No Magic Pill

Knowledge + effort + time = success

When “health” becomes a game show…

Posted by Ben on Sunday, January 4, 2009

So, we’re already a few days into 2009. How are things going? For me, I’m approaching a full month away from formal training, so “antsy” doesn’t begin to cover it, but I’m this close to being pain-free (shoulder, hip)—all this throughout-the-day corrective work I’ve been doing must be helping (not to mention I probably just needed the break after promoting imbalances for several months, silly rabbit). I’ve made a couple concerted efforts to start formal training again, but literally every time I’ve started to head down to the basement, one of the dogs gets sick—if it’s not the puppy piddling in the floor, it’s the big boy barfing bits of hard plastic he decided looked yummy, meaning dogs get wiped up, floor gets mopped, and laundry gets started. Needless to say, I have plenty of fodder for that “bare necessities” post I’ve mentioned yet not written (I’m actually writing this post off and on at work today while it’s slow; the other post is taking longer as I’m having to go back and look for a good, short, quick-hit list of stuff). At any rate, I’ll have some belated New Year’s links coming up.

Aside from the expected election campaign-esque glut of commercials around this time of year for “fitness” and “health” items rather than politicians (though all make promises they ultimately won’t/can’t keep), I’ve noticed more frequent and sensational commercials for the show The Biggest Loser. I’ve never seen the show and have no desire to—ever—but apparently it’s now too much work for individuals to do the show, so this season is taking a page from The Amazing Race (haven’t seen that one, either) and making it a two-person team thing, the difference being that TAR has people busting hump to get places while TBL just has people (supposedly) busting hump. On top of that, TBL is screaming about having its heaviest-ever contestant (who, lo and behold, hails from good ol’ North Carolina—way to go, PR machine!) at four hundred-plus pounds. Wanna hazard a guess as to who has the inside track on winning this season? (Note: I have no idea if the game is won based on raw weight lost or percentage of starting body weight or what. I don’t care. It’s all ridiculous.). I probably don’t need to express (again) my inherent skepticism at the “personal trainers” supervising the weight loss in a “safe and recommended manner through comprehensive diet and exercise” other than to say this: the show is on a deadline to fit into a TV season, meaning there’s a deadline to drop whatever weight can be dropped, meaning I’d bet dimes to dollars that if a contestant really wanted to, he/she could take some extreme, even dangerous measures to shed pounds. Frankly, I’m just waiting for someone to die, and I’m also willing to bet that the show’s producers don’t go out and do feel-good montages of the continuing, successful lifestyle changes previous contestants embrace. I digress…

The questions that popped into my head during one of these commercials are (possible rant warning):

1. When did weight loss have to become a game show? Are people so helpless that they have to have the incentive of millions of people watching, a dozen people tracking their every movement, and a $250,000 prize? Is a long, fruitful life of being able to, oh I dunno, walk, bend, squat, and so on not enough of a reward? Hell, even my health insurance provider has a “fit lifestyle” rewards system (how they track it, I don’t know; all I know is that my premium goes up at least 25% every year for no f*cking reason). It seems to be akin to a “condition” I recently read about called Truman syndrome, where the “afflicted” believe their lives are actually a TV show and that they are being watched and manipulated at all times. Hear me now and listen to me later: You. Are. Not. That. Important. Get over it (by first getting up off the couch). Seriously, though, why does it take so much incentive to make life at least bearable and average rather than being painful and short-of-breath? No one held a gun to your head until you ballooned to three hundred pounds in the first place.

2. What kind of person(s) would watch a show like TBL? The same people who watch Jerry Springer: people who want to feel better about themselves by looking at how messed up other people are. I’m willing to bet that a large portion of the audience could stand to be on the show themselves (TBL and/or Springer). If you want feel-good stories, grab a Reader’s Digest. If you need to wallow in others’ misery to feel better about yourself, then you’re no better than they are (likely worse). If you’re really that hard-up for entertainment, either turn the channel to Discovery and actually learn something, or turn off the TV (no, really, I’m serious) and find a book/magazine/park/sidewalk. Those things do exist, and in great quantities.

3. What about the people who want to but can’t participate on this show? Part of the answer lies with question #2. The other part lies with my comments about the show’s producers. This show, just like 99% of the “health” and/or “fitness” products being peddled, is a temporary fix. I may be horribly mistaken about the follow-up stories from previous seasons (really, this is season 5!), but even if they do happen, they aren’t promoted. People don’t want feel-good; they want fat bastard (not to mention wanting the excuse that the contestants have supervision while the person watching the show just doesn’t have the time/money/backbone). The results, like the program, are temporary, short-lived, and not an internal shift. I’ll admit that there’s a SLIGHT possibility that something like this MIGHT be the much-needed kick in the pants for a couple people, but by and large, this is an external stimulus suppressing internal conviction (or lack thereof), not an actual internal change in resolve to maintain and improve upon the changes, and that’s just with something like this that’s closely supervised (and in the case of the show, practically compulsory). Even the accountability is temporary and largely ethereal (the millions of viewers might take their dismay and ridicule to Internet discussion boards, but that’s about it).

Reality TV in general is arguably the worst creation since daytime talk shows or maybe soap operas (no coincidence all are related to TV). Making personal health the cash cow for ratings and advertising dollars is… well… I can’t think of a civilized word that adequately expresses my disdain, but it ain’t good.

Housekeeping note: I’ll be going back and re-categorizing my posts over the next few weeks to make them more relevant only to the topics of discussion rather than including the links as well. As it is, I could legitimately categorize every post as everything, meaning the categories are pointless. Hey, I’m learning :P

New Year’s leftovers: three R’s, why resolutions don’t work (someone must’ve read my last post, but you’ll probably make them anyway), both NROL books went to paperback so go buy them, Eric’s rotten resolutions, hey from Ross, hey from Cassandra, hey from (long lost) Geoff, hey from Mark, Brian recommends some books, Tony’s last hurrah and first hatred, events and people to watch, websites to avoid, Times Square tech (pictures and goodies), Wired’s top thirteen stories, top videos, top vaporware, ten green tech breakthroughs, ten photo galleries, 2009 movie guide, predicting gaming trends.

Body bits: the fitness trifecta, randomness training, dealing with frozen ankles, Charles Atlas and (lack of) weights, homemade T-handles, grab bag of tools for mobility and rehab, corrective exercise myths, got snow and/or trees?

Edibles: a small reason to read labels, two proper studies supporting low-carbing, Paul continues his Trader Joe’s whoring (he got me hooked on their turkey chili), reason to question peanuts and green tea (not that I’m ready to decrease my own consumption), a Willy Wonka to feed the world, a university teaches Precision Nutrition.

Mind matters: memory decline may affect blood sugar control, different brains take different risks.

Kiddie corner: forty years of coaching, some teen diabetes cured with gastric bypass, virginity pledges don’t work.

Fiscal fitness: gadgets for hard times, get second opinions.

General health: as if you needed more reason to sleep, sun stuff, hazards of third-hand smoke.

Geek-out:
—Transportation: greening of motorcycles, Lotus scans polar ice, quest for the 300mph helicopter.
—Tech stuff: Windows 7 Beta leaked, BlackBerry for n00bs, Twittering up the US image, another Internet threat come and gone (hopefully), 30GB Zunes dying, quarter-century of Mac, Zambonis phasing out, DIY genetic engineering.
—Nature: hair as fertilizer, Jurassic Park of agriculture, carbon-neutral gym (machines still suck), a case for diversity, why Neanderthal disappeared, beauty of evolution, Hubble’s namesake says we’re not alone, Dark Skies Awareness.
—Miscellaneous: Mac that’s not a Mac, how YouTube is changing social interaction, from ice cubes to ice castles, packing for an apocalypse.

Git r dun:
—Do your behaviors match your goals?
—Hope and recovery.
—Good guys do succeed.
Can’t.
—You don’t have to like it. You just have to do it.

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