Has Controversial Series ‘The Biggest Loser’ Changed For The Better? Host And New Trainer Detail Evolution Amid Changing Attitudes About Weight Loss

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Erica Lugo knows how to take off extra pounds. At her highest weight, she tipped the scales at 322 pounds.

Today, she’s 160 pounds lighter and is new a trainer on the re-launched series The Biggest Loser.

The reality show follows the journeys of 12 contestants as they work to transform their lives confronting the issues that have kept them from losing the excess weight each of them is carrying,

The original series, which aired on NBC, ran from 2005 to 2017.

“Five years ago I was this completely unhealthy person and now I’m a trainer on a TV show. I still have to pinch myself every once in a while that this has happened to me,” says Lugo.

THE BIGGEST LOSER — Season:1 — Pictured: Erica Lugo — (Photo by: Richie Knapp/USA Network)

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Just after she lost the weight, Lugo was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

“It was like a slap in the face when I found out,” she says. “I spent so long getting my body the way I wanted to and then I felt like it rejected me in a way. Now I’ve had to live life without a thyroid and that’s something that controls your hormones and your metabolism so it’s it’s been humbling to say the least.”

The series, in which contestants compete for a cash prize by losing weight, has been called out for what many consider unhealthy practices.

Bob Harper, who was a trainer on the original series and is now the host, says that, “Weight loss is controversial any way that you look at it.” He believes, “Losing weight is the easiest part. It’s keeping it off.” To that end, he says that the new series is about giving contestants, “everything that they can use to succeed. We want to succeed, because it’s very difficult.”

So difficult that a study by the National Institutes of Health found that a number of contestants regain a significant amount of the weight they lost during the competition after the show ends. And, that the extreme weight loss that they achieve during the show actually slows their metabolism for a significant period of time after the initial weight loss.

THE BIGGEST LOSER — Season:1 — Pictured: Bob Harper — (Photo by: Scott McDermott/USA Network)

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When asked about this Harper replied, “After you have lost so much weight, your body wants to go back to how it’s been for a very long time. You’ve got to realize that you have to change everything when you are trying to lose weight, because your body is trying to get you back there.”

Having personally experienced this kind of weight loss, Lugo says, “It’s the tools that I learned throughout my weight loss journey that we are teaching on the show to keep it off long-term. It is a choice that you have to make day in and day out, and that is what we really hone in with these contestants.”

It’s not about the ‘scale’ victories, says Harper. “It’s about the people that are coming in that are just trying to manage their type 2 diabetes, lower their blood pressure, and you get to see that. Being in the fitness industry for as long as I have, I see people that have gotten off medications as a result of them making these lifestyle changes.”

A big part of the strategy to help contestants involves examining mental health issues that may be affecting their weight. “When you are working with someone who is morbidly obese, it is not because they like pizza,” explains Harper. “There’s what that food represents. It’s they feel like they get from it, and that’s why we have a set of psychiatrists that work with the contestants – to get what’s going on in their heads out into the real world so they can start to feel a little bit better about themselves.”

As it’s her first season on the series, Lugo is understandably a bit nervous about how she’ll be perceived by viewers. “Well, I’m not your average body type. I’m a 5’11’’ and a size eight, and I have muscles and curves. I did go in thinking a bit like, ‘How is America going to see me? Can I do what I’ve been hired to do and really help people?’ So yeah, my inner critic thinks about these things, but I just try to stay focused on being the person I need to be for the people I”m training.”

One memorable moment for Lugo involved an actual failure on her part with one of the contestants. “I had my own breakdown when one of my contestants went home and he told me he didn’t give me 110%. As a coach I thought, ‘What am I doing wrong?’ “

That meltdown made Lugo face some of her own demons, “I thought I’d healed a lot of things through my weight loss, but I found out I just kind of put a bandaid on it, and the show forced me to realize I was not really healed. I had some things that I needed to work on, just like the contestants.”

This may have been the reason that Lugo found herself getting so close to the contestants, something that surprised her.

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“It’s really weird when you’re in a situation where you stay in that bubble for three or four months, and it’s like how do you not become that attached to them? Some of these people are going to be my friends for the rest of my life. I did not expect that because for me going in this was just a job.”

That bubble that Lugo mentions has come under scrutiny. Some critics argue that it’s easy to lose weight in a controlled environment that allows time for excessive exercise, something that might not be possible for many in the real world.

About this, Lugo says, “I think we’re so saturated with the idea that you have to work out for hours and hours on end to get your dream body and that’s just not the case. Honestly moving for 45 minutes to an hour five days a week is all you need. Then just focus on your nutrition, manage your stress, your sleep habits, and I promise you, that’s going to do wonders for you.”

Heather Olander, Senior Vice President of the USA’s Alternative Series Development, wants to be clear that the series is all about making a connection between weight loss and health, saying. “The message in the show is, yes, being thin and fitting into skinny jeans; if that’s what you want, is fabulous. But that’s not the end all, be all. It’s not about getting thin at all costs. It’s about getting healthy and setting these contestants on a healthy lifestyle path.”

‘The Biggest Loser’ airs Tuesday nights at 9e/8c on USA.

Trainer Bob Harper says ‘The Biggest Loser’ reboot has more ‘off-scale victories’ because a heart attack changed his perspective

  • The newest season of USA Network’s weight loss reality show, “The Biggest Loser,” premiering January 28, promises a new focus on “360 degree health” instead of just the number of the scale.
  • Show host Bob Harper, a celebrity personal trainer, spoke to Insider about his own recent health scare when he suffered a heart attack in the gym in 2017.
  • He said the “silver lining” of the life-threatening incident was teaching him a more holistic perspective on health “from the inside out” that he hopes to bring to the show this season.
  • Harper expects critics. He told Insider: “It is going to be controversial.”
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more.

Bob Harper, a fitness fanatic and trainer to celebrities, thought he would be the last person to face a heart attack, let alone a premature one, with his diligent time at the gym and careful nutrition.

All of that changed in 2017 when, at age 51, he collapsed in the middle of a gym session, blacking out and waking up in the hospital. Recovering from that, Harper said, changed his whole life, starting with a newfound fear of working out.

But the health scare also made Harper more excited than ever to host the newest season of USA Network’s “The Biggest Loser,” which has returned from a brief haitus with a new focus on wellness in addition to weight loss.

“When I had my heart attack, it completely changed my life forever. I feel like I related to ‘The Biggest Loser’ contestants more than ever,” Harper, who was previously a trainer on the show, told Insider. “That’s why I was so excited about doing this hosting job.”

Tyler Golden/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty

The competitive reality show, premiering on Tuesday night, follows 12 contestants on a 30-week journey to transform their health through weight-loss activities, included exercise, group therapy, and lessons on nutrition and food preparation.

In each episode, contestants are grouped into teams, fighting to lose the most collective weight, as a percentage, relative to their starting weight. The person who lost the least weight on the losing team is evicted.

Harper said his own recent experiences have better prepared him to help others take control of their health, and help them to recognize that, despite the show’s title, health isn’t always just about weight.

“Before my heart attack you have an idea of what a person looks like that’s at risk of having a heart attack,” Harper said. “I have learned that we are all at risk of having a heart attack and how important it is to seriously know your health from the inside out.”

The new season will try to show that ‘it’s about the off-scale victories too’

He said his recovery process made him better able to empathize with contestants, who were also undergoing a dramatic, and often intimidating, lifestyle change.

“I went from doing most intense CrossFit, to: I couldn’t walk around a city block without feeling winded,” Harper said. “I had to change everything. I had an emotional struggle and identity crisis, and that really humbles a person.”

One of the show’s trainers, Erica Lugo, also has personal experience with significant weight loss, having lost 160 pounds herself, and surviving thyroid cancer.

“She really brings a whole other level to the training of the contestants,” Harper said. “Wait ’til you see the personality this girl’s got. I’m nervous for anyone that tries to make an excuse to her.”

Bob Harper with “The Biggest Loser” trainer Erica Lugo Amy Sussman/Getty Images

The show will still determine its winners (and losers) based on the scale, and the Biggest Loser title comes with a cash prize awarded for the most weight lost. But Harper said he hopes contestants, and viewers, will recognize the progress and process beyond the numbers.

“We have, and celebrate, the on-scale victories, but it’s about the off-scale victories too,” Harper said. “There are a lot of different types of weight loss. At the end of the day there’s only one biggest loser, but all contestants have the opportunity to be winners.”

Weight loss is ‘going to be controversial,’ Harper said

The show has been the source of much controversy over the years. Research found that former contestants regained the weight they lost on the show, and developed health issues from attempting to lose weight unhealthily.

The foundational elements of the series still focus on weight loss, including public weigh-ins where contestants stand in just their shorts (and a sports bra for women) on a scale. They receive results from medical testing on-camera, having to react in real time to the potential health-related consequences of their weight.

This is seriously exploitative, said Rebecca Scritchfield, a registered dietitian, nutritionist, and author of “Body Kindness,” a book about developing healthy habits and positive body images without dieting.

“It’s psychologically problematic because of what the contestants going through,” she told Insider. “It’s using the shame of national TV to drive weight loss. The motivation to avoid public humiliation is going to override any desire to take care of yourself.”

Harper said that, behind the scenes, there are safeguards in place to keep the contestants healthy throughout the process, from limitations on how much time they can spend in the gym, to a minimum calorie requirement to make sure no one is eating too little and sacrificing on their nutrition.

Harper insists that the re-boot of “The Biggest Loser” made an effort to acknowledge previous criticism that the show promoted an unhealthy body image in viewers and was outright harmful to participants, who dealt with health issues and regained weight following the show.

However, he expects there will still be a fierce community of critics.

“It’s a multi-billion dollar business because everyone has an opinion and thinks they know more than the other person,” Harper said.

“It is going to be controversial.”

The Biggest Loser’ is coming back. Here’s what you need to know about the controversial weight-loss show.

‘Intuitive eating’ is on the rise, and experts say it’s because people are fed up with diet culture

Jillian Michaels said ‘it isn’t going to be awesome’ if Lizzo gets diabetes, and people are slamming her for fat-shaming

about Andy Dehnart

Biggest Loser blue team members Delores Tomorrow, Micah Collum, Robert Richardson II, trainer Steve Cook, Kyle Yeo, Megan Hoffman, Kim Emami-Davis (Photo by Richie Knapp/USA Network)

by Andy Dehnart 28 Jan. 2020 | 11:45 am

When The Biggest Loser premiered more than 15 years ago, I was immediately drawn in: it was a strategic reality TV competition wrapped in the idea of positive, healthy transformation. I could revel in the drama but also feel good about how the show was ultimately helping people lose weight and improve their lives.

Even after I stopped watching regularly, I continued to follow it, as it delivered moments like the wonderful season 13 mutiny (when contestants fought back against the producers and Bob Harper) and headlines such as those about Rachel Frederickson’s shocking reveal. On and off camera, there was drama, like trainer Jillian Michaels’ quitting the show three different times.

Yet even when I tired of its sensationalism and over-produced moments, I was still defending its “incredible” transformations and even called its contestants “obese and unhealthy.”

That’s embarrassing to read now because I’ve learned a lot about the show itself (one contestant said it gave her an eating disorder, for example), and about how health is absolutely not determined by someone’s physical appearance.

Also, weight loss isn’t just a matter of willpower—after all, as of being strong enough to skip “bad” food and spend hours in the gym. As the book Intuitive Eating explains, “the problem is not us; it’s that dieting, with its emphasis on rules and regulations, has stopped us from listening to our bodies.”

Significant scientific evidence came from The Biggest Loser’s own contestants, who were followed in an unprecedented six-year study, and helped demonstrate why weight loss is so challenging (basically, our bodies fight it).

When USA announced the show was returning last year, The Biggest Loser promised change. I’ve now watched the first three episodes, and it’s pretty clear to me that this is a wolf whose sheep costume is woefully inadequate.

The show has made some substantial changes: the temptation challenges are gone, and so is the strategic game. No one gets voted off, though there are weekly eliminations.

USA’s The Biggest Loser has emotional moments that I was swept into, with people talking about life experiences and stigma associated with their bodies.

Yet the show spends an extremely long time—almost a third of regular episodes—with contestants standing shirtless on a giant, fake scale. A majority of the rest of the time is spent in a gym full of logos for the show’s trademark brand integration. There’s less screaming, but there still is puking.

Yes, all that’s back, and so are the teams and the competition. Teams still win pounds in challenges to subtract from their total; the losing team still loses someone, though it’s based on the percentage of weight lost, not a vote.

There is practically no attention paid to eating or nutrition, besides occasional references to calories, the barest of minimus. The show has a nutritionist working with the contestants but completely skips that—even though “eating less is far more important than exercising more.” There’s also a one-mile race, which you may recall was a challenge that sent two people to the hospital in season 8.

Host Bob Harper gathers everyone for group therapy sessions, even though he is not an actual therapist, and seem mostly focused on giving Bob his own platform to prove how much he cares.

The Biggest Loser is offering aftercare to its eliminated contestants: a gym membership (product integration!), access to a nutritionist, and a local support group. That’s nice, but if the show really, actually cared about helping people—not just making a TV show—why not get rid of that? Why not keep everyone on the ranch and mark their progress with more than just pounds lost?

Why is so much of the focus on straining in the gym and standing on the scale? Why is that the message that the show continues to send?

If NBC’s version of The Biggest Loser was a big sheet cake, what the show is now is a sheet cake without the frosting on the outside. It’s change, yes, but it seems like the kind of change that’s as useful as eating at McDonald’s three times a day but swapping out Dr. Pepper for Diet Coke at one of those meals.

Most importantly, The Biggest Loser is giving most of its attention to what experts tell us does not help.

The Biggest Loser is focused on the wrong things

The Biggest Loser season 18 host Bob Harper at the Television Critics Association’s 2020 winter press tour (Photo by Evans Vestal Ward/NBCUniversal)

How can a show that helps people be bad? The real problem, I learned when interviewing experts for an L.A. Times story about the new Biggest Loser, is that the show retains its focus on losing pounds.

Sandra Aamodt, the author of Why Diets Make Us Fat (a book that’s subtitled “The Unintended Consequences of Our Obsession with Weight Loss”) told me that the show’s focus on the number of pounds lost makes it just another form of dieting.

“If they wanted to optimize for health, they could measure health: They could measure people’s cholesterol improvements, they could measure blood pressure improvements, they could measure glucose improvements. There are lots and lots and lots of very well-known, easy-to-measure indicators of health that are better predictors of people’s long term, good condition than weight,” Aamodt said. “So the fact that they’re choosing to measure weight and use that to identify winners tells me everything I need to know about what they’re really doing.”

The contestants’ vitals are being monitored, but those are never discussed. What’s shown and discussed endlessly is weight.

Dr. Michael Levine—who focuses on the prevention of body dissatisfaction and eating disorders, and who I also interviewed for the story—said he’d be interested in a version of The Biggest Loser where “winners were defined in terms of their physical and emotional well-being, and weight has nothing to do with it. Some people might lose weight, some people might not. I’d be tempted to watch something like that. But that’s never going to appeal, because it’s going to lack the intense life-or-death element.”

An executive who oversaw the show at Endemol and now works at NBCUniversal defended that practice by saying the contestants “enjoyed” it, which is strange to me because the contestants say, on camera, how frustrated they are with their trainer’s relentless reminders that they’ve lost a teammate and need to lose more pounds so they don’t lose more people.

Here’s what Bob Harper said, via this statement sent to me through a USA Network publicist (which is excerpted in my L.A. Times story):

“Everyone who goes back home after their time on ‘The Biggest Loser’ is a winner, because they leave with a new outlook on life and the tools and inspiration needed to continue their journey towards better health. They are equipped with a strong aftercare program and the love and support of The Biggest Loser family every step of the way. The weigh-in and competitive component of the show is a victorious moment for the contestants and viewers alike. It’s a tangible and visible expression of their hard work and success and all the contestants celebrate with each other. Motivation is key with any form of weight loss! People strive to get healthy for themselves, for their families, for their friends, for their futures—and this show—with an admittedly motivational and supportive competitive element—is just one of many ways to begin that first step towards a healthier life.”

“We fully realize this show is unique—not many people can take time off from real life to focus solely on themselves and their health—but to have them bravely out there as an example to others is inspirational to me personally.”

That sounds nice, but isn’t being inspired by the cast just the flip side of the fat-shaming coin? Both are about using other people’s bodies for our own entertainment.

By the way, research on the NBC version showed that The Biggest Loser increased people’s “dislike of overweight individuals”; it did not increase empathy.

That’s ultimately The Biggest Loser’s biggest problem. It’s caused damage to its contestants in the past, and its messages are also damaging to other people, perhaps including kids and teenagers who internalize messages about how to become thin (work out for hours!).

For those who are dealing with body image issues and have disordered eating, Levine said that media can “reinforce their values and their beliefs and their behaviors, and often tends to make things worse.”

Dr. Christy Greenleaf, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee who studies body image and weight-related stigma, told me that The Biggest Loser “reinforces a lot of beliefs we have about people and bodies we think of as fat, as being lazy having brought this on themselves, that they deserve the punishment.”

The new show spends a significant amount of time with the contestants in the gym, and Greenleaf said “it’s more dramatic to watch people in larger bodies struggle, and it reinforces a lot of dominant social stereotypes about people we consider fat.”

Bob Harper, The Biggest Loser’s new trainers, and a network executive defend the show

The Biggest Loser host Bob Harper, trainers Erica Lugo and Steve Cook, and USA executive Heather Olander at the Television Critics Association’s 2020 winter press tour (Photo by Evans Vestal Ward/NBCUniversal)

At the Television Critics Association’s winter press tour in Pasadena, Calif., several TV critics—including me—asked about the show’s past and its changes. Below are a few of the questions that three of us asked, and the answers we received.

Answering those questions on stage during the press conference were host Bob Harper; trainers Erica Lugo and Steve Cook; and USA and Syfy’s executive in charge of alternative programming, Heather Olander.

USA TODAY’s Kelly Lawler: You talked about that the show has been updated for 2020, but there has been a considerable amount of criticism of the show over the years, particularly in the health of the contestants afterwards, and how it has normalized fat shaming and the idea that anyone can go lose weight if they just try hard enough.

What is your responsibility to people who are not out there being able to exercise 20 hours a day? What responsibility do you have to people whose lives have been hurt by the show?

Bob Harper: “Well, for me, I know that I’ve worked with a lot of people in the past that the show has really helped and inspired. Weight loss is controversial any way that you look at it. And the one thing that I have learned being in this business for as long as I’ve been in is that the losing weight is the easiest part. It’s keeping it off, because you have to divorce yourself of everything that you ever did in your past that got you to that place.

And what is really exciting for me being a part of the show, this new reboot and new season, is that we’re trying to approach it from every level. We want to give them everything that they can use to succeed. We want you to succeed, because it’s very difficult.

As you’ve seen, like diets out there, no matter how you lose weight, it’s keeping it off that you’re going to have to struggle with for the rest of your life.”

Lawler: But not just the contestants. There are people in real life who have been affected by the perception that the show brings, that anyone can lose weight and that fat people are entertainment.

So why do you want to bring this show back in 2020 when we’re starting to make very small steps towards body positivity?

Heather Olander: “To that end, thinking about that when we were developing the show, we did want to make better connection or bigger connection between weight loss and health.

And for these contestants on the show, they primarily came to the show because they wanted to live a longer life. They unanimously talked about health issues that they are having because of the weight, and just beyond that — the message in the show is, yes, being thin and fitting into skinny jeans; if that’s what you want, fabulous. But that’s not the end all, be all. It’s not about getting thin at all costs. It’s about getting healthy and setting these contestants on a healthy lifestyle path.

Giving them information about nutrition that a lot of them didn’t have. They didn’t even know where to start, and talking about, also, the mental piece of that. What got them mentally and emotionally to the place that they are?

So we touched on the mental part of it, the food part of it, and the fitness part of it, all of the holistic approach to say to everyone, viewers and the contestants, it’s not about a short term diet get thin, because it’s not sustainable, and you’re right. That’s not the right message to send. It’s about getting healthy and whatever that means for you and whatever body type that is for you.”

NPR’s Eric Deggans: I wanted to piggyback on that because there have been critics who have also said that the actual process of the show isn’t healthy, including people who have been on the show, who said that the pressure to win a contest that involves a cash prize and that involves fame pushes them to do unhealthy things during the course of the contest—some things that may not even be shown on the show.

So when we hear that the show is coming back, the big concern I had as a critic is that we’re going to see more of this—that we’re going to see contestants pushed to do unhealthy things because they want to stay on the show, because the person who loses the least amount of weight is going to get ejected no matter what you sLay. So what have you done to deal with those criticisms?

Olander: “From the format standpoint, and we want to make sure they’re losing the weight but also they’re in the healthiest environment they can be, so though not shown on the series, behind the scenes we did have a nutritionist who provided individualized meal plans for each of the contestants. We had two doctors on set and a set of trainers that vetted the nutrition plans, but the trainers also vetted all of the challenges and the workouts that they did, and they were constantly monitored to make sure that all of their vitals were where they needed to be and they were losing weight at a healthy rate.”

Deggans: So someone decides to put on, like, a garbage bag or wear heavy sweatpants and work out for hours and hours and hours the day before weigh-in because they need to lose that weight, which we’ve heard some contestants have done, you’re not going to allow that?

Olander: “We didn’t see that. You guys should speak to it.”

Steve Cook: “Hydration was key. So everyone had to they were checked for hydration, and we were very big on this really being about self-love. And at the end of the day, if you don’t have that, you might lose weight on the show, but what’s going to happen when you go home when you haven’t dealt with those issues.

So it wasn’t about cheating the system, about staying there. They knew it’s a marathon. It’s not a sprint. And when we were training people, it was really hammering that home to them, like, Hey. This here, yes, there’s a prize money at the end, but the real victory is that lifelong being here for your kids in 20 plus years.”

Deggans: I don’t want to belabor this. But my question is, what did you specifically require of them to keep them from doing things that would endanger their health so they can lose weight to stay on the show?

Cook: “They all needed to hit a certain amount of calories, and then also, each week we all sat down the dietician and the doctor. We went over blood work as well as each person’s specific diet for their week, their training protocol with the athletic training staff, so if there was ever somebody that was over-training, you know, had a strain in their quad, we had to come up with a different way to train them.

And I think you see it. This is the healthiest way to lose weight, the way we go about it with the doctors, with the dieticians. They are drinking lots of water, staying hydrated, and it shows in their blood work.”

reality blurred’s Andy Dehnart: “Bob, you were talking earlier about the struggle of keeping it off, and framing that as about willpower and people doing it. … But I’m wondering if you all—and especially Heather—were aware of the NIH study that was done with Biggest Loser contestants that followed them over six years and found that, basically, this kind of extreme weight loss doesn’t work because people’s bodies fight back against it, and it actually slows metabolism. So, essentially, this is not a successful plan, and yet here it is back on television again.”

Harper: “Well, I think that when it comes to weight loss in general, there is so many other studies out there too that will tell you the struggles of the body. After you have lost so much weight, your body wants to go back to how it’s been for a very long time, and that’s almost like swimming upstream for people. You’ve got to realize that you have got to like I said earlier, you have to change everything when you are trying to lose weight, because your body is trying to get you back there. And if you have yourself surrounded with like minded people, if you realize that this is something that you have to struggle with, manage, however you want to put it, for the rest of your life I mean, I think Erica can really speak to this because she is someone that has lost that much weight. She’s had to work with her body. You can speak to that.”

Erica Lugo: “Again, losing 160 pounds, people ask me that question all the time, what do I think about this and keeping it off. Honestly, it’s the tools that I learned throughout my weight loss journey that we are teaching on the show to keep it off long-term. It is a choice that you have to make day in and day out, and that is what we really hone in with these contestants is making sure that they have the tools and the knowledge and the resources to continually be able to keep it off.”

Harper: “I think what else is so great about it too is, like, all of these non-scale victories that you are going to experience when you watch the show because it’s not just about, like, I’ve got to lose weight. It’s about the people that are coming in that are just trying to manage their type 2 diabetes, lower their blood pressure, and you get to see that. Being in the fitness industry and the health industry for as long as I have, I get to see people that have gotten off so many medications as a result of them making these lifestyle changes.”

What’s striking to me about reading their answers is that it actually sounds like The Biggest Loser made some good behind-the-scenes choices. But basically none of that ends up on television, which means that we have to take their word for it.

And more importantly, why isn’t the TV show itself focusing or even mentioning these things (individualized nutrition and work-out plans, regular testing and discussions with doctors) especially if they’re so important? That remains a mystery to me, even after two weeks of reporting on it.

The Biggest Loser Is Returning with Bob Harper As Host

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Bob Harper announced on The Today Show that he’ll be joining the Biggest Loser reboot. While he was a trainer on previous seasons, Harper will take on a new role as host when the show returns. (Related: Bob Harper Reminds Us That Heart Attacks Can Happen to Anyone)

During his interview, Harper said that his new role as host won’t be the only change to the show, which will premiere in 2020 on USA. “I hope to still be doing a little training in there, I can’t help it,” he said. “But we’re going to have new trainers, a new medical team. This show is going to be better than ever.” (Related: How Bob Harper’s Fitness Philosophy Has Changed Since His Heart Attack)

The Biggest Loser debuted in 2004 and lasted 17 seasons, ending in 2016. Contestants exercise and diet in hopes of losing the highest percentage of weight and winning a cash prize. Especially in recent years, The Biggest Loser has received a lot of criticism, both for the trainers’ methods used on the show and its premise alone. Several former contestants have come forward saying that their time on the show had negative ramifications. One woman, Kai Hibbard, said she developed an eating disorder after the show, and stopped getting her period while the show’s trainers pushed her to get back on the treadmill. Other contestants told the New York Post that a doctor who worked on the show offered them Adderall and “yellow jackets” to help with weight loss, leading to an ongoing defamation lawsuit between the doctor and the New York Post.

In addition, a 2016 story published in the New York Times shed doubt on whether the weight-loss methods on the show are sustainable. A researcher followed 14 former Biggest Loser contestants over the course of six years. Thirteen of the 14 had gained weight, and four weighed even more than they had weighed going into the show.

In response to the criticism, Harper asserted that the show will be making positive changes. “Whenever you talk about weight loss, it is always going to be controversial, always,” he said in his Today Show interview. “But we’re trying to approach it in a completely different way. We want to help them while they’re on the show and when they go home. The aftercare, I think, is going to be super important for them. Because you come on to our show, and you’re learning so much, and when it’s time for you to go back home, it can be a really hard adjustment.”

USA and SyFy Networks President, Chris McCumber, also previously said that the new version of the show will focus more on contestants’ overall well-being compared to the original.

Throughout its run, The Biggest Loser has had a gradual drop in viewership, with 10.3 million viewers in its first season compared to 4.8 million in its 13th. And in the three years since The Biggest Loser has gone off-air, body positivity and anti-diet movements have only gained more visibility. That said, our collective appetite for before-and-after weight-loss inspiration hasn’t wavered. Time will tell if the show’s changes are enough to spark a comeback.

  • Biggest Loser trainer and TODAY show health contributor Bob Harper, 52, suffered a near-fatal heart attack in February 2017.
  • Since then he’s made some major changes to his diet, workouts, and lifestyle.
  • Now, he says he embraces carbs, mid-intensity workouts, transcendental meditation, and living in the moment.

It still seems unfathomable that health and fitness expert Bob Harper suffered a near-fatal heart attack last year on February 12, 2017. “It’s been a very challenging year and an eye-opening year,” he told WomansDay.com. “So much has had to change for me personally. Not only have I had to change my diet, I’ve had to change the way that I work out—the way that I live.”

The 52-year-old Biggest Loser trainer recounts the dizzy spells he had been experiencing weeks prior to collapsing at a New York City gym on that fateful day. “What I should have done was seen a doctor immediately,” he says. “I’m a workout nut, so I’m used to being uncomfortable, I’m used to being in pain. So I did something that’s so dumb—I learned how to adjust. It was not smart on my part.”

But what a difference a year makes. Here, the author and television personality shares the five ways he has transformed his health—and his life—from the inside out.

He is embracing carbs.

Harper, who is currently a health contributor on TODAY and a frequent co-host of the Racheal Ray Show, was consuming a high-protein, high-fat diet prior to his heart attack. “I was healthy, I was fit, I was strong, I watched what I ate. But now I realized that what my diet was lacking—maybe I don’t want to say lacking, but how it was different—was that it didn’t have balance,” he explains.

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The missing component: Carbohydrates. After all, he was well-aware that cutting out carbs typically results in rapid weight loss. “Yet what I’ve found for longevity, it’s very hard for a lot of people to sustain that type of diet.” Today, his meal plan “leans more on the Mediterranean-style” with a focus on plant-based foods, including more fruits and vegetables, as well as whole-grains. “There are so many great pastas out there, like red lentil, chickpea pasta, and quinoa pasta,” he adds. “I like being able to eat a sandwich and not feel like I’ve committed a cardinal sin!”

And yes, it is possible to shed unwanted pounds—and keep them off—on this regime, which is the premise of his latest book, The Super Carb Diet. “I think the biggest thing people are going to learn from my book is I want to press the reset button,” explains Harper. “I think there have been a lot of very lopsided, extreme diets for the last couple of decades. I want to put balance back onto your plate—and get you to lose weight, if that’s what you’re trying to do—with protein, fats, and carbohydrates so you can not only do this diet, but have it be a way of life. Balance in every aspect of my life—especially now—is super important.”

He has said goodbye to intense workouts.

This longtime CrossFit enthusiast admits that modifying his fitness routine was not an easy adjustment. “I was the guy who was posting these workouts of myself in the gym doing these really crazy things, but I’m not able to do that anymore,” he says. “And it’s okay. I’ve cut myself slack, which is a new thing for me.”

He labels his current workouts as mid-intensity with a longer time domain, “meaning I’m working out a little longer to condition more heart, to keep my heart rate up—that’s what I learned in my cardiac rehab,” continues Harper. “They want me to keep my heart rate up for about 30 to 45 minutes, but not too intense.”

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Saturday vibes

A post shared by Bob Harper (@bobharper) on Jan 20, 2018 at 10:56am PST

Plus, he’s added other forms of exercise to his lifestyle. “I walk a lot with my dogs here in the city , I’m doing a lot of yoga, and I’ve been wanting to incorporate boxing—that’s my challenge for 2018.” And he’s no longer sweating it out every single day (he averages about five days a week). “I used to be very regimented—I knew how I was going to work out on Monday, I knew what I was going to do every day following. But now it’s a little more relaxed.”

He takes time each day to focus on inner calmness.

A three-time New York Times bestselling author, Harper regularly practices transcendental meditation (TM), which involves silently repeating a mantra in order to place your body in a state of profound rest and allow your mind to achieve a sense of peace, as defined by the Mayo Clinic. “TM, yoga, and my dogs really help me with managing my stress,” he emphasizes. “I tell people you have to find whatever it is in your life that you can do to turn off the white noise, just for a few minutes. If it means sitting with your phone off for five or ten minutes and not having to focus on anyone or anything— those things are so good for you. It helps your brain, it helps your body.”

He is living in the moment.

Another similar lesson Harper has learned over the last year is to be present in the present. He recalls suffering from depression and an identity crisis early in his recovery since his only goal was to hit the gym hard once again.

Bob Harper on Biggest Loser, season 17. Getty Images

“I felt like beating my fist up again the wall because I wasn’t able to do it,” he confesses. “All I wanted to do in my recovery was get back to work and what I thought was normal again… I was the fitness guy—I went to the gym for social, I went to the gym for fitness, I went for stress, I went for all these things. And when my doctors took that away from me after my heart attack, I didn’t know what to do with myself.”

Yet he discovered that “the universe had a way of self-adjusting” his perspective on life. “I understand now that I’m more than just the fitness guy—I’m more than that,” he continues. “And that was kind of liberating to come to that conclusion.” Today, he relies on a special piece of jewelry that encourages him to be mindful. “I have this bracelet that I wear all the time that says, ‘Be Here Now.’ It’s that touchstone that says, ‘Okay, I can’t stress about the big things or the small things.’”

He leans on his medical team.

Prior to February 2017, Harper would head to the doctor’s office for a routine physical exam every now and then. “I didn’t see doctors very much and I would kind of get nervous when I’d go to the doctor,” he says. “And now, I’m very comforted by having a doctor. I’m working with a team of doctors that have become a part of my life that are guiding me through this new journey.”

Something else that is also “completely new” for him is taking medication. “One of the things that was a really big wake-up call for me after I had a heart attack was when my doctors told me I’d be more likely to have another heart attack within the first year,” states Harper. “I said, ‘Okay, you tell me what I need to do.’” He was instructed to leave the hospital with BRILINTA, a prescription drug for heart attack treatment. Today, Harper is working with AstraZeneca, the company that distributes the med. “Teaming up with them has been very personal for me because I am a heart attack survivor. It was such an organic fit.”

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This morning on @todayshow I was discussing the benefits of having a workout partner. I love my partner @itsmeseanny Tag your partner and show them some love!!

A post shared by Bob Harper (@bobharper) on Jan 4, 2018 at 5:41am PST

And he hopes his experience will inspire others to establish a relationship with their physician. ”I remember Savanah Guthrie from the TODAY show reached out to me and said, ‘When I heard this happened to you, I immediately went to my doctor,’” he concludes. “I thought that was so powerful because I want people to be proactive. I don’t want you to just look in the mirror and say, ‘Damn, I look good.’ I want you to be able to see your doctor and make sure that you are good.”

Amy Capetta Amy Capetta has been writing health and lifestyle articles for over 15 years.Teri Aguiar, Erica Lugo, Katarina Bouton, PhiXavier Holmes, James DiBattista, Kristi McCart (Photo by: Richie Knapp/USA Network) Launch Gallery 15 Photos

The Biggest Loser, one of the most popular unscripted series in TV history, returns on Tuesday, Jan. 28 with Bob Harper, who served 17 seasons as a trainer, taking over the hosting duties for the updated weight-loss show .

The revamped series will be reflective of health and fitness today as it follows the inspirational journeys of 12 men and women as they transform, not just their bodies, but their lives.

Since leaving the air, the previous version of the show has come under fire for some of its practices, and Harper addresses that.

“Weight loss is controversial any way that you look at it,” he says. “The one thing that I have learned being in this business for as long as I’ve been is that losing weight is the easiest part. It’s keeping it off, because you have to divorce yourself of everything that you ever did in your past that got you to that place. With this reboot, we’re trying to approach it from every level. We want to give them everything that they can use to succeed.”

One of the changes for The Biggest Loser for 2020 is the way contestants are eliminated. It will no longer be a popularity contest, but the person that happens to lose the least amount of weight that week will be the one that gets eliminated.

And for those who are eliminated, the aftercare package was enhanced versus what it was in past seasons, so those people who go home early on in the process get the best chance possible to continue a healthy lifestyle. They will receive a gym membership, but also, a nutritionist.

For those who remain, they are schooled on the mental part of weight loss, the food part, and the fitness part of it, so it is a more holistic approach that explains it’s not about a short-term diet to get thin, because that’s not sustainable, nor is it the right message to send. Rather, it’s about getting healthy and whatever that means for the individual and their body type.

“I also think that it’s having realistic goals, working with what you have, making sure that you are in constant communication with your doctor because only you and your doctor know what your real health is like,” says Harper, who will be joined by the two new trainers Erica Lugo and Steve Cook.

Meet the 12 contestants on The Biggest Loser 2020:

Teri Aguiar, the former Miss Missouri 1999 turned flight nurse from Columbia, Ill, weighed in at 256 pounds.

Katarina Bouton is a 23-year-old cardiac nurse from Jacksonville, Fla. who joined The Biggest Loser at 293 pounds.

Domenico “Dom” Brugellis is responsible for setting the menu for students across New York City as a food manager with the Department of Education. He started his journey at 323 pounds.

Micah Collum is a 23-year-old from Oneonta, Ala., who weighed in at 326 pounds.

Kim Davis is a southern mom from Mulberry, Tenn., who works as a tour guide at a popular whiskey distillery. She joined The Biggest Loser at 242 pounds.

Jim DiBattista is a father of three boys and coach of a local youth football team in his native Philadelphia, Pa. Jim decided to go on The Biggest Loser at 385 pounds.

Megan Hoffman is a 35-year-old from Simi Valley, Calif., who is an Operations and Retention Director at a gym. She joined The Biggest Loser at 290 pounds.

PhiXavier “Phi” Holmes is a professional school counselor in Washington D.C., who began her journey at 357 pounds.

Kristi McCart is a wife, mother, and family law and estate planning attorney with her own practice in Riverview, Fla., who joined The Biggest Loser at 264 pounds.

Robert Richardson II works as a Territory Sales Manager for a tobacco company in Lafayette, La., who weighted in at 409 pounds.

Delores Tomorrow is an accomplished community leader in her native Chicago, founder of a non-profit serving teen girls of color, and event planner who served on the Advance Team for former First Lady Michelle Obama. She started her Biggest Loser journey at 280 pounds.

Kyle Yeo was born and raised in Kansas City, Mo., and joins The Biggest Loser at 302 pounds.

The Biggest Loser premieres Jan. 28 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on USA Network.

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