Is Waterboarding the New Motivational Weight Loss Technique?

01/18/2013 11:40 am ET | Updated Mar 20, 2013

I just watched Jillian Michaels waterboard a woman on The Biggest Loser. Ok, maybe that's an overstatement, but you have to admit the show is over the top. I know, I know -- it's medically supervised. They are safe. And it is weird that I just watched it for the first time (I am a weight loss professional). So I guess I'm not acclimatized like the rest of America. But little bits of wisdom, like, "You have to go through hell before you get to heaven," don't really line up with my clinical experience working with overweight individuals.

In my work (and this is scientifically sound) reducing stress is a huge component of moving from fat to thin. Stress hormones make it difficult to lose weight. One trainer on the show alluded to this as he watched in horror as one of his charges registered a zero-pound weight loss for the week. Strangely, his 29-pound weight reduction from the week before doesn't factor in. (I am still trying to wrap my brain around the medical consequences of that rapid weight reduction.)

And it is logical that learning to enjoy movement and healthy eating is probably a good idea if you intend to keep weight off in the long term.

However, I found myself wondering how The Biggest Loser system works with this, as I gasped as they lowered a man down to sit because he couldn't breathe, to the trainer yelling, "Never forget how this feels!" Or as I watched another contestant have a panic attack induced by over-exercise. Or as Jillian dumped water on her client who was down for the count. Later the woman declared, "I'm afraid of Jillian." Who wouldn't be?

Now don't misunderstand me. I'm as affected as the next couch potato watching these brave souls going up against their darkest fears and overcoming them. Don't think there weren't tears in my eyes as I watched the stories of adults and children wanting to turn their lives around. In fact, I don't blame anyone for watching. My only beef is that living on a compound being yelled at by high-end personal trainers for an extended period of time is not really a good way to work through your issues with body image and food. Not to mention having cameras in your face.

The fact that people are trying to replicate this path on their own is a real set up for failure. The zero-to-60 approach generally leads to burnout. Hiring someone to scream out your faults in front of others might send most of us running back to the Chinese buffet. Intense, drastic changes can cause more stress, which will lead to more frustration about weight management. If you're in a bad place physically and mentally, chances are it took you some time to get there. It will take some time to shift away from the bad habits and mindsets that got you to that state.

Of course, if I were running The Biggest Loser it would be the most boring TV show ever. People losing a few pounds a month doing light exercise for short periods of time doesn't have the same ring to it. Relaxation exercises and a slow, steady shifting of their diet based on their individual needs. I'm never going to make any money this way.

Maybe I'll pour water on all my clients' heads this week and see how it goes. Let me know if you want a session.

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