Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition

As you know I’m not a fan of NBC’s hit weight loss show The Biggest Loser. I outlined all of my issues and why I take offense to the show in my post – Why Biggest Isn’t Best and we’ve talked about the series many times here at Angry Trainer Fitness.

Well now we have another new weight loss show, this time on ABC called Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition featuring trainer Chris Powell helping individuals to lose huge sums of weight. But is the format – and the training – any better? Here’s my take…

Trainer Powell, who’s best know for helping a guy named David Smith lose 401 pounds in 26 months, is a self proclaimed “transformation specialist” and has been featured on Oprah, 20/20, and The View. My initial impression of Chris is that he comes across as genuine, and truly seems to really care and have passion for helping obese people lose weight.

Last night’s premiere episode featured Chris training Rachel, a Physical Education teacher who weighed in at 369 pounds. She’s a former Valedictorian and Prom Queen, and clearly had lost control of her weight. Rachel is young, successful, and proves that gaining weight and being obese can happen to anyone. And her home support system wasn’t the greatest. Both mom and dad were overweight and ate very poorly.

Ironically, 3 Ball Productions produces Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition; the same team behind The Biggest Loser. While watching the show, the look of the show and some of the commercial cutaways were reminiscent of Loser, but that’s where the similarities end.

You see unlike its time compressed NBC sibling, Extreme Makeover takes its participants through a one-year journey that Powell divides into 4 phases, each having its own weight loss goals and targets. This is not 12 weeks on a ranch. Another HUGE difference is that except for the first 7 days where Chis teaches healthy eating, exercise strategy and gives a huge dose of motivation outside of the home, the rest of the transformation takes place in the home. Powell gets the family involved, calls them out when they are contributors to poor health and eating habits, and tosses out all the bad food. Of course he replaces it with healthier choices and takes the opportunity to help all involved.

That meant that Rachel, for nearly a whole year, worked out on her own and prepared her own food. Basically she had to fit workouts and nutrition in to her real life, instead of being shipped off to a vacation fantasyland for months with no other responsibility other than working out. Learning how to acclimate to a new lifestyle while you’re still living the old one is paramount to success, especially in weight loss. So I’m thrilled with this part of the show’s format.

In fact, 90% of the show’s weight loss and work occurred without Powell present. I’m sure he called on a daily basis and sent regular inspiration, but still he wasn’t there on a day-to-day basis and for me, that’s key. Having access to a trainer every day for months is not good in my opinion – it creates a false security and environment that is unsustainable in the long term.

Rachel worked out three times a day, and ate 1,500 calories divided up into multiple meals. Although the show never elaborated on how long her workouts were, I’ll guess they were 45 minutes to an hour each. In the end she lost 161 pounds in 12 months. That’s about 13.5 pounds per month; a far cry from the double-digit numbers posted weekly on The Biggest Loser, and in my opinion a much more healthy and reasonable rate of weight loss.

What I like about the show was that it seemed to address more of the real issues surrounding weight gain and loss; home life, emotion issues, and the psychology that plays a tremendous part in success. What it didn’t have was a lot of yelling and cursing from a trainer (who could that be?), a trainee crawling on the floor or shrieking in agony, or any of the typical reality show antics; no voting, alliances, percentages or journey’s cut short due to game play. Just a woman with no other incentive other than getting her life back on track. Forget $250,000 prizes – what Rachel was fighting for is priceless.

That said, at times the show seemed a bit one-dimensional and in my opinion, many opportunities were missed to educate the viewers. Instead of just teaching Rachel to eat healthy, teach the audience! It’s great to show the food she’s eating, but what was it? Did she eat protein, and carbs, or was she on a low fat diet. Rachel was shown mostly performing only aerobic activity save for one quick scene where she had dumbbells and a barbell in her hand. Well, what was her training program? Why? Did she in fact mostly run as depicted, or was strength training included regularly? I think it’s important to not just show the before and after, but explain the in between.

Powell oddly enough was absent much of the episode, probably because they filmed multiple shows simultaneously. I like Chris and that’s saying a lot. In future episodes I’m sure I’ll see more sides to him, his training, and his philosophy. But the very fact that his program takes a year is already a good sign to me as says that he’s a realist more than anything else.

Extreme Makeover ended with Rachel weighing in one last time in front of friends and family. And she looked terrific. Clearly Chris’s work with her had boosted her self-esteem, and the bungee jump she took off a bridge in the middle of the episode gave her new found confidence. Another aspect of the show that was vastly different from The Biggest Loser is that Rachel had skin removal surgery to improve her appearance. After all it is Extreme Weight Loss Edition, and since there’s no competition, there’s no fowl. I say good for her.

Overall, the pilot episode was good, and I’m pleased to say a departure from the usual ‘unreal reality’ weight loss shows. Sure the show was rough around the edges but it did a great job of conveying a real journey, with a real person, in a real setting, and ending with a real result. And Chris Powell seems like the right guy for the job. I suspect as time goes on the show will grow and evolve – I just hope it does so in the right direction. We’ll see.

But what do you think? Did you like Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition? Did you find it more realistic than The Biggest Loser? Start commenting everyone…