I’m sure by now, we’ve all heard the controversy stirring up about The Biggest Loser‘s season 15 winner. And if you’re anything like me, you are deeply disturbed. I haven’t watched the show myself in several years, because I don’t believe that they’re promoting a healthy or sustainable method of weight loss.
When the show started out, I liked the idea of it. Encourage unhealthily obese contestants to challenge their issues head on and get healthier? Of course, I’m down for that. But as I watched the show, I became more and more unhappy with the methods undertaken on the show. 5-6 hours of working out a day on a dangerously low-calorie diet? I remember watching one day and one of the trainers mentioned that the highest caloric intake on the show was for a 300 pound male, around 1800 calories. Most of the contestants seemed to hover around 1200-1400. Considering that I was in recovery at the time, I actually found it pretty triggering, so made the conscious decision to distance myself from that.
But, when pictures of Rachel Frederickson started flooding the internet, I couldn’t help but have an opinion (loudly. I love Twitter for that). And first of all, I need to say that I don’t blame Rachel at all. From what I understand, she was a competitive swimmer in high school before turning to food as a means to dealing with emotion after a breakup. She was placed in a super-competitive environment, where the goal was to lose the most weight. So what did she do? She made sure she lost the most weight. Almost 60% of her body weight, to be exact. Landing her at a weight of 105 pounds. If she finished in second place, she wouldn’t have won the prize money. For a competitive person, that turns the weight-loss goal into an all-or-nothing event. So, she went to extreme measures.
I think Bob and Jillian’s faces tell it all:
They both look shocked, and not in a good way.
I’m placing the blame on NBC for this one. The Biggest Loser promotes the idea that contestants need to lose weight the fastest way possible, utilizing dangerous means. Making obese people who have never exercised before in their lives run a mile right off the bat? Running a marathon/triathlon when you’ve only been working out for a few months? All while underfueling (on Subway, Jenny-O, and whatever other company wants a product placement in the show)? Nothing about that sounds healthy to me.
So Frederickson utilized these methods and lost the most weight, resulting in her becoming clinically underweight by BMI standards. And received a $250 000 prize for it. People everywhere (particularly, women and girls) watched that finale saw that Rachel reaching a scary level of weight loss was something to be celebrated. Just looking at her, you can see that her health is suffering – thin arms, dry-looking skin, and apparently, she seemed disoriented and ‘out-of-it’ at the finale.
So shame on NBC for promoting the thin ideal. Shame on putting the contestants in an ‘all-or’nothing’ situation where they need to lose the most weight in order to be celebrated. Shame on whatever doctors they utilize to not put a stop to her weight loss when it was clear her health was being compromised. Can the show rectify this situation? Honestly? I don’t think so. They could have disqualified Rachel for getting to a too-low weight, but determining exactly what that is (BMI standards, body fat, etc.) could be fuzzy and problematic.
Honestly, I think the show needs to be taken off the air. I think that Rachel is going to end up needing a lot of help – she used food as a crutch to lead her to become overweight, and now, I can only imagine that she’s hyper-aware and conscious of food, and likely developed disordered eating habits and an exercise dependency. Considering that NBC led her to her current situation, I hope they’re providing her with the resources she needs to get to a healthy place.
And I hope that viewers watching saw it for what it was – a weight loss that went too far. This episode aired during Eating Disorders Awareness Week in Canada (NEDA’s EDAW is from the 23rd – March 1st), which makes it particularly painful for me. We need to put a stop to these sorts of underfed, overtrained images being glamourized, and focus on helping people reach their natural set point – a healthy, maintainable weight, without restriction or over-exercising.
I chose not to include any pictures of Rachel in this post, because we’ve all seen those enough. And again, I see her more as a victim here – she was placed in a game and she played by NBC’s rules. She needs help, while NBC needs to rethink their approach the role they play in glamourizing unhealthy means to lose weight. Rachel’s final ‘weigh-in’ emphasizes how disordered and how fucked-up The Biggest Loser approaches weight loss – hopefully this is the final straw to really push a conversation about health, and allows the show to be exposed for the disordered, extreme methods it promotes.
<— What are your thoughts?