Eating healthy on the Biggest Loser budget

Confession time: I love watching the Biggest Loser.  It’s a two hour weekly commitment, but it’s awesome.  The part I love is seeing the transformations in people.  Not the physical changes, but the emotional, internal changes.  It’s what I enjoyed about working in social work in my past life.  When I see (and even better–help) someone make positive changes in their lives and end up happier, healthier, and making a positive impact on others, it makes me happy.  It’s incredibly fulfilling to me to participate in those positive changes, as small as they may be.

Adam Hurtado, Biggest Loser, season 10Adam-HurtadoI’ve even had the chance to meet Adam Hurtado, one of the contestants from season 10 (the one who fell in love with Sunshine–who wouldn’t?) and take a horrible camera phone photo with him.  He came to the YMCA in my community and I weaseled an invite to a small event in his honor.

This week’s episode (available on if you care to check it out) featured a food challenge for the week.  Each contestant was given $10 a day to purchase groceries for the week.  The contestants had 15 minutes as teams to shop at the grocery store with the combined budget for the week (so, $70 per contestant on the team).  Of course my first reaction was,

“Phst.  The husband and I ate pretty healthy for a week on $10 a day for the TWO of us!”

$10 a day is actually quite a bit of money. Of course, we didn’t buy all organic produce during our SNAP challenge week (although we did get some).  AND they are on a restricted diet, which is a double edged sword.  On the one hand, this means they are eating way less food which should make the shopping bill lower.  On the other, it means the food they eat is very specific, so you can’t just shop the sales like I try to do.

The show’s goal was obviously to show that healthy food doesn’t have to be expensive.  Did they accomplish that?  I’d have to argue no.  They spent more than my husband and I average for a normal week, not to mention our SNAP challenge week.  The white team (of only one person) didn’t even spend her full $70, indicating that the “low” budget wasn’t all that bad.

Why does this matter?  Because eating healthy does cost more.  If not in money, then in time (or possibly both).

That’s not to say it isn’t worth it.  On the contrary, investing the time and money in healthy eating today will pay dividends in reduced health care costs and more healthy years in the future.   But selling that to today’s society of instant gratification doesn’t work.  If I don’t even want to waste my time getting out of my car to get my BigMac, of course I don’t have time to cook a meal.  In order to convince Americans to eat healthy food that already presumably doesn’t taste as good as genetically modified, lab-tested, flavor enhanced food-like substances, we rely on the one factor that predictably drives human behavior–money.  If you won’t eat well for your health and well-being, at least do it for the money, we croon.  Those of us who want to make people happier and healthier try to sell the lifestyle that we think will get people there via whatever means necessary.

I understand persuasive techniques, and I agree that our goal is noble.  But I think we have to stop fooling ourselves into thinking we can convince someone that eating healthy will be just as cheap and delicious as their manufactured foods.  Instead, I will dream about finding a way to truly move someone to the realization that by taking care of themselves today, they will get many more healthier tomorrows without putting them up on a ranch in California for a few months.  Until they believe that eating a healthy diet is important to them on an intrinsic level, the tips and tricks for saving money and time are just catchy segment plots for reality TV and Pinterest.  And then who’s the big loser?


If you enjoyed today’s rant, follow me on facebook and/or twitter for more like this.