I listen to a Biggest Loser Fan podcast, because it's always interesting to hear what someone else thought of the show. They're always an episode or two behind where I am in watching the show, so they were talking about Episode 2 of the current season, where Dr. H. gives the contestants a look at how their weight is affecting their health. The guys on the podcast talked about the message Dr. H. gave as underscoring the risk that the extra weight could be deadly for these contestants, especially Michael, who started the show at more than 500 pounds.
I really think that's the wrong message to focus on, though that's the one we hear the most.
It's true that the extra weight is bad for the contestants' health. Still, we know that there are plenty of obese people walking around who don't seem to be in any imminent risk of death. The message that the weight is going to kill the contestants is exactly the wrong message to send.
I think most people would hear that, shrug, and think, "Oh well, I have to die of something someday." I know because both of my parents are smokers, and that is their attitude. They imagine themselves dying at, say 77 instead of 87, and know that the last few years of their parents' lives were no picnic, and think they wouldn't be missing out on that much. I think the same is true for the contestants on "The Biggest Loser."
I am very skeptical of the claim that obesity is a greater health risk than smoking, but even if it is, the question of what changes to make are obviously a lot less clear. If you are a smoker, you are almost guaranteed to improve your health if you stop smoking. There is a lot less clear path to how to lose weight -- yes, there is the basic premise of reducing calorie input while increasing output -- because of all the fad diets and confusing information out there. You could conceivably lose weight in a way that was unhealthy enough to put you more at risk, like if you took diet pills or did some kind of wacky fad diet. Or you could just start buying more "diet" foods and not really curb your overall calorie intake, and just end up increasing the weird chemicals you ingest.
When the focus is on the future risk, people don't think about the current costs. It is interesting, though, when the study compared the effects of obesity to "aging from 30 to 50 years." That is a message that is more straightforward than "lose weight or die." When Michael watched Bob "put on" Michael's extra weight, the real cost of that weight became clearer to both of them. Bob said his hips and knees hurt so much he could hardly stand. Michael had to be incredibly strong just to walk around on a daily basis in that body, so he was unlikely to do anything extra. Michael is a relatively healthy person in his 20s, but he was living like someone much older and sicker because his weight restricted him so much in what he could do. Just walking around in a grocery store would probably wear him out, so the kind of workouts he now does on "The Biggest Loser" would have been unimaginable.
Think about all the everyday, ordinary activities that would be hard for someone his size: Helping a friend move. Cleaning the house. Grocery shopping, bringing in, and putting away the groceries. Painting a room. Reaching something off a high shelf. Traveling, especially by air.
Being limited like that for the remainder of my years would be a lot scarier a prospect than the difference between dying at 77 and 87.
Even now, with only 20 or so pounds to lose, there are still costs of not being at my goal weight. I'm sure my foot problem wouldn't have happened if I weighed less because I'd be putting less pressure on my feet. I can't just go in to any store and find something I like that fit -- most stores seem to stock one or two of each item in my size and buy many more 6s and 8s. I also am always dressing carefully to try to de-emphasize my problem areas, which would be unnecessary if I didn't have problem areas. I am going to be in a wedding in a few months, and that could be a lot of fun, but not if I'm worried about how I look in my dress. I also think of all the people I encounter who seem to judge me as not very knowledgeable about food or exercise because I'm not thinner.
I was talking to someone about this and she immediately tried to make me feel better, but it's not about being down on myself -- these are facts. I can keep trying to pretend that everything's OK the way it is or I can accept this as the current reality and act on my intention to change it.