'The Biggest Loser' Dr. Joanna Dolgoff: "The silence is literally killing our children"
By Elizabeth Kwiatkowski, 01/03/2013
The Biggest Loser's Dr. Joanna Dolgoff, a childhood obesity expert and pediatrician, will assist the show's group of teenagers in getting healthy and achieving their personal goals during the upcoming season.
In addition to the 15 fourteenth-season adult contestants, The Biggest Loser will be attempting to tackle childhood obesity by featuring three teen participants 13-17 years of age for the first time in the show's history.
The reality weight-loss competition's fourteenth season is set to premiere with a two-night event on Sunday, January 6 at 9PM ET/PT and Monday, January 7 at 8PM ET/PT.
Jillian Michaels will be joining returning trainers Bob Harper, whom she has worked alongside on every The Biggest Loser season she has participated in, and Dolvett Quince, who joined the show two seasons ago following her most recent departure.
During a recent conference call with reporters, Dr. Dolgoff talked about children participating on The Biggest Loser and her new role on the show.
What do you think is the biggest diet mistake that everyone makes?
Dr. Joanna Dolgoff: I think, particularly with children, I think the issue is -- I call it "portion distortion." Because most parents don't know how much a child or teenager is supposed to eat and they give their children portions that are way too big.
And the studies are clear that when you give your child a larger portion of food, they will eat more. So I think it's about educating the families even [with] healthy foods and calories, so you have to watch out how much you're eating.
What advice would you give to parents about how to teach their kids self-acceptance on one hand but then also encourage them to be as healthy as they can be? Because I do think some parents really struggle with how to talk to their kids about weight and body image.
Dr. Joanna Dolgoff: I think what's important is for parents to acknowledge the issue. You know, they did a study [and] parents would rather talk to their kids about sex or drugs or anything other than weight.
But really, you do need to talk to your child, because overweight children know they're overweight. And if the parents don't talk about it, the kid feels ashamed. It's obvious that it's there and no one's talking about it, because the kids that start starving themselves or binging and purging to lose weight do it because they don't know how to do it healthy.
So I advise parents to sit down at an emotionally neutral time to talk about it -- to use the word "we" instead of "you" and to make it about health instead of weight or looks. "So we could be eating more healthy" -- we. You know, "I'd love for us to learn as a family how to eat healthier so we can be at the healthiest weight for the healthiest hearts and the healthiest bodies."
Parents are role models. But I do think it's important to acknowledge it with your child, but again, in an emotionally neutral supportive loving way.
On The Biggest Loser, do you guys give the kids goal weights? Is there any sort of weight-loss goal you set for them or is that not recommended for whatever reason?
Dr. Joanna Dolgoff: Yes, I personally never talk about goal weights. I talk about... getting into a healthy weight zone, you know, a body. mass index percentile, which is a little bit esoteric. It's not something the kids can hold onto and that's on purpose. I don't want them getting on the scale to see if they've done well or not.
So I try to praise them for their choices, making healthy choices rather than what the scale says. And our goal is to be in a healthy weight range, and that's where I leave it.
Could you talk about your perspective on putting kids on The Biggest Loser? People haven't seen the show yet, but there's a bit of potentially a controversial element there with putting kids in this limelight.
Dr. Joanna Dolgoff: Yes, and I would say that, you know, NBC and The Biggest Loser, they really did make -- they did a lot of research to make sure that this was handled the right way. And I give them a lot of credit because they are not exploiting the children. It's all about addressing an issue that needs to be addressed, and you know, they've gone about it entirely the right way.
Parents are concerned about talking to their kids about their weight because they feel like they will maybe drive their kids to a food issue. What advice do you have for dealing with that? You addressed it a little bit.
Dr. Joanna Dolgoff: Yes, well I mean, studies seem to indicate if you treat an overweight child in a sensitive manner, you decrease the risk of eating disorders. Because as I said, overweight children know that they're overweight. So if you're not discussing it with your child and you're not giving them the tools they need to get to a healthy weight, then the kids are going to do their own thing.
They're going to come -- go online, fast weight-loss methods. And those are the kids who are going to starve themselves. And then they binge because they can't keep up the starving, so then they purge. And these are the kids that are really at risk for disordered eating. So you have to address it. Even I know parents don't want to but they have to.
And I'm so gladThe Biggest Loser is addressing it, because we have to talk about this. The silence is literally killing our children. So we have to talk about it, but we have to do it the right way -- make it about health and make it about everyone in the family changing. Even a normal-weight mother can most likely improve her eating.
So by saying, "I want us to learn healthy eating habits as a family," it doesn't put the child on the defensive. But, you know, as parents, sometimes we have to have tough conversations. That's our job. That's our role. But you do it in the most loving way possible.
And that's my advice. We can't stay silent about this on a family level or on a society level... I was just going to say, and also the weight-loss program, there is not a crazy weight-loss program. It's a safe program for them to lose weight at an appropriate rate that's healthy for their bodies.
Could you talk about the red light, green light eating program you're going to utilize with the kids on the show?
Dr. Joanna Dolgoff: Yes, red light, green light, eat right. And they're getting a very healthy amount of calories. We have not lowered it anymore that we would for any of my patients. We're not treating these kids any differently. We are supporting them nutritionally.
We are making sure they get the calories that they need, the nutrients that they need. And that's why The Biggest Loser brought me on. This is what I do. I'm a physician. I'm a child obesity doctor.
And they brought me on to make sure that we do this in the safest way possible because they wanted to be sure that they weren't exploiting the kids in any way. And, you know, I think that's a credit to the show that [took] the time to get a physician who specializes in this area to look out for these children.