Nature’s Metabolic Booster Supplement: Dark chocolate covered jalapenos! Your insides will be positively volcanic! (And also possibly parts of your outside, like your anus.)
So, did you hear there was A Thing on The Biggest Loser last week? No, not “the Thing” (although there’s a show I would watch!) but A Thing That Happened. In fact, this Thing Happened so hard that I got a PR blast from Jillian Michael’s team containing her response to the Thing. Know what makes for a fun party game? Reading the PR attempt at spin control before you even know what happened! I did not know the Thing. I did not know any of the Things. Confession time: I’ve watched exactly one episode of The Biggest Loser. It gave me such a deep sad, I just couldn’t get into it.
Part of that is my lifelong admitted obsession with weight and dieting; watching other people diet and lose weight is a massive eating disorder trigger for me. It’s my issue and I’ll own it. The fact that I have too much emotional weight baggage to deal with other people’s emotional weight baggage isn’t the show’s fault. And I can definitely see from all the press it’s gotten why people find The Biggest Loser so compelling. However. A big part of why I don’t watch is because I don’t think they show healthy or realistic solutions and it’s turned into a modern-day circus sideshow – ladies and gents, the incredible shrinking wo/man! Pay no attention to the smoke and mirrors and glistening piles of sugar-free Jell-O! (Don’t believe me? Check outthis story with the beautiful, strong and very honest Kai Hibbard of Season 3.)
So you’ll understand why when I got an email from Jillian Michaels’ PR rep about the recent “energy supplement” fiasco on The Biggest Loser, I almost just deleted it. For anyone else who may have missed the show – and the subsequent tempest in an herbal-infused teapot – I guess Jillian gave her team some of her newest energy drink which contains some caffeine and other “metabolic boosters.” (eBoost? Which sounds to me like a geriatric meal replacement drink delivered electronically? Poor oldsters.) The other teams didn’t get any and people thought that wasn’t fair so her team got benched and some other guy got brought back and people cried and Jillian yelled and maybe it’s all just a big media stunt to make a million bloggers type “eBoost” unironically…that’s all I could glean from the PR rep’s apologist e-mail because I’m too lazy to go find an actual clip and watch it.
But I’m confused. How is this even A Thing?
I mean Jillian’s hawked caffeine pills, fat burners, cleanses, supplements and variety of other dubious weight-loss tools for years. (Along with her awesome workouts – heaven help me, I love me a good JM shred.) Heck, she even openly admits to using “shortcuts” herself. I remember the first time I read her book Making the Cut (yeah, I’ve read it… several times), I kind of fell in love with her during the last chapter where she talks about everything she did to get ready for the photoshoot for the picture on the cover of the book. 600 calories per day, diuretics, 2-a-day workouts, sauna sweats and her own concoction of caffeine, white willow bark and bitter orange. So a little caffeinated workout bevie? Eh.
And in case you’re curious about Jillian’s official response: After listing all the benefits of caffeine the PR rep quotes Jillian as saying, “so it’s something that I’m going to be exploiting. I’m always looking for that angle.”
See? She’s nothing if not honest! Girl is in it to win it. And I’m glad she’s honest. In this day where so many beautiful people hide all the work it takes to be beautiful, I wish more people were that honest. But the more I thought about it, the more I wished it wasn’t something she needs to be honest about. I can’t decide if this is why I hate the Biggest Loser (exploiting! angles!) or if this is just indicative of how we’ve all become accustomed to thinking about weight loss.
This was brought home for me as I read people’s comments about it on Facebook. I had quite a few friends defending Jillian with the defense, “BUT CAFFEINE WORKS! RESEARCH SAYS SO!” (Slight tangent: I don’t think anyone was accusing Jillian of giving out shoddy supps. I think the problem was that not all the teams got it so her team had an unfair advantage. Or something. Like I said, didn’t watch it.) But the real issue for me is why we have these “metabolic boosting” supplements at all.
For the record, my caffeine-lovin’ friends are right. Kinda. Caffeine does have proven metabolic boosting effects and if you’re not desensitized to it, it can up your workout output by up to 30% – a substantial difference if you’re an elite athlete. It helps you go harder for longer with less perception of pain. Five years ago, I would have been all over this. Actually I was all over it. I’ve tried nearly every supplement out there. And here’s what it’s boiled down to for me:
I guess I see why Jillian would want to use it. They’re in a competition and she wants to win! Same goes for elite athletes where seconds mean the difference between gold and a lifetime of lucrative endorsements or as a poorly annotated Wiki footnote (that’s Dante’s lesser-known 6 1/2th circle of Hell). But for the rest of us? Does shaving 7 minutes off our 10K time – taking us from placing 266th to 234th in our community fun run – worth the very real risks that come with these supplements?
Because there are always, always risks. Even with the most innocuous drugs. First, that shiz ain’t cheap. Companies have a million different (convincing) ways to get you to keep buying. And because they’re unregulated you have no guarantee as to what’s actually in them (for example, two companies recently got busted for having “meth-like” compounds in their pre-workout supplements). Even if they’re exactly what you think they are, there’s the risk of abusing them or accidentally taking too many different types of stimulants together. There are the big risks like heart arrhythmias, strokes and death. There are the little risks like screwing up your thyroid from constantly overstimulating your system, suppressing your immune system from chronically pushing your body beyond what it’s meant to do, stress fractures from masking pain signals. Plus, did you know excess caffeine shortens the telomeres on your DNA, effectively making you age faster? The research says all that too.
But what if you, say, win your age division? What if you qualify for Boston? What if you get to ride in the peloton at Nationals? Is it worth it then? Is losing 10 pounds, only to regain them once you stop taking the pills, worth it? Is being able to up your max bench worth it? Is being able to run six miles a day, 365 days a year worth it? Is climbing Everest worth it?Are bragging rights worth it?
The thing is, the pills/drinks/supplements (the good ones anyhow) do give you an edge. BUT WHY DO WE NEED AN EDGE?
I’ve been pondering that one all weekend. It’s a weird paradigm shift for me. For years, I did everything I could to maximize every measure of performance. Every ounce of fat lost, every race ran, every mirror-show-down in the weight room, was another jewel in my victory trophy. But what did I win, really? No, seriously, I’m asking you. What did I win, in the end?
I do think that doing something just for the personal satisfaction of doing it and knowing you did your best, is cool. There’s almost nothing more glorious feeling than crossing a finish line (or hefting a weight or winning the jump rope war) and knowing how hard you worked to get there! And sitting on your butt, never taking any risks is as bad for your soul as it is your waistline. There’s something to be said for doing something purely for the sense of accomplishment it gives you. What’s the old adage? Why did you climb Everest? Because it’s there! Plus, not gonna lie, winning stuff is fun! And don’t we sometimes have to push ourselves to a place of discomfort to get what we want?
But on the other hand, if your accomplishments become one long list of never-good-enoughs then it’s a waste of energy and resources. No matter how good you get, someone will always be better. Life’s too short to always feel like you’re coming in second and dreaming of first. I’ve been caught up in the trap of using my accomplishments (both athletic and otherwise) to bolster up my low self-esteem. It’s been so so hard for me to learn that we are not defined by our accomplishments – I am worthy of love and respect simply for being, not for doing. So are you. And it’s still a struggle. We live in a society that rewards achievement. But what are we achieving with this constant push to be more?
What are the supplements teaching us? That we need them? That without them, we’d never be enough on our own? That everyone else is using them so if we don’t we risk getting left behind? That faster, bigger, longer, stronger is always better than slower, smaller, shorter, softer? (Have we forgotten that maybe we don’t actually want a faster metabolism?) That a sense of achievement can be bought??
I’m just saying that if even the “best trainer” in the country needs supps to get her job done then maybe it’s not the supplements or even the trainer that’s the problem – maybe it’s our collective goals.
So now I’m asking you: Where do you draw the line between “having drive” and “being driven” ? What’s your policy for using “metabolic boosters”? What do you think of The Biggest Loser/Jillian Michael THING? Anyone else think “eBoost” is a really unfortunate name??