Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Trouble With The Biggest Loser

I like The Biggest Loser.  I've watched it regularly for years.  There is something very inspirational about watching the successes of people you grow to love.

A friend called me last night.  He was looking for someone who'd recorded LOST.  I hadn't.  When I asked him why he'd missed it, he said, "I thought I had set it to record on the DVR so I sat down with a bowl of ice cream and watched The Biggest Loser."  My friend is morbidly obese.  I went to bed wondering what is it that appeals to him watching that show.  I have several friends, including myself, who do the same thing.  Week after week we cheer for our favorite contestants from our comfortable sofas, while eating and loafing ourselves into oblivion.  We don't seem to have the slightest inclination to let the program affect our behavior.  We seem to enjoy the show without the slightest personal discomfort.  There seems to be a huge reality disconnect, when it comes to watching this particular "reality" show.

I'm not finding fault, I'm just trying to understand.  While I wouldn't qualify to be a contestant, I am overweight and have other issues that I'm not addressing either.  Are we vicariously letting someone else lose our weight for us?  I think maybe we are.

Eating disorders are so closely aligned with other addictive behaviors.  To me there is little difference between running to the bottle or the fridge for a fix.  We don't like ourselves, or how we feel and so we seek something external to ourselves to help us feel better.  Be it alcohol, narcotics, hallucinogens, Twinkies, gambling, porn or adrenalin, if we are looking for a way to escape our discomfort, we are looking in the wrong places.

That was apparent in last night's episode where Darris ran all day and then stayed up late stuffing his face.  Home for a month, running daily, completing a full marathon in 4 hours and 2 odd minutes, he still gained two pounds.  What's up with that?  Why would Darris "sabotage" himself after all that effort?

Here's what I think.  While there is so very much good about The Biggest Loser, the program has some fundamental flaws.  One of them being the Ranch.  Now don't get me wrong.  These are generally people who won't get better without a major, even institutionalized intervention.  The Ranch is literally saving their lives and there is no getting around that.  The problem lies in the fact that in that artificial environment many are not learning to deal with real life.  Bob and Jillian seem to be very aware of this and the program makes great effort to prepare the contestants for reality.  Still they often fail.  Here's why.

The Biggest Loser deals well with the physical and emotional side of addictive behavior, but they entirely neglect the spiritual aspect.  The 12 Step model established by Alcoholics Anonymous is so uniquely successful because it does not neglect the spiritual component.  The "higher power" AA includes in its approach to recovery is essential to every recovery.  God and a spiritual connection to Him is a vital component in obtaining and maintaining sobriety.  There is no getting around it.  A higher power is part of Biggest Loser's success, don't get me wrong.  Too often though, that higher power is Bob or Jillian or $250,000.00.  This works, until you no longer have Bob or Jillian to serve you.  Or until you no longer have the financial carrot dangling before your eyes.  Here again, Bob and Jillian recognize that the contestants need to be weaned from the trainer's influence, but they try to introduce self as the alternative and self is the absolute worst higher power they could choose.

Darris was clearly struggling without his higher power, while at home.  Absence from Bob and Jillian and his friends at the Ranch, left a painful void in his life and automatically he went right back to his old "go to" remedy to fill that emptiness.  Koli, had the same problem, so he went to Vegas and found a substitute for Bob and Jillian in another trainer.  Even Sam was not enough to keep Koli going at home. That rather surprised me.  But then on reflection, Sam has his own life to live and surely couldn't devote his whole time to Koli.  That's the way it is for each of us.  Our lives are inconsistent.  Our relationships are inconsistent.  We are inconsistent.  The only thing consistent in our lives is God, if we'll let Him provide.

Bravo!  To all the contestants on this inspiring show for their courage, effort and success as they shed the physical and emotional baggage of their lives.  I just hope that in the process they discover what I am discovering, that spiritual emptiness is what got us in our predicaments in the first place.  I am a physical Schmiegel inhabited by a Spiritual Golum when I neglect to connect with God.  I am quick to feed my body while starving my Spirit.  We all recognize physical hunger, but most of us have not been taught to recognize spiritual hunger.  We experience the discomfort, but not realizing what's causing it, seek to satisfy the pain with things that cannot satisfy.

The answer is not knowledge.  Darris knew he was hurting himself.  Koli was embarrassed too.  My friend knows there's a better way than to eat ice cream on the couch.  The same goes for me.  Why are we failing amid so much success?  Because we are climbing the ladder of success, sometimes with Herculean effort only to find it leaning against the wrong wall.  The goal that will make us happy is not weight loss, it is not a quarter of a million dollars or a title or record or a good job.  The goal that will make us happy, fulfilled, satisfied and ultimately successful is a healthy, well fed Spirit that is constantly connected to God.

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