Television programs that promote radical weight loss regimes may be hugely popular and profitable but they are a long way from reality.
If Christmas is the time to be merry and binge, then the New Year is the time to focus and fast. January is when the highly lucrative weight-loss industry ramps up its seductive promise that if we commit to gruelling exercise regimes, to detoxing and to counting calories with religious zeal, we can begin a new life. The weight will be over.
For ''thinspiration'', we need look no further than reality television's The Biggest Loser and its new counterpart, Excess Baggage, which profiles celebrity weight loss.
But how helpful are these programs? And how honest is it to perpetuate the notion a new body will equal a new life?
According to Michelle Bridges, personal trainer from The Biggest Loser, "80 per cent of people who go on a diet will lose less than 10 per cent of their body weight and be back where they started or heavier in five years . . . so, don't put yourself on a diet; instead, try implementing small, achievable, healthy changes to your lifestyle".
Ignoring the fact that the 80 per cent failure rate figure is wrong (the figure is even higher at 95 per cent*), if the majority of people who go on a diet end up heavier in five years, then it seems unethical for the trainers to be putting already obese people on diets that - by their own admission - are highly likely to fail long term.
It's unclear how an extreme boot-camp experience fits with the prescription of "small, achievable" change.
Ajay Rochester was chosen as The Biggest Loser's original host, as she had lost a large amount of weight after years of dieting. Tellingly, she has joined Excess Baggage as a contestant after piling her own weight back on.
The results depicted in these programs are almost impossible to replicate at home where one does not have the luxury of a full-time trainer, a personal chef and a home gym (not to mention months off work, away from the family and its demands).
But it seems that the results we see on screen may be misleading anyway.
In 2010, Kai Hibbard, a contestant from season three of the American The Biggest Loser, breached her strict confidentiality contract, speaking out against the show.
Hibbard, who lost 54 kilograms in 12 weeks, claimed the producers often gave the contestants more than a week to achieve their losses before the weigh-ins and that she learned some alarming weight-loss tactics, including "how to dehydrate to manipulate a scale" and that a cup of coffee counts as an entire meal.
When she left the show, she stated that she loathed herself, was suffering hair loss and suffered from a "very poor mental body image".
Nor was the weight loss maintainable. At the time of speaking out, Hibbard had regained 32kg. Australian Biggest Loser contestants have echoed Hibbard's accusations, claiming that they, too, were weighed every 12-14 days (not weekly) and they also used dehydration tactics.
It's little wonder the Loser franchise has come under fire by experts who question the validity of the advice being dispensed.
Psychologist and managing director of BodyMatters Australasia, Lydia Jade Turner, says that "we need to look beyond the show's manipulative emotionalism [and look] at exactly what messages it promotes about health and dealing with weight-related issues . . . one contestant collapsed two days after filming ended, having lost 40 kilos in 12 weeks. His gall bladder was removed after [he was] rushed to hospital.
''Another contestant was hospitalised for low pulse rate as a result of starvation. Yet another was treated for dehydration. And these are just the cases we've heard about."
So why do audiences seek instruction from these dangerous weight-loss shows?
And why do we postpone everything from our weddings to buying swimwear, putting our lives on hold in the belief that it will all begin once we have hit a certain magic number on the scales?
Ironically, the slogan for The Biggest Loser this year is "Love Yourself"' - an admirable sentiment, yet self-acceptance should not be conditional on the belief we must first take up less space.
The excess baggage we are all carrying around is not our weight. It is our preoccupation with size - at any cost. Good health is an important goal, but let's remind ourselves this may take on a variety of sizes and shapes.
The only thing being boosted by the culture of fat-phobia and body shaming is the profit margins of the weight-loss industry.
* This figure was recognised at the Australian New Zealand Obesity Society's 2009 conference, and at the International Obesity Summit 2010.
Nina Funnell is a freelance writer and social commentator. Dannielle Miller is CEO of Enlighten Education.