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The Biggest Frauds

In a dramatic change to the brand, The Biggest Loser Australia: Transformed, which premiered onChannel Ten last night, seems to be “going legit”. Rather than the usual voyeuristic, fat-shaming parade of overweight to morbidly obese people criticising their reflections, we were met with more ‘relatable’ contestants. Obviously trying to distance themselves from ex-trainer Michelle Bridges controversial comment last year “I’m yet to meet someone who is morbidly obese and happy”, the contestants this year range from 78.1kgs to 147.7kgs. Nikki, a 25-year-old mother from Queensland, weighed in at a mere 78.1kgs, that is 7kgs heavier than the average weight for an Australian woman. And while Nikki’s reasons for joining the program are easy to understand, The Biggest Loser has continually been proven as an ineffective way to lose weight and keep it off. In the original incarnation of the program, we were met with young extremely fit, under-qualified personal trainers yelling at morbidly obese people as they tried their hardest to keep up with a relentless exercise program. Simultaneously having their will-power put to the test regularly with ‘food challenges’ where they were rewarded with prizes if they gave in to temptation, but physically punished later on for being mentally weak. Not once were long-term goals or mental health considered and since the show began in Australia in 2004, majority of contestants have gone on to regain weight and criticise the show for its lack of long-term support. Previously, TBL was a guilty pleasure, indulged upon by those fortunate enough to not be at a point where they were willing to turn to reality television to gain help for complex health issues which resulted in extreme weight gain. In this new incarnation, TBL is attempting to detach themselves from their fat-shaming stigma and appeal to ‘every day’ Australians. And while this welcomed change could be an opportunity for Channel Ten to showcase healthy weight loss techniques and start a conversation about the complexities of health, body image and chronic disease; instead we are still met with a superficial ‘team of experts’. Shannan Ponton, is a trainer who has been with TBL since Season 2; and while there is no doubt that Shannan may have legitimate experience and qualifications to treat a healthy population, the information about his specific education is lacking. His personal website describes him as a group-fitness/Les Mills veteran but without any mention of tertiary qualifications. The new Michelle, Libby Babet, is described as a “journalist and health and fitness specialist” who owns two fitness businesses and regularly writes for various publications. Her profile on TBL’s website also spruiks her ‘natural whole-food protein bar’ which we will undoubtedly see the contestants snacking on in between workouts. The other new addition to the team is Glenn Mackintosh, a weight management psychologist; and while this is TBL: Transformed’s first indication of including real-life, long-term changes that could be applicable to the contestants after leaving the show, it still seems hard to imagine the majority of the program being dedicated to psychology sessions, despite the well-established link between psychology/mental health and weight management. If TBL was really “going legit” they would have industry appropriate professionals in Exercise Physiologists and Dietitians. Entire Allied Health professions exist whose scope of practices are to assist people with chronic and complex conditions reach realistic and sustainable goals, particularly in the realm of weight management. If TBL really wants us to believe that a leopard can change its fat-shaming spots, then it needs to start by employing those qualified to do so.

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