Gruelling reality TV workouts 'give unrealistic goal for exercise plan'
The gruelling workouts imposed on couch potato contestants taking part in TV weight-loss shows risk intimidating viewers and discouraging exercise, it has been claimed by a leading fitness expert.
Dr Colin Dunlevy, who is a physiotherapist with Irish soccer teams, criticised programmes like RTE's Operation Transformation, which sees contestants being put through their paces by the Army in the Curragh.
"My view is that it is damaging rather than helpful," said Dr Dunlevy, who is also physiotherapist at the weight management clinic in St Columcille's Hospital in Dublin. "Activity needs to be sustainable, but that level of exercise puts people off."
Dr Dunlevy, who will deliver his lecture at the annual conference of the Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists later this week, said that weight stability is as important as weight loss.
"Exercise cannot be at that level of hard work. The focus should be on the kind of exercise people can sustain. If you want to make it sustainable you have to make it look enjoyable," he said.
He said a lot of factors contribute to a person being overweight which do not go away overnight. He said these TV programmes, which are condensed into a few episodes, can offer unrealistic expectations.
Around one in five of the very obese patients who attend the hospital's clinic have weight-reduction surgery, but less dramatic weight loss is a more realistic goal and the aim is to sustain their weight and improve their health.
The recent Celebrity Operation Transformation fitness plan is a mixture of cardio and resistance training coupled with a rest day.
On the Operation Transformation website, the show's fitness instructor Karl Henry tells followers the workouts are tough, but added the advice is to always consult a GP before engaging in any new fitness plan.
A key part of the Celebrity Operation Transformation plan involves cardio and Mr Henry added on the site: "If you don't like to run or have been advised not to run, fear not - fast walking is equally as beneficial and there is less pressure on the joints. I'm fast walking's biggest fan. It's good for the body and easy to do."
A recent study revisited 14 of the 16 contestants from America's The Biggest Loser programme. Six years after the season ended, the study revealed that some contestants had regained the weight they lost, highlighting how difficult the exercise plans can be.
"You can lose enormous amounts of weight, but you can't get away from a basic biological reality," Michael Schwartz, an obesity and diabetes researcher said.
"If you are below your initial weight, your body is going to try and get you back."
The study, in the journal Obesity, looked at resting metabolic rate, which slows with weight loss, and whether or not this slowing down lasted over long periods of time.
The study concluded: "Long-term weight loss requires vigilant combat against persistent metabolic adaptation that acts to proportionally counter ongoing efforts to reduce body weight."