Rapid reality TV weight loss concerns experts

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

Kylie is 30 years old and weighs more than 90 kilos - and while she likes watching weight-loss reality shows on TV, she knows they are not realistic.

"I think they are great for motivating people. And in terms of being a watcher I go 'that would be great if I could do something like that'. But in terms of it being realistic to the average person it seems like it's more of a lotto draw."

"For me to do something like that I'd have to give up work because there is so much exercise," she says.

As a new series of The Biggest Loser and its new competitor Excess Baggage hit Australian screens, health experts are concerned about the messages these shows send viewers.

Dietitian Dr Karen Inge hopes that people watch the shows for entertainment value rather than to learn something.

"What really, really concerns me is that the people we're seeing on screen are not just five or 10 kilos overweight, they are in some cases morbidly obese and there are enormous risks associated with losing weight without supervision," she says.

"The contestants on these shows have enormous support - they have dietitians, cardiologists, the full kit and kaboodle looking after them."

Dr Inge says she hopes people don't think this is the way to lose weight.

"Because if they try and emulate what these people are doing on screen at home without having a medical assessment they could be putting themselves at risk," she says.

"I happened to watch The Biggest Loser and I find some of it quite degrading for the individuals, and I'm not really sure that a lot of very overweight people could stand to watch the show. I think it's for people who have actually never had a weight problem," Dr Inge says.

Sydney-based personal trainer Amy Mitchell says viewers need to realise there is a right way and wrong way to lose weight.

"I love watching the shows but I think they portray an unrealistic and potentially dangerous way of losing weight."

Mitchell, the director of Goddess Outdoor Fitness, says a contestant on The Biggest Loser has already suffered an Achilles tendon injury.

"If you have someone who's morbidly obese and you throw them into these extreme exercise regimes injuries are inevitable," she says.

Already Britney Spears' ex-husband Kevin Federline, who stars in Excess Baggage, has been rushed to hospital after a suspected heart attack.

The former dancer was doing a challenge with an AFL team when he displayed symptoms of minor cardiac arrest. He was taken by ambulance to Sydney's Mt Druitt Hospital, although an ECG revealed he hadn't suffered a heart attack.

Melbourne-based Kylie, who has struggled with her weight her whole life, thinks the reality shows are good to kick-start people into losing weight for the short term.

"But a lot of people don't understand that you have to change everything for a long time and maintain it, which is really really hard in reality."

Kylie says that being overweight makes her depressed so she thinks The Biggest Loser's angle this season of finding love is good for ratings.

"It's not a matter of people will only like you if you're skinny, it's because you don't really like yourself and it does have an effect on relationships," she admits.

Kylie says she hasn't consulted a doctor for a medical but she is very in tune with herself about how she pushes herself.

In the past she's used a personal trainer but now goes to a gym.

"I love running, but for now I've been walking and I've found that spin classes help because I'm not putting a lot of impact on my knees and it helps me get the weight off so I can start running again.

"There are also a lot more healthy options for food out there these days which is good, too," says Kylie, who is working toward her ideal weight of 70-75kg.

Personal trainer Mitchell says: "When I have an overweight client or someone who is not used to exercise, I start them off slowly with walking and some light resistance training and progress as their health and fitness improves."

She says a realistic goal for those wanting to shed kilos is half to one kilo a week.

"Any more than that then you are losing water weight and muscle mass which you don't want to do if you want to maintain the weight-loss long term."

Dr Inge says The Biggest Loser and Excess Baggage aim for rapid weight loss, which cannot be permanently maintained.

For those in the real world wanting to lose weight, she says it's about not making unrealistic goals.

"Just change a few habits. Everyone can lose weight - but it's all about maintaining weightloss.

"It's not about standing on the scales and saying: 'Look, I've lost four kilos'.

"I find that very frustrating. It's about your changing habits to manage your weight in the long term.

"It's much better to be a little bit overweight than have this yo-yo diet syndrome.

"But if they (the shows) can inspire people to adopt a healthier lifestyle then it's a good thing.

Kylie admits she'll be watching the shows for the full season. "I'm excited to see people's transformation."

- AAP

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