- - Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Welcome to the Monday after New Year’s Day, when many of us ring in a season of healthy lifestyle intentions.

A month of eating sweets and meats, lazing on the sofa, and skimping on sleep has resulted in horrific numbers on many of our bathroom scales.

Whether we pave our chosen path to health with low-calorie frozen meals, shiny new at-home treadmills, or contracts with personal trainers many of us tune into NBC’s top-rated reality weight loss show “The Biggest Loser” for ideas and inspiration. The show, now on its 16th Season, is as much a part of many Americans’ weight loss programs as walking shoes and salad greens.

Still after some of the shows more memorable moments including the 155-pound weight loss by contestant Rachel Frederickson — whose on-air February weigh in brought looks of stunned shock to the faces of longtime coaches Bob Harper and Jillian Michaels — unhealthy “challenges” involving junk food, and extreme exercise that results in obvious physical pain — many question if the show’s lessons are healthy.

Maurice Williams, personal trainer and owner of Move Well Fitness in Bethesda, Maryland, and other fitness experts offer this advice for those looking to “The Biggest Loser” for guidance:

Understand the Extremes

Yes, the show’s trainers push contestants to seemingly over-the-top levels of exercise, but it’s vital to understand that most of the contestants weigh well over 300, 400 and 500 pounds. That extreme obesity requires quick action.

“People who are that severely obese are at very real risk of dying if they don’t lose the weight fast,” said Mr. Williams, praising the show’s emphasis on one-on-one training and medical supervision. “[The trainers] say ‘We are going to push you because if we don’t you may die right away Their lives truly depend on fast weight loss.’”

Typically, personal trainers start clients on a relatively light exercise program and gradually increase the time and intensity.

Lose for Keeps

Sure, the contestants on “The Biggest Loser” drop massive amounts of weight in record times. Those that try to follow such a program on their own may face a host of physical and psychological negatives.

“The viewers who have been inspired by that dramatic weight loss soon have their motivation crushed when they find out they cannot lose anywhere near as much as those on TV,” said personal trainer Oscar Agramonte, Orlando, Florida. “In reality, human beings cannot continuously lose that much weight week after week without dangerously manipulating their bodies.” Both Mr. Williams and Mr. Agramonte note that many “Biggest Loser” contestants gain weight soon after the cameras stop rolling.

“If I’m meeting with someone who wants to lose 15-20, realistically that may take five or six months. On ‘The Biggest Loser,’ some contestants do that in two or three weeks,” Mr. Williams said, who noted contestants often don’t know how to incorporate healthy eating and exercise into their lifestyles. “It may take a bit longer to lose the weight (without an intense program) but the weight loss will last.”

Lean on Others

Contestants form true bonds and camaraderie on the show, which is a key aspect to any weigh loss program, said personal trainer Julie Wilkes, Columbus, Ohio.

“It isn’t just about powerful trainers pushing you to be your best or a number on the scale each week,” she said. “It’s is about the things happening in your mind, heart and muscles that produce the results . The show demonstrates how community and having a group of people in the journey together can help motivate and inspire.”

Mr. Williams believes so strongly in such positive support that he asks new clients to sign “readiness for change” forms.

“Are you willing to lose negative energy, family members and friends who are not willing to support you,” said Mr. Williams of the pledge. “I’m not telling anyone to get a divorce or move out of their house. You need to commit to this [lifestyle change] for yourself or you may be putting yourself closer to heart disease or diabetes. Working out at a gym or having a personal trainer who puts you in a group setting can help you find that support system you need.”

The next episode of “The Biggest Loser” is scheduled to air on NBC at 8 p.m. ET Thursday, Jan. 8.

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