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Unintended Consequences – What effect might the Biggest Loser have on women with anorexia or bulimia?

Posted Mar 15 2010 12:00am
We kicked off our Biggest Loser program in an effort to get staff members that were significantly overweight, sedentary, and otherwise uninvolved in our wellness program engaged. The program has been pretty successful with this targeted group. People are losing weight, moving more, reducing the need for medications and dropping dress sizes. I’ve mentioned before that the level of participation exceeded our expectations. We currently have 95 people actively participating in the program. That’s almost 40% of our staff. With that many folks involved, it’s shifted our organizational culture to be much more focused on what we eat and how much we move. For most of us, I think it’s a good thing, but I’m starting to worry about a small group of staff.

It was obvious from the beginning that we had some women sign up to participate that didn’t appear to need to lose weight. Some said they wanted to improve the way they eat, lower their cholesterol or drop just a few pounds. We hadn’t set any biometric criteria to enter the program so everyone was welcome. I’ve had a chance to listen and observe over the past two months and I just finished reading the Locker Room Diaries -- a book about women and their body image.

It’s been interesting watching people weigh in each week. Some slim women step on and off the scale checking and double checking the number. Some stop by every day to weigh themselves and worry if the official scale is calibrated with the scale in our locker room and their scale at home. People have observed some eating habits of slender participants that seem rather unhealthy and some of the team conversation also has caused some people to worry about their teammates and whether some might have an eating disorder. Given our population of well educated women, I think it’s reasonable to assume that some of the women participating do have an eating disorder. So, is this program good for them? Is the constant focus on weight, what we’re eating, and exercise bombarding them with messages that are unhealthy for them? Should we have set some biometric criteria for participation?

Oddly enough, it was something Tyrone Wells said as an introduction to Baby Don’t You Change at a concert I was at Friday that made this come together for me. He basically said that women are most beautiful when they’re comfortable in their own skin. He’s living in LA and talked a little about the unrealistic images that are held out for women in magazines and on TV. I was sitting next to a good friend who has a beautiful daughter that has struggled with an eating disorder. I thought, “Am I making things more difficult for women like her?”
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