Three years ago, Matt was 340 pounds and looked like a suburbanite Chris Farley. He knew he needed to lose weight. Like many other Americans seeking extreme weight loss, Matt felt he needed, “to get away from contemporary society” while he tried to shed the pounds.
Matt took a hiking trip with Outward Bound in an effort to slim down. His trip lasted 10 days and hiked through wilderness of Utah. Trips or weight loss resorts are increasing in popularity; the concept of ‘getting away’ to lose weight amongst adults has become more appealing than staying home and working out.
In the past, popular culture in the U.S. has portrayed people who are overweight as non-athletic, unhappy and having low self-esteem and no control with food. In recent years however, the social perception of weight loss camp has changed, most heavily influenced by the television show The Biggest Loser.
“The Bigger Loser” is a competition show in which obese adult contestants receive training and enter an intense workout and diet lifestyle that will help them lose extreme amounts of weight. Each week, they are subjected to weigh-ins to track their progress.
Not to miss a business opportunity, The Biggest Loser has 4 Biggest Loser Resorts These, and other weight loss camps have labeled themselves as spas, resorts, retreats or holidays to avoid the negative perception of the term “fat camp”.
These camps are meant for extreme weight loss and extreme exercise. An average day at one of these camps includes at least five hours of cardio exercise and weight lifting, nutrition classes, as well as portion-controlled, specially-prepared food. A campers day is entirely scheduled and structured for their success at weight loss.
Unfortunately, that is why so many campers gain weight again when they leave the hyper-structured world of a weight loss camp. The maintenance of weight loss in such an extreme manner is nearly impossible to replicate at home. Campers may lose weight while at camp, but more likely than not, they will gain it back after they leave.
So why are Americans so drawn to weight loss camps as a solution to obesity? Dr. Linda Mintle of Liberty University, a licensed therapist and national speaker, believes weight loss camps are a short cut. Rather than significantly change one’s lifestyle, they would rather spend several weeks or months “at camp” until they lose the weight.
Dr. Mintle states, “Our obsession [with weight loss] creates a billion-dollar business in which the demand for more products, more gimmicks, and more promises is never quenched.”
This theory would explain why The Biggest Loser TV show has four resorts in the U.S., online weight loss programs, DVDs, books, Biggest Loser exercise equipment, Biggest Loser music, cookbooks, and Biggest Loser Cuisine (available at Costco) to promote the Biggest Loser lifestyle.
What’s the big deal then? Shouldn’t Americans being happy they have all the tools they need to be a Biggest Loser too? Or is the whole premise of a Biggest Loser without being on the show unrealistic?
Dr. Mintle believes, “The issue [with weight loss camp] is it’s not effective in long run unless you make the lifestyle change. It’s so structured for you that you cannot regiment it in daily life.”
Matt’s weight-loss trip to Utah worked temporarily. He came home after a loss of ten pounds in ten days and felt ecstatic. But back in a suburban setting with the temptations of free access to the pantry and refrigerator, he found, like many returned-home campers, that hours of exercise and portioned meals (Biggest Loser labeled or not) were impossible to maintain.
Perhaps the proof is in the pudding. While weight loss camps across the US have increased numbers of campers, there are not as many success stories as one might think. The Biggest Loser Resort website has less than 20 testimonials on their Success Stories page.
The following summer, Matt went on another weight-loss trip, this one more effective. As the weight fell off he discovered the exercise got easier and he felt better than he had in years. He returned 20 pounds lighter and set his new goal: to lose 100 pounds in one year. He enlisted the help of a personal trainer who kept him accountable. One year later, Matt was 125 pounds lighter. He found that weight-loss trips don’t work in the long run. “If you want to lose weight, you can’t take a trip and be done. You have to work for it everyday.”