Wednesday, February 04, 2009

In Kitchen, ‘Losers’ Start From Scratch

NY Times: "NOTHING is off-limits on “The Biggest Loser,” the reality show that pits morbidly obese people against one another to see who can lose weight the fastest and win the $250,000 prize.
Contestants endure tearful, grueling workouts and submit to public weigh-ins wearing only bike shorts (and for the women, sports bras). They cry. They vomit. They backstab.
The one thing they almost never do on camera is eat.
“The food that you’re used to, you can’t have, and the food you can have, you do not want,” said Vicky Vilcan, a 5-foot-6-inch finalist from Houma, La., who weighed 246 pounds at the beginning of the last season. Now at 145 pounds, she eats broccoli and spinach but says she was “repulsed” by most vegetables when she was on the show. “I wouldn’t eat a string bean that wasn’t smothered in bacon and onions.”
Watch an episode of “The Biggest Loser,” now in its seventh season on NBC, and see the pitfalls of the American diet written extra-large: cheap, high-calorie snacks everywhere, days spent in cars and cubicles and a near disappearance of home cooking.
The contestants are avatars for every slothful viewer on the sofa, waging the epic battle between willpower and waffle fries. While exercising 6 to 10 hours a day and fighting off the doughnuts and pizza that diabolical producers put in their paths may be difficult, the biggest challenge, and the one that will determine whether they remain thinner, is to permanently change their relationship with food.
First, they literally redevelop the sense of taste. “The food that got them to this point is salty, sweet, fatty, crunchy,” said Bob Harper, a trainer on the show since the first season in 2004, describing the fast food and snacks that are the steady diet of most contestants. “They lose their taste buds, they lose their hunger cues and they want what they want when they want it.”
Second, they learn fundamental cooking skills that they — like many Americans — have lost, or never had.
“Most of them do not have the basic ability to cook a meal at home and very little understanding of how much fat and salt is in restaurant food,” said Cheryl Forberg, the show’s nutritionist, “even on the supposedly healthy part of the menu.” While the show has been criticized as presenting a dangerous and unsustainable level of weight loss, recipes from it are sensible enough and have been collected in two cookbooks. Given the program’s popularity, it’s not surprising that both are in the top 10 on the Amazon best-seller list for cookbooks. Together, “The Biggest Loser Cookbook” and “The Biggest Loser Family Cookbook” have sold more than two million copies."

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