The Cult of Harper

I am a fan of The Biggest Loser, and I most often enjoy it while eating some candy or cookies.  I am a fifty-one year old man with “a few extra pounds.”  I have earned my “a few extra pounds,” and have no desire to look like Bob Harper.  As an aside, I am fine if where I have written “a few extra pounds” you translate it to “fat ass.”  I would have to put on about one hundred pounds to qualify for TBL, but I also recognize that I could lose some weight.  Well informed about the dangers of obesity, and absolutely in agreement with the truth that most of the men on TBL have serious health concerns related to their weight, I nevertheless have been for the past few years (for the first time in my life) come to accept and love my body just as it is.

I was raised in a home where at five feet ten inches tall and weighing one hundred sixty-five pounds in High School I was called fat.  I have always been conscious of my weight, and for most of my life my feelings about my body had nothing to do with the condition of my body.  I acknowledge that eating makes me feel good, and I do indulge in “comfort food.”  That having been said, were I to be placed in a line up with other men my age I would be average.  I’m finally fine with average, because I can celebrate that I am exceptional in other ways.

Last Fall on TBL’s Thanksgiving show the contestants shared a meal (if I may use that term loosely) at Bob Harper’s home.  They spoke of their struggles with weight, and Bob shared rather tearfully that his sister has always struggled with her weight and he has never been able to get through to her.  Had I not been paying attention, I would have thought that his sister was shooting heroin while free basing cocaine and washing it down with a fifth of Jack Daniels.  Was he serious?  He was, in fact, not only serious but tearful and distraught.

It’s the Cult of Harper.  Don’t misunderstand, I find Bob Harper extremely likable.  Jillian Michaels scares the hell out of me, even more than female boxer Cara Castronuova did.  Call me provincial or even patriarchal, women who could kick my ass five times over before I managed to blink twice are more than I can handle.  Dolvet Quince needs to take the chip off his shoulder and is prettier than Jillian and Cara put together.  All I can say about Anna Kournikova is that I have a thing for women with Eastern European accents  I liked Brett Hoebel just fine, but there is something about Bob that is very likable.

That all having been said, TBL commercials for their TBL Resort offer the opportunity to train at the resort with former contestants, who apparently are now employed by the resort.  Many former contestants now work as personal trainers at gyms in their home towns.  I think that’s great – in a limited way.  There is a well-known phenomena of switching addictions.  Recovering addicts often simply switch the focus of their addiction rather than actually achieve sobriety.  Former alcoholics become addicted to gambling, or smoke more, or become religious zealots, or switch to any of a number of other behavioral addictions.  That’s not freeing oneself from addiction, it’s switching either to an addiction that’s easier to hide or (in the case of religion) socially acceptable.  In the case of TBL contestants, I cannot help but believe that many of the people who become success stories really only switch their addiction from food to exercise and fitness.

You may be wondering what is wrong with that.  What’s wrong with it is that it keeps people from living a full life.  If, when I am confronted with adversity or stress I don’t work through it but instead bury my feelings in food, exercise, or anything else, I am not living a fully functional life.  What’s more, if I evaluate people primarily on their exercise and nutrition habits (or any other single issue) I am not appreciating the people I encounter for who they really are.  The fact that our culture bombards us with unhealthy body images in the fashion, movie, and modeling industries doesn’t make the practice healthy.

I used to work with a great guy name Scott who was a drug-free body builder.  The stuff he ate was to me absolutely inedible, but it was his thing and I could respect that.  I did tell him that one day in the future he and I might well be laying in the same emergency room dying.  I would know it was that last T-bone steak that got me, while he would be laying there dying of nothing.  We shared a good laugh, but we both knew I was right.

We will all die one day.  You, me, Bob Harper, every last TBL contestant and trainer, and everyone else who was ever born.  If you want to spend your free time trying to convince yourself that you can postpone or avoid death, you go right ahead with my blessings.  In the meantime, I will be doing what brings me alive.  Hopefully at our moments of death we both will feel we have enjoyed lives well lived.  Pass the cookies!


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