Friday, July 8, 2011

Thintervention with Jackie Warner: A Haiku

hard bodies. hard abs.
skinless, boneless chicken breast:
squeeze that muffin top.

America’s obsession with weight loss has created reality show competitions like The Biggest Loser – whose ironic and punny name reeks of childhood playground taunts – and Thintervention with Jackie Warner – proof that “thin” goes with everything:  thintervention, thinspiration, thindependence.  Jackie Warner is a girl thinterrupted. 

A personal trainer by trade, her show takes overweight and obese people and “push them to their limit at her gym and inspire them with intense workouts at amazing locations”[i].  Unlike the acclaimed The Biggest Loser, Warner does not send her clients to work out camps, no, no, no.  She works with each of them one-on-one amidst their real lives and distractions on the theory that they will learn to incorporate intense regular exercise and Warner’s menu into their normal lives.

Off limits on Warner’s menu are traditional diet staples like yogurt and skim milk, and anything with over 16 grams of sugar per serving, like whole wheat bread and bran cereal.  I thought that was what you ate when you dieted:  fiber and low-fat protein.  But Warner hates the sugars and fake sugars.  Real sugar is bad for you because it makes you fat.  Fake sugar is bad for you because, well, it’s synthetic.
So what the hell can you eat?  Well, thanks to Thintervention’s website, you can trace which contestants ate what every week and learn how to count calories like a pro.  Week 1 obviously starts with bigger meals – two eggs at breakfast, 3 ounces of chicken breast AND mini cheese for dinner – but come Week 8, Warner has expected that her clients have learned to measure and prepare healthy meals like  2 ounces of cornish game hen and an orange.  By Week 6 the contestants all average about 1100 calories per day.

The total transformation takes eight week and culminates in a grand total of 280 pounds lost by all the contestants combined.  This averages out to 40 pounds per person, or 5 pounds per week per person.  These numbers come in stark comparison to The Biggest Loser’s first season.  BL’s ten-week all work-out, no play set up would put individual losses at an average of 6.4 pounds per person per week, if one person didn’t get voted off every week.

I’m hesitant to say that either show is truly productive.  In my opinion, BL’s set-up is unrealistic in that the contestants are all removed from their normal lives.  When they return, they may be able to follow the diet, but they won’t have the opportunity to spend the majority of the day working out, as they did during the show.  Thintervention, in my opinion, focuses too much on counting calories.  As someone who has attempted diets from roughly age ten, I know the compulsive nature of a life spent measuring food and counting calories.  It consumes your life.  Food no longer becomes enjoyable, but a number you need to calculate and to work off.  Additionally, both shows stress the need for extreme exercise.
Common sense:  regular exercise is important.  It works as a stress buster (or at least reducer), it works against chronic illnesses, including cardiovascular illnesses, high cholesterol, and diabetes, it both boosts your energy level AND promotes better sleep, and it can help you manage your weight.  These are all fabulous benefits that anyone can achieve by adding a little more movement into their lives.  My worry with BL and Thintervention is that exercise’s importance is promoted as necessity and may result in something as serious as exercise bulimia.  Since Thintervention is only in its first season, it’s too early to assume anything.  BL, however, has faced criticism for its methods.

Season 2 contestant, Kai Hibbard, stated that “she felt the show was treating contestants as if they were lazy and stupid for getting so large, and teaching the cast to crash diet and exercise their weight off while advocating more moderate techniques to the public.” 2  Hibbard’s claims that contestants used techniques like severe dehydration and restriction in addition to obsessive exercising in the day or two leading up to their weigh-ins, have been verified by Hibbard’s trainer from that season, Kim Lyons.  Although the show advertised itself as a promotion of healthy lifestyles and an advocate for a thinner America, its loyalty was still to television.  And as a reality TV show, the foremost concern isn’t health or well-being, but ratings.  A show where someone drops ten pounds is more exciting than a show where someone drops two.  Behind the scenes, it’s ugly, as Hibbard made clear four years after her season’s finale.  For months afterwords – including the four months of individual weight loss after the contestants leave the ranch – Hibbard’s hair fell out, she was restricting her daily intake of calories to 1000, and was working out five to eight hours a day3.  With the support of her family, Hibbard was able to work through her exercise bulimia, but she admits that, whenever she sees the show, she’s reduced to tears and vomiting.

Comparing BL and Thintervention one can see the workings of similar shows operating under similar – but not equivalent – premises. Arguably Thintervention takes a more realistic approach to weight loss, if only because it’s done while contestants maintain their normal lives.  It’s debatable if the results from these shows are worth the risks involved.  Both shows maintain that contestants are learning lessons for life – meaning weight loss/healthy eating methods – but they are also learning to compulsively count calories, worry about about decreasing the number on the scale, and, in general, have unrealistic expectations about weight loss.  BL and Thintervention thrive on the notion that none of the contestants can be healthy or happy as they are, a sentiment echoed in American culture.

[1]“Thintervention with Jackie Warner,” Bravo Media, (2010), Deggans, “Former ‘Biggest Loser’ competitor, Kai Hibbard, calls the show unhealthy, misleading,” St. Petersburg Times, (4 April 2010),

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