Ask Dani – Thintervention Intervention

Ok, so I’m randomly flipping through channels and came across “Thintervention,” that show on Bravo — and thought of you. I remember you saying that you thought shows like that and “The Biggest Loser” weren’t all that great. And I was like, I wonder why not? Aren’t they inspiring obese people to change their lives? Aren’t they exposing the awful health consequences of being really fat? So I tuned in to Jackie Warner and all of her ab-fab glory to see what she had to say.

The theme for the episode I saw was “total muscle exhaustion” — pushing yourself until your muscles give out (as way overly-enthused Ms. Warner explained). So as I’m watching these obese people basically pass out on the treadmills, wheeze and gasp for air as they lift weights — I’m thinking, OK this can’t be good. Right? This looks awful (and painful). But then I’m like: Or, is this just how obese people have to lose weight? Is losing 20 lbs not just “a little easier” but actually an entirely different ballgame than losing 120lbs? And either way, is “muscle exhaustion” ever the way to go? Or is that more of a made-for-TV stunt?

So those are my questions (I know there are a lot). Basically — is this why you take issue with shows like “Thintervention”? It it worth watching to pick up tips, like muscle exhaustion, from these shows; or is it more like “don’t try this at home”?

Not Ms. Warner

Hey Ms. Warner,

Awesome awesome and again, awesome question! You’re right, these shows do inspire people to lose weight and they give them that feeling of “hey, if they can do it, I can do it too”, but the thing to realize and to really drive home is that yes, you can lose weight, but it’s not going to be as glamorous as it is on TV. And the environments that they create on these shows are not real life. Take it from me, a personal trainer, my clients would probably find it pretty creepy if I randomly surprised them on their doorstep one day (which is what Ms. Warner did on one of her shows). Believe me, I would love to do that, it would make everything a lot easier for me if I could baby-sit my clients, but I don’t believe in extreme hand holding. I do believe in taking baby-steps though and in seeking the help of a personal trainer. But that trainer’s purpose is to guide and empower you, and to teach you the tools necessary to take charge of your own life, not follow your every waking move. If you want to lose weight and/or become healthier, and I mean REALLY, you will do it no matter what. Sure, everyone needs help from time to time, and losing weight is hard, but the more someone is doing the work for you the less likely it is that you’ll be able to maintain it on your own. The secret of success is that only you can make it happen and if you desperately want it then you will make it so.

With that being said though, I don’t find fault in everything that Thintervention is doing. I couldn’t find the episode that you were talking about, but I did find a different episode, and I’ll admit that I was ready to hate it, but actually found some good things hidden inside. She gets to the point and calls her clients out when they’re not trying hard enough, but she also lets them have some space by not forcing them to say what she wants to hear. I also like that she has a psychologist on hand, because you can’t really lose a significant amount of weight without facing some of the things that got you there in the first place. But, do I think that working till muscle failure is good thing or is it just a made-for-tv stunt? I think it can be a good thing to show you what muscle failure really feels like and to show you how far your mental strength can take you, BUT I don’t think it’s for every client. You have to remember that these shows have physicians and paramedics on hand in case something happens and they are in the hand of a professional. I would not tell someone to go into the gym and start following what Jackie says, because this workout is designed for the clients on the show, not you. There is no one-size-fit-all workout program, because we are all different in our abilities and fitness levels. Which is where the 20lb weight loss vs. 120lb weight loss comes in…

Both are difficult. An average sized woman who only needs to lose 20lb is going to lose weight slower than an obese woman who needs to lose 120lb, because relative to her size 20lb may be a lot. And for the obese woman she may take a lot of weight off quickly at first, but then it will start to slow down as her size starts to shrink. Added to that is the difficulty in which the obese woman might find working out to be. Walking a mile for the slightly overweight woman might feel difficult if she’s out of shape, but for the obese woman it is a triumph. And that’s why I’m on the fence about this show. When someone needs to lose that amount of weight I think it’s more important to make them feel successful at what they’re doing rather than have the possibility that they’ll feel defeated, because the workouts are too hard. Wheezing and almost passing out on a treadmill is not something that I would allow my clients to do. I would find activities that exhaust them, but are also doable.

A very long saga short: Take these shows with a grain of salt. If you find motivation from them then that’s fantastic, but don’t follow what they say, because you’re not Jackie or any of her clients.