It’s been a few years since I last watched the hit reality weight loss show The Biggest Loser. I stopped watching after the supposedly inspirational show became more of a live-action commercial for certain food products and even fast-forwarding a DVRed version of the show couldn’t get me through the long, drawn-out artificial suspense of the numbers ticking up and down on the scale at the big weigh in. But today I’m wishing I had been watching this season, as the latest episode revealed a rule-breaking scandal involving celebrity trainer Jillian Michaels and caffeine pills.
Right before the weigh in began, the show’s host Alison Sweeney broke the news that Jillian had cheated by giving her team caffeine supplements. I would’ve killed to see Jillian’s face when that news was made public. I’d go one step further and say that her team cheated too, since they agreed to take the pills, likely knowing it was against the contest rules. But at the same time, I don’t know if I can fault the contestants themselves, as they’re on the show because they need the help, support, and guidance of a professional. That’s why they auditioned for the weight loss show in the first place. With staggering double and triple weight loss results, why wouldn’t the players trust their coach and trainer?
It’s shocking enough that this even occurred, knowing that there are TV cameras watching every move during production, but the biggest shocker is she didn’t apologize or seem to care about breaking the rules. Her response to the accusation was, “I stand by my opinion: a caffeine supplement is significantly healthier than unlimited amounts of coffee.” Her team was penalized with an extra four pounds at the weigh in, and the results of the previous week were invalidated, which just so happened to bring back celebrity contestant Rubben Studdard, a fan favorite. Some say the whole thing stinks of a marketing ploy, but regardless, this sparks an even bigger issue.
Millions of people use the show as inspiration and education for their own weight loss journey. The message this scandal sends is that even these people getting 24-7 support and access to endless fitness facilities still need the help of weight loss drugs. That’s just depressing. It’s true that the contestants may have consumed more caffeine just by drinking coffee, which is allowed on the show, but that doesn’t change the fact that their trainer supplied them with supplements without doctors’ permission.
Caffeine can absolutely be a performance enhancer, giving you an extra edge in your workout. But it can also be dangerous in quantities that are too high. Too much caffeine can lead to heart palpitations, insomnia, muscle tremors, and stomach upset. WebMD estimates “too much” to be around 500 or 600 mg daily, which is about four cups of coffee. While caffeine could aid with weight loss due to appetite supression and increased calorie-burning, studies haven’t shown that it’s led to long-term weight loss.
On the positive side, caffeine in pill form could potentially be safer than drinking copious amounts of coffee or other caffeinated beverages, as you can be sure as to how much caffeine you’re actually ingesting. But that still brings us back to the bigger message being sent by this billion dollar brand: you can’t do it on your own. Which is just wrong.