If you want to see the emotional and physical toll that diets, deprivation and being pushed to physical extremes can take -- and we don't blame you if you don't -- tune in to "The Biggest Loser," the newest reality television show.
In tonight's episode, a dozen desperate obese men and women begin a personal weight-loss odyssey on NBC. "I don't take my shirt off for my family, I can't believe that I'm doing this on national television," one participant laments as the group lines up for the first of their regular public weigh-ins on a humongous scale.
Show host Caroline Rhea presides over weight-loss shenanigans in "The Biggest Loser."
(Trae Patton - NBC)
Over nine shows, viewers will watch as two teams of three men and three women (weighing a little more than 1,500 pounds per team at the beginning) live together on a ranch in Malibu. Rather than consider what weight loss plan might work best for every individual, the script calls for each team to be assigned to one of two diets. Both limit portions. One regimen is based on the glycemic index -- which takes into account how much a food raises blood sugar levels. The other focuses on eating six small meals per day.
Two personal trainers with nearly opposite philosophies put the would-be losers through physical paces so grueling (at least during the first show) that it reduces some to tears. One contestant vomits.
Oh, yes, and hovering in the background are glass-fronted refrigerators, labeled with each contestant's name and filled with their favorite high-calorie foods. The team that loses less weight each week must vote a member off the show. The last remaining contestant will win a $250,000 prize.
And what do leading weight-loss experts think about this exercise?
"Very humiliating," said Albert Stunkard, professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania and a pioneer in the study of obesity.
"Both cruel and counterproductive," said Xavier Pi-Sunyer, director of the New York Obesity Research Center, St. Luke-Roosevelt Hospital, chairman of the National Institutes of Health Obesity Guidelines panel and a member of the 2005 Dietary Guidelines Committee.
"Competition may be a benefit to some people, but it's not a benefit when it damages self-esteem," said Thomas A. Wadden, director of the Weight and Eating Disorders Clinic at the University of Pennsylvania. "If you slip up, you can feel doubly bad because you're letting down the team."
Having said all that, a few things can be learned from this show: