Image: Tiffiny Hall digs into a burger (Channel 10).
The 10th season of The Biggest Loser Australia — sorry, TBL Families — is officially upon us.
This year, the program has a new twist: each of the coaches is required to spend a week at home with their assigned family, adopt their diet and lifestyle, and join the weigh-in. On last night’s episode, the four trainers — Michelle Bridges, Steve ‘Commando’ Willis, Tiffiny Hall and Shannon Ponton — were visibly horrified by the calorie-heavy dishes being served up to them.
Commando’s first breakfast comprised cold chicken, chips and a bottle of soft drink; while Ponton was served a family-sized lasagna for lunch, then an entire Bavarian chocolate cake with ice cream as a snack.
Meanwhile, Bridges was driven to tears by her breakfast of soft drink, sugary cereal, ice cream and pizza, telling her family, “I cant believe you eat like this. This is really awful.”
"It affects you psychologically. We couldn’t train that week but even if I had been allowed to and wanted to, I couldn’t. I was so bloated my stomach had expanded out like I was four months pregnant," Tiffiny Hall said in a recent News.com.au interview.
“My skin broke out ... by day two I had the worst hormonal acne, so it just shows you’re living on preservatives and chemicals and sugar and I was ravenous.”
You can see where TBL's producers were going with this — having four insanely healthy judges live in their not-so-virtuous contestants' shoes for a week makes for compelling viewing, and illustrating and spreading education on the benefits of healthy eating is important.
Plus, in signing up for the programme, the contestants are surely aware that their lifestyle will be under heavy scrutiny (set to an appropriately emotive soundtrack).
However, is making people feel bad about their eating habits really the way to encourage them to make a positive change?
"The Biggest Loser is pretty famous for not only fat shaming but food shaming, especially when they've got a whole bunch of the person's typical food and laid it out in front of them like a stick to beat them with," says Nicole Senior, Accredited Practising Dietician and Nutritionist. (Post continues after gallery.)
"To have someone who you know is at peak fitness and health to be eating badly on purpose for a week, I don't know how inspiring that is."
Senior says associating negative emotions with food choices isn't a helpful approach when encouraging someone to take control of their health.
"We need to avoid establishing a 'food fight', if you like, where it's a constant battle. It's more helpful if we disassociate food from emotions, especially emotions such as guilt."
Making people feel ashamed of their food choices can also negative impact their confidence, she adds. "You need a lot of self confidence to change your lifestyle and behaviour."
"Want to eat that slice of cheesecake at your local cafe? Go for it. Just make it a “sometimes food”. And if someone gives you flak for it, put them in their place ... Tell them to keep their questionable opinions to themselves," he said.
Although Senior is not convinced shows like The Biggest Loser create positive behavioural changes among audience members, she says it could be beneficial for some viewers who see their own food choices reflected in those of the contestants.
"It may identify where someone's eating habits have become normal for them, but they're actually not a good 'normal'. Sometimes people don't know much about what other people eat, it's a very personal activity," she says. (Post continues after video.)
"Sometimes shows can point out that, you know what, it's probably not a good 'normal' to eat this much 'sometimes food' or this much takeaway or to eat such massive portions. You can fall into a sense of blissful ignorance when you're eating badly — to see it on the screen, it might force the viewer in the same sit to think, 'Oh okay, maybe what I'm doing is not that great'."
As for this season's focus on health being a family affair? It's a positive one.
"It's something that really works the best if the whole family's pulling together. We know it's an effective way to achieve positive lifestyle behaviour change, so it'd be fantastic if families understand that," Senior says.
Do you think The Biggest Loser's new twist is a form of food shaming? Have you ever been shamed for your eating choices?