By Andrew Walen, LCSW-C, LICSW, CEDS
There was a commercial on during a football game this weekend I never saw before. It was for a phone app where people compete against strangers to win money by losing more weight than someone else. If there is a more awful and inappropriate app on iTunes I don’t want to know about it. Let’s review the horror.
There are a number of apps that are trying to replicate the competition and popularity of the TV show The Biggest Loser (TBL). Among them are Dietbet, Competish, and OurWeighIn. Competish is a direct spinoff of TBL. Dietbet has their contestants “pledge” money in small betting pools that they will lose more weight than someone else and the winner of the pool wins the pot. The site says over 400,000 people from 90 countries have played and won over $21 million in prizes. OurWeighIn at least says they want to promote health and not weight loss, but they’re not fooling anyone. Just look at their name.
Why are these apps gaining in popularity? Well, there is some research that if you give people financial incentive, they can lose about 4 times more weight than a control group given no financial incentive to lose weight. Competition, prize money, bragging rights, and the like are all part of the enticement. But it’s not about money and competition really. This is about our fat-phobic society made to fear and loath their bodies so the weight loss industry billionaires can keep making a buck of you. If you hate yourself and your body enough, you’ll do almost anything to change it. And if you can’t, you won’t blame the product. You’ll blame yourself. Your health will deteriorate, and your self-esteem will take a gut punch. “Maybe,” you’ll think, “the next product will be a better fit for me.” And the next diet cycle begins. It’s vicious pure and simple.
Even The Biggest Loser saw the writing on the wall when a research study came out in 2016 titled “Persistent metabolic adaptation 6 years after ‘The Biggest Loser’ competition” in the journal Obesity. It found that each contestant’s resting metabolic rate was significantly lower than their starting point, which was to be expected. However, the researchers were surprised to see that the metabolic rate continued to stay low and even went lower for years to come, trying desperately to hold on to any caloric reserves in case of future starvation. The only way to stay at such a weight-suppressed state is to truly starve constantly for the rest of your life. The consequences of doing so are dire.
These weight loss apps are geared to get your personal data, take your money, and sell you products. You may lose weight using the app. You can also lose weight just eating Utz potato chips. The product doesn’t matter. The reality is less than 5% of folks can sustain even modest weight loss, and the rest regain it and add more on. Our human bodies are not meant to be manipulated this way. A there is good anecdotal evidence individuals who do manage to suppress their weight for long periods of time are actually in such a state of calorie restriction and/or over-exercise that their behavior would constitute an eating disorder. A good number of The Biggest Loser contestants have attested to the fact they developed an eating disorder as a result of being on the show.
If you want to be healthy, pursue health. All good. But losing weight in and of itself is not worth the consequences of worse health, lowered self-esteem, and poorer body image. No amount of money and bragging rights are worth it.