Weight loss bootcamps on TV, the U.S. vs. Japan


I'm always fascinated by local TV programs, especially non-fiction ones - the ones labeled "variety" or "entertainment" or "reality". I think they show quite a lot about the attitudes held in that particular culture, the expectations held, and so on.

I recently caught a re-airing of a show that aired on NTV (Nichitele or Nippon TV), one of the major networks in Japan, called Diet Village: Lose 100kg Together!" 「ダイエット・ヴィレッジ~全員で100kg痩せろ~」 It originally aired in the summer of 2014. The premise is similar to The Biggest Loser, the extreme-weight loss competition program that originated in the U.S. in 2004, and has since aired in several countries around the world: A group of obese people are brought together for an extreme weight-loss bootcamp, with trainers making them train for what seems like hours every day, restrictive diets and so forth. Here's a photo of the 8 participants on Diet Village, 3 men and 5 women. All of them were actually in the "obese" category, not just "overweight" or "plump" - they all had body fat percentages around 50% or more. (I note this because the standards for what makes someone "plump" or "fat" etc. are quite lower than they are in say, the U.S., especially when it comes to women.)

The show had the usual kind of drama that these types of reality shows do - conflicts between the participants, some working harder than others and being pissed at the slackers, a little romance. And there was a money prize at the end too I think it was 100,000 yen per participant (Japanese reality and quiz shows don't have huge cash prizes like U.S. shows do).

But while in The Biggest Loser, one "Biggest Loser" who loses the most weight (or the biggest percentage of weight) is crowned the winner and walks away with the prize, in Diet Village the group could only win the prize as a group. If they could lose 100kg in total as a group, they would all win the cash. If they didn't achieve that, even if one person managed to lose a lot, they would have failed as a group and been punished. (It wasn't a big punishment - they would have been dropped into a swimming pool - but still. And they wouldn't have gotten the cash, of course.) The big emphasis was on how important it was to work together and help each other, even though losing weight is a very personal thing.

This group approach to solving problems seems like such a Japanese thing to me, while the "there can only be one winner" (or loser) approach in The Biggest Loser is rather...American? There are of course other Japanese quiz shows and such where one person emerges as the winner. But with something like weight loss there are real consequences afterwards, so maybe a group approach works better? I'm really not sure - what do you think?

The Diet Village group did succeed by the way, by collectively losing more than 108 kilos (almost 240 pounds) in 28 days. The ladies lost about 10-11kg each, and the men lost about 15kg per person. (Men usually lose weight faster than women since they have more muscle mass to begin with and other factors.)

(Incidentally, I've been back from Japan for a bit more than a month now. While I was there I was able to set up a way for me to watch more Japanese TV channels than before. Since I also got a nasty cold or something when I got back, which has kind of dragged on, ironically I've been watching a whole lot more Japanese TV since coming back to France than I watched when I was actually in Japan! And yeah, I have to apologize for my lack of posts. It's a combination of the nasty cold etc. and some technical issues with the sites (this one as well as JustBento). I hope the latter gets resolved soon, before all my hair is pulled out in frustration....)

Filed under:  essays tv usa health and weight loss japanese culture

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I agree the concept about "only one winner" is more Western than Japanese (I don't think is just an American thing), but I think in The Bigger Loser is a bad idea. I mean, obese people often have low self-confidence and the feel already guilty for their weight. They really needed to make them feel even worse because they couldn't lose enough weight? I like the japanese concept better.
But... I'd have had the show last longer. It's easier to lose more weight at the beginning of a diet, so 10kg is not an exceptional result, I think. Good, but not astounding. It would be interesting to see a special like "six month later" or something.

I live in Australia, where the US model is adopted. I have to say, I also much prefer the Japanese alternative.

Struggling myself I tend to watch Weight Loss Shows, but this one just got right past me. I never heard of a japanese weight loss show and I find it very interesting.

Do they show more about good diet on this show? Biggest Loser seems to avoid this and only show them eating some sponsor products.

I was a little fascinated with shows like the biggest loser.. But from what I've read and observed with a few people around me, rapid weight loss is usually not maintainable. I'm also not sure how healthy it is to lose so much weight so quickly.

But I agree that the group approach works better for things like this. It's essentially a lifestyle change, and honestly I feel that it's all about trying to make a healthier version of you, to the best of your ability. And making it a group effort (community, support group) as opposed to individual competition, makes it easier.

Incidentally, I am also obese - mostly because I love to eat. I actually eat quite healthily, but I tend to eat a lot, so for the past year, a combination of better portion control and lots of exercise has allowed me to lose about 1kg a month, and that's something that I'm very very pleased with.

Interestingly, when it comes to academics, it's exactly the opposite situation, don't you think? American kids are treated as a group and everyone gets a sticker and everyone is an honor student these days because no one is supposed to be "left behind." Yet in Japanese schools, academic success is quite individual and class rank is not a secret. In this case I'm not sure one method is "better" than another, I think the shows are more geared toward (1) the respective culture and (2) especially in America's case, what is going to sell more products. The Biggest Loser has truckloads or garbage products that sell like hotcakes simply because they have the logo or the backing of one of the trainers. But with weight loss, I think it's very individual, no matter what culture the people come from. Some do well under pressure and in a competitive environment, and some don't.

Yes, the individualistic approach of diet shows in western society is noticeable. Though the reason behind that is probably pretty complex- Japanese society seems to promote harmony and group effort, whereas the US promotes individual effort, and rewards and praises those who prove to be exceptional. It's a double edged sword on both approaches, to some degree.

I'm more interested in whether the people on this show actually did manage to keep their weight off. I know peer influence is a factor in starting and maintaining weight loss, but I'm curious as to what degree it's true. I suppose it would probably vary depending on the person. I know a lot of people who go on crash diets usually wind up hurting their bodies and/or gaining all the weight back.

I agree that the individual vs group concept is very much American vs Japanese. But I disagree that the group concept is the way to go. I generally hate - hate! - it when my success in anything hinged on other people. Maybe this is just a throwback to group projects in school where I basically ended up doing the whole thing, but it seems in any group effort you have high achievers and slackers. I don't want my fate hitched to a slacker, nor do I want to encourage or help that slacker along. I'd rather concentrate on my work in front of me and succeed or fail based on my own efforts.

By the same philosophy, I don't want to be the person who lets down the group. If I am struggling with something, I don't want the help or encouragement from the group and I especially don't want to contribute to the group's lower score. Just let me manage it on my own.

However, due to the complicated psychology of weight loss, I don't think competitiveness really helps most people. But group success/failure wouldn't help either. It's just something you need to do on your own, with encouragement from a support system but not to the degree of being tied to other people for success.

Normally I am not a huge fan of reality shows such as these, especially the American version of Biggest Loser, but for spin off to pop up on Japanese television is quite disheartening. Although I understand the concept of the show to be quite a noble one, eg awarding ones determination and discipline with a cash prize, but entertainment companies are still capitalising on the stereotype of what it means to be fat and ugly. And I thought Japanese culture is way more than that. Good article though, just venting some of my thoughts.