – heaven forbid – cooking your meat and vegetables in sauce. When I worked with a bodybuilding coach, he asked me to cut out all forms of seasoning. I wasn’t even doing a proper contest prep! While I do understand the reasoning behind cutting sodium (and have recently done it myself to make weight), it is nonsensical – not to mention dangerous – to do it for more than a few days right before a competition.
If I give Shannan the benefit of the doubt and assume that he is in favour of such an extreme approach only for those who suffer from food addiction, and not the general population, I can somewhat understand where he is coming from. Sometimes, when a person is addicted to meals high in fat, sugar and salt, the best plan of attack is indeed a cold turkey approach. But that doesn’t mean you can’t prepare healthy meals of proteins, complex carbs and healthy fats full of flavour. There are plenty of cookbooks and blogs out there which feature such recipes.
For those struggling with food addiction, it helps to concentrate on your food. Bingeing is often done mindlessly – you are aware that you are doing it, but you lose all sensation of pleasure after a few mouthfuls. Turn off the TV and remove all distractions when you eat your meal. I promise it will taste better and you will appreciate it more, even if it’s something as simple as fish and green veggies.
Yes, some people use food as an emotional crutch. They eat when they are depressed, angry, stressed or even as a reward when they are happy. In this case, I can understand cutting back on more of the unhealthy culinary options, but again there is no reason why you can’t make healthy food taste great.
I am seriously baffled by the last paragraph. What is wrong with preparing healthy food and exercising some portion control? There is no reason you can’t make smaller servings of a recipe so that you don’t end up with leftovers, or immediately packing away any leftovers you do have.
When I get home from the gym in the evening, I’m usually starving – even after I’ve finished eating. I tend to cook enough for two or three meals at a time which, according to Shannan’s theory, would see me wolfing down the whole lot. Once I have finished cooking, I serve my plate and then immediately pack the leftovers into tupperware. I concentrate on my meal and then wait 15-20 minutes for my food to go down. Nine times out of ten, my hunger disappears and I don’t break into my leftovers.
I have certainly been in a place where I viewed food strictly as fuel, and refused to eat anything that wasn’t “clean”. I looked better than I probably ever have, but I also lost out on all the pleasurable aspects of eating which I enjoy so much now. I would hate to be afraid to eat a non-tupperware meal in the company of friends, or have to panic about eating something “off-plan”.
Nowadays, I enjoy every single thing I eat. The vast majority of it is healthy (even if I do use seasoning!), but I’m not afraid to eat things Shannan would probably recoil in horror from. After years of monitoring my nutrition closely, I have a good idea of what foods negatively affect me. When I eat too much sugar or dairy, it affects my performance in the gym. In the lead-up to competitions, I typically eat healthier than usual with minimal junk as I don’t want something I eat to affect my strength or make me feel sluggish. There is no reason I can’t gain (almost) as much pleasure from some chicken and sweet potato as from a burger.
Yes, I frequently eat chicken and vegetables, but I marinate my chicken and dress my vegetables in olive oil, balsamic vinegar and honey. If you asked me to choke down dry chicken and steamed greens five times a day, I would laugh in your face.
What do you think of Shannan’s claims? Do you think “eating clean” must be a miserable experience?