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on weighty goals & waiting for change

Weight loss and wedding bells seem to be waltzing hand in hand to the theme song of the Ten Network’s Biggest Loser Singles.The program’s enthusiastic press release claims that this year the contestants will be ‘seeking the companionship that their weight has long denied them’. Whether or not you find the equation of obesity and perpetual singledom problematic, nobody can deny that this year’s Loser journey will be fast paced. As will, perhaps, competitor programs like Excess Baggage. The Aussie TV landscape likes to start the year with a barrage of self improvement, and every New Year’s resolution has to happen at a manic pace.

Which raises the question – how can you best reach that January goal? Will slashing and burning a bad habit get you through the pain, or is the old adage about the slow tortoise more accurate? When it comes to health on the telly, one can say that the faster and more furious the changes, the better. This has attracted criticism from body image experts, dietitians and doctors. For some, diet programs are a guilty pleasure, others a demonstration of our insistent voyeurism. Self-help reality shows like Biggest Loser, however, have always encouraged a certain amount of audience participation. Whether this is around purchasing tie-in health care products, or, as Ten will spruik this year, jumping on the bandwagon to lose 1 million kilos, this reality programming asks for more input than just texting to oust the most nasal voiced contestant.

The Biggest Loser Club, an online resource that ties in with the program and assists home viewers to shed the kilos, doesn’t skimp on the inspirational tales. Under the ‘FAQs’, the program promises to enable weight loss ‘between 0.5 and 1kg a week.’ This seems fair, given that health care professionals signal that rate of loss as the healthiest and easiest to maintain. If this slower, easier rate of loss is what Loser can offer at home viewers, why then does the pilot week of each series see contestants lose up to 15kg in one sitting?

It’s a question that health care and body image experts come back to again and again. While contestants on weight loss programs receive close medical observation and advice, not everyone is happy with the way that they get to those goal weights. Indeed, the drama of people vomiting, collapsing, crying and being escorted to hospital due to training injuries plays out as part of the narrative within the program. The concerns about this are two fold. For one, the possible health implications of pushing through such pain in the name of quick weight loss are skated over to a point where viewers see it as acceptable to push themselves, unsupervised, with manic exercise.

Then there’s the possibility that producers aren’t as into ‘reality’ as we think. Last week Nina Funnell and Dannielle Miller took to the pages of The Age, rehashing alleged misrepresentations on the show, such as contestants being given more than seven days to lose their “weekly” total kilos. The idea that the drama of the program leads to unsustainable weight loss also places an ethical question mark over turning life changes into a race.

If the contestants are there voluntarily, though, and we suspect some dramatic manipulation within these programs, why does it matter? Maybe there’s no issue for most individuals. But perhaps it comes back, in some ways, to our Bootcamp approach to most of life’s resolutions.

Whether you’re losing 50kg in three months, going from the couch to the Kokoda track or getting rich in seven days, speed is a common factor in so many of our goals. This is despite research that encourages gradual changes, good planning and long term support for success.

Organisations like the Dietitians Association of Australia and government project Go For Your Life suggest plans that are a little more laid back. When looking to improve your diet or embark on any health care regime, consulting a doctor is your first port of call. For changes to diet and eating habits, slow adjustments are recommended to ensure bad habits are truly changed. These steps take time, and persistence.

One may assume that the diverse readers of Lip have a broader set of goals than just weight loss in 2012. Even so, many a personal challenge can be tackled without going all out at the start. Whether you want to read more, eat more veggies or start saving for ‘someday’, taking little steps is good too. Building up gradually may not make scenes fit for weeknight TV, but it might give you the chance to see what works for you and change things up, rather than racing to reach a goal as quickly as possible.

The image of the Red and Blue teams pulling a train through mud with their bare hands may be transfixing, and those who put themselves out there to train on national TV for their health should have that bravery recognised. But for your everyday punter, the recommended action for fitness regimes is more moderation than marathons. When it comes to other New Year’s resolutions, that advice can hold too. Slowing down may just be the key to sticking with it.

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