The XX Factor

Jillian Michaels Is Not the Answer to America’s Obesity Problem

I don’t usually watch The Biggest Loser , but I paused on it for a second while flipping channels earlier this week. I was struck by the cruelty in trainer Jillian Michaels’s face as she forced a woman to do many sprints in a row on a treadmill. Nostrils flaring, she seemed to take distinct joy in this woman’s struggle. I was reminded of this brief moment by Marc Ambinder’s comprehensive piece in this month’s Atlantic about the obesity crisis in America and his own bariatric surgery.

In the piece, he describes shows like The Biggest Loser as “a commercial gold mine that draws on the same kind of audiences that used to go to circus carnivals a century ago to peer at freakishly obese men and women.” It isn’t really about making these people healthy (and even the health benefits of TBL have been questioned ), it’s about shaming them. Ambinder also debunks Jillian Michaels’s “weight-loss secrets,” which she describes as “easier and more effective” than other fitness plans:

[Y]ou quickly realize that her day job is her secret; her celebrity status, which lets her see top-flight endocrinologists, is her secret; the freedom her status and position in life give her to follow a diet, that’s her secret. On The Biggest Loser , contestants are plucked out of their environment and social circle, sent to a weight-loss boot camp, and forced to radically change their calorie intake and output for several months. That’s one way to lose weight. But who, besides the very rich, or the very idle, can replicate the show’s setup?

That The Biggest Loser lifestyle is unrealistic is pretty well-worn territory , but it’s good to be reminded that not everyone has the resources to maintain the Michaels regimen. Maybe she is unsympathetic to her clients because she expects everyone to think her lifestyle is “easier.”