Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Thintervention: Definetely Not BVM

Photo courtesy of Bravo TV
I will admit it, I watch and enjoy reality TV.  Since some of my favorite shows (Top Chef and West Wing reruns) are on Bravo TV, I see a lot of their ads for new shows.  Maybe just because I'm a dietitian I was naturally drawn to one of this season's new shows, Thintervention with Jackie Warner.

If you are familiar with Bravo, you might recognize Ms. Warner from her previous series Workout which highlighted the personal and professional drama that comes from a Beverly Hills health club.  Her new show, Thintervention is a less personal drama but more like the Biggest Loser.  It tracks a small group of people who are working with Ms. Warner to lose weight.  Her expertise is as a personal trainer and according to this site holds certifications from the International Sports Science Association (I.S.S.A.), and National Endurance and Strength Association (N.E.S.T.A.) but no nutrition degree or certification of any other kind.  The greatest thing she has to offer is the best six-pack abs on TV.  But abs of steel in no way qualifies her to give sound nutrition advice or help people find a successful weight loss plan.

I watched just enough of Episode 1 to see Ms. Warner literally punish her client for eating 150 calories of cookies. Her basic nutrition advice was to eliminate all sugar from her clients' diet.  When she found that her client did not follow this "order", she made him walk up and down the stairs in his house until he burned the 150 calories from the cookies he ate.   My thought when I saw this was a little shocked.  Working with obese individuals, I never try to demonize a specific food or punish someone for not making a healthy choice.  What message does that send to the client and how does that promote long-term healthy eating?  It doesn't but it does get ratings.  Since I couldn't watch the whole first episode I thought I should give Ms. Warner a chance and try to catch a full episode.

Last night, after putting the kids to bed I figured I would watch Episode 2.  I still have a bad taste in my mouth.  Thankfully, there wasn't much in the way of flawed nutrition information from Ms. Warner during the episode.  Her only really great kernel of "nutritional wisdom" was to talk about her pre-workout shake.  See the recipe here but to summarize, it's protein powder, glutamine powder, branched chain amino acid (BCAA) powder, L-carnatine, flax oil, spinach and fruit.  I'm not an expert in sports nutrition but it seems like a lot of supplementats to me.  Wouldn't teaching her clients how to find some of those ingredients in whole foods that they can find in any market be more useful? 

The most disturbing thing about the episode though was the end.  All but one of the clients lost weight.  Most averaged a few pounds but no, "huge numbers." Jackie's reaction to the weight loss was simple: disappointment.  Not reassurance, not a congratulatory hug.  No, disappointment.  There was no discussion about how the body fights weight loss and that it might not be realistic to lose 5+ pounds every week.  No, there was disappointment.  How does that motivate someone to stay with a program?  Now I know that this is TV and that we are only watching the show for the drama that ensues but with something as personal weight loss, drama is not the name of the game.  Losing two pounds in a week is a big accomplishment for anyone and should be congratulated. 

I'm sure that Ms. Warner's clients get results.  I'm sure that they lose weight while following her exercise and diet plan, but is it sustainable? Is she helping her clients make life-style changes to make the weight loss permanent/ Is she teaching them to change how they think about food?  Is she giving them the tools to have a healthy relationship with food?  From what I've seen so far, the answer is no.  I wish her clients success and good health.  Maybe after they are done filming they can go to the ADA website, find a Registered Dietitian and  see how the nutrition experts do it. 


  1. It might not be *realistic* to lose 5+ pounds a week? It's downright stupid to lose that much at once, much less set it as a goal.

    I know I'm preaching to the choir here, but I lost 30 lbs last year, and have been slowly losing a bit more this year (more like 2 lbs a month, but it's progress, and I'm nearly where I want to be), and never, ever was I told that losing more than 2 lbs a week was good (Weight Watchers, by the way).

    The only ways to lose that much weight consistently aren't sustainable, and are very difficult, and are potentially really dangerous to your health. Gah.

    The way I lost weight was to learn what was in the food I was eating -- and even though I mostly cook my own food, and rarely buy anything packaged, I was regularly consuming 100% more calories than I thought I was.

    This kind of sensationalism drives me nuts.

    Thank you for thoughtfully analyzing this. I'd be throwing things at the television.

  2. Aaron,thank you for doing what so many of us wish we had the time and discipline to do. I had not heard of this show prior to reading your blog and now I'm sure I won't be watching. Please keep connecting us with your point of view - whatever the size of your reader base, your support is huge! The worlds of nutrition and wellness are lucky to have you.

  3. Your comments and observations are terrific...and show what a good professional should be: knowledgeable, caring and sensible…finding the MOST APPROPRIATE way to help your clients!!! BRAVO

  4. Great post Aaron! I don't know why I get stuck watching that show either...I guess I just like figuring out where the wrong information comes from. I agree with you and think it wasn't right to put down a 2 pound weight loss. That is great!!! A .5-2 pound weight loss per week is healthy, but anything more than that may lead to muscle loss. Also, that protein shake is for people that are doing hardcore weight lifting and/or exercise not for the average American trying to maintain their weight.

  5. Thanks all for the comments. I appreciate all the great feedback and input.

  6. Aaron, I found your blog very interesting and wondered whether you had any books you could recommend on nutrition for people who may not know about the importance of carbs, sugars and fats in the diet? Any help or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

  7. Thanks for the feedback. One of my favorite books about nutrition is The End of Overeating by Dr. David Kessler. It's a fantastic book about how food affects our brain chemistry and how to "rehab" by eating more of the right foods. Also check out Elisa Zied's site. She's a RD who has written some great nutrition books. Best of luck.

  8. Thank you for this excellent post. This show just started airing here in Australia, and I caught the same episodes you did. I am just a lay person, but it was obvious to me Jackie knows squat about nutrition, and that the approach of punishing patients was psychologically unhealthy.
    One thing that disturbed me a lot in one episode was when one client was in physical distress on the treadmill, Jackie not only barked at her to keep going (though her trainer seemed a little uncomfortable with the idea), but when the client said, 'I just felt like I was going to pass out', Jackie yelled at her 'you're NOT going to pass out. It's mind over matter! I can tell by looking at you you are fine!'. Disturbing. Overtraining is as unhealthy to promote as her bogus nutritional advice. You have to listen to your body's limits, and ease yourself toward doing more. Applying 'mind over matter' unjudiciously to any feeling of pain, discomfort, exhaustion is a recipe for disaster. And then there is the disturbingly false idea a trainer can tell by looking at someone they are 'fine'. I wish these dangerous ideas weren't allowed on TV, or that the shows at least came with a disclaimer.

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