The biggest loser turns out to be a turn-off

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Depictions of screaming trainers and people vomiting are a deterrent to exercise and healthy living, new research reveals.

A new study by the University of Alberta has found The Biggest Loser creates negative attitudes toward working out. The popular NBC series shows a group of overweight and obese people attempting to shed pounds while dieting and exercising under extreme conditions.

“The problem with these shows is that they show such extreme negative depictions of people crying and throwing up,” said Tanya Berry, co-author of the study and an associate professor in the University’s physical education department.

“In reality nobody exercises that way.”

The study split 138 undergraduate students into two groups. The first group watched a seven-minute clip from The Biggest Loser, showing participants struggling with their workout at the start of the season.

The other group watched a segment from American Idol, a talent show. Though unrelated in themes, Berry said both shows cater to the same age group.

After viewing the clips, participants were asked a series of questions and filled out an electronic questionnaire to measure their attitudes toward exercising.

Berry said the students felt much more positive about fitness and losing weight after watching American Idol, while The Biggest Loser achieved the opposite effect.

Servus Place exercise specialist Brittany Uchach said the show is motivational as it shows people reaching their goal, but it does not deal with people’s emotional issues and necessary lifestyle changes. Unless you shut yourself off from the world, losing four pounds a week was simply impossible, she said.

“The TV show takes these people and they don’t have to go to work and people cook for them and they train at least for three hours a day. It’s not exactly accurate,” she said.

Uchach trains people at a fitness program similar to the show.

The Bigger Winner helps overweight participants shape up through physical challenges, advice from a dietitian and training classes. Much like the show, one person wins at the end of the course for losing the most weight.

Instead of making people feel guilty about their weight, Uchach said the class receives friendly advice and exercises at a manageable pace – three times a week for five hours total. The course lasts for three months and it remains up to participants how hard they work on their fitness goals.

“We give them the tools and we coach them and what they do from there is their decision. We promote a healthy lifestyle change rather than a quick fix,” she said.

Berry said no one outside the show would be able or willing to stick through a rigorous exercise challenge as depicted on The Biggest Loser.

Many of the study’s participants said they never wanted to gain that much weight, or work that hard on losing weight, she said. The participants’ level of exercise had no bearing on the results.

She added that funding for public health messages is limited, while people are faced with a relentless input from fitness magazines. Shows like The Biggest Loser are counterproductive to informing the public on healthy living, she said.

“There’s so many different perceptions of exercise, and magazines that say you end up looking like a supermodel and the public health message gets lost and people get confused,” she said.

The research group is currently working on a follow-up study that will show how later episodes of The Biggest Loser affect viewers. These clips show the participants after they lost a significant amount of weight and feel better about their workout.

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