Reality TV Isn't As Real As It Seems

One last thought about reality. With reality weight-loss TV shows running amuck on the airwaves these days, it's no wonder that clients and members expect quick results.

Contestants on shows like “The Biggest Loser,” which returned to the airwaves this fall, easily drop 40, 60, 80, even 100 or more pounds in just a matter of months. Granted, they spend four to six hours doing cardio and explosive interval weight-training with a dedicated personal trainer and usually only eat 1,200 to 1,800 calories a day, but that's not nearly as exciting to show on TV as dramatic weigh-ins and flashy challenges where contestants have to zip line across a ravine or bet the odds with a magic vending machine full of calories, money and one-pound passes for the aforementioned dramatic weigh-in.

Then there's “Celebrity Fit Club,” which shows a group of B-list (and C-list and D-list) celebrities attempting to get back in shape, usually after a long hiatus from eating right, exercising and being active in their profession. Although the show is typically focused more on drama than weight loss, some celebrities have made radical changes to their lives and bodies, but not without the help of a doctor, psychotherapist and a drill sergeant/personal trainer/verbal abuser like Sgt. Harvey. Now tell me, what normal people have those resources at their disposal?

And, don't even get me started on past (thank goodness) shows like “Extreme Makeover” and “The Swan” that used drastic measures to “improve” people's looks.

Don't get me wrong. I appreciate that these shows promote health and fitness. Many club owners say that this type of TV programming inspires people to get fit, and they come to health clubs to help them do it. I applaud anything that gets people into a regular workout regimen. But — and this is a big but — what happens when these inspired TV watchers start working out for 30 minutes a day and realize that exercise can be tough, that it takes time, dedication, sweat and heavy breathing? And, if they don't have a support system, a workout buddy or a trainer to keep their spirits up, they're probably going to quit. As a fitness professional and a member of society, I hear this from my friends, family, clients and co-workers darn near every day: “Why am I not losing weight more quickly?”

As club owners and facility operators, we as an industry need to take the best from reality TV shows and combat the notion that losing weight and getting fit is quick and easy. Yes, for most of us in the industry, fitness is fun and enjoyable. But for people who haven't been active in 20 years, it's painful, and it takes time to build habits.

Take the momentum created from these shows and funnel it into real results for you and your members. Create programming that addresses members' needs and sets realistic expectations. Emphasize short-term and long-term goal-setting and help clients set rewards to stay motivated as they progress. Heck, even consider showing these reality TV shows in your facility, then hold a discussion afterwards with your members.

I have to admit that I do enjoy watching reality TV, sometimes even the trashy stuff. It's entertaining and, at times, it can be moving. “The Biggest Loser” has definitely picked my rear up from the couch a time or two. And, for the magazine, I've interviewed a few people who are contestants, personalities or who work behind the scenes on these shows, and I know that they only have the best interests at heart. They want to make America healthy. And so do you.

So, set the record straight. Grab hold of the weight-loss reality TV momentum, bring it into your club, and show members how great real results are.

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