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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."
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."
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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."
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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."
Read the original article on Insider