The Biggest Loser: Gone Too Far?

I want to start this off by saying that I’m not a fan of The Biggest Loser. Every once in a while, I will sit through part of an episode, but I haven’t watched an episode in it’s entirety it since the series first began. I am so incredibly turned off by the fitness philosophy of Jillian Michaels that I really can’t stand to watch her on a regular basis, and I think that the philosophy of the show as a whole has a lot of room for improvement.

I don’t love the premise of someone winning because of one number, that one number being the one on the scale. I don’t love the idea of the contestants working out for several hours each day while consuming an alarmingly low number of calories.  And I don’t love the idea of throwing these people back into their regular lives after this hyper-focused “healthy” lifestyle at the ranch, only to be bombarded with things like family commitments, work, and well, life.

I get it that it’s TV and that it’s there for our entertainment, but to me, it’s neither entertaining nor inspirational, in fact it’s often quite sad. But that’s all beyond the point. My focus today is on the season finale that aired earlier this week. I didn’t watch the finale myself, and didn’t really give it a second thought until yesterday when I started seeing an online reaction to the winner. Looking into the results, I was not that shocked to find that the winner was Rachel Frederickson, who lost 60% of her body weight in six months, ending up at a very small 105 lb.

HT_biggest_loser_winner_rachel_frederickson1_ml_140205_16x9_992[Source]

All of a sudden there was outrage and concern expressed on Twitter and Facebook, with many people claiming that Rachel had simply lost too much weight, that she had gone too far, and that you could “see her bones”.  Yes, she did drop an alarming amount of weight in a ridiculously short time period. Is this healthy? Of that I’m not sure, because I don’t know Rachel and I don’t know quite how she did it. Would I ever recommend that someone try to lose that much weight in that short of a time period? Absolutely not.

But to say that she’s too skinny is really just the flip side of the body shaming coin. Yes, she is very thin, but we need a lot more information before we can decide if she’s unhealthy, or too thin. Again, I didn’t watch the show and I don’t know her back story, but I’m willing to guess the 24 year old Frederickson went through her fair share of body shaming when she was her biggest self.  Now that she has reached the other side, she has to endure criticism from internet voices around the world for being too small? Shamed for being to large (shamed enough to willingly stand in spandex and a bra in front of millions of people each week, just to see that number keep dropping), and now shamed for being too small. So yes, she won the money, but did Rachel really win here? Either she’s actually quite healthy but now has to defend herself to all the armchair doctors in the world, or she actually is unhealthy, and well, that’s a much bigger battle to take on. For her sake, I hope it’s the former.

In my opinion, the real issue here is not how thin she appears, because in all reality, she dieted down even further just to make sure she would be the winner of a significant portion of money. The real concern here is that that is what she felt she had to do to win. Because in a competition where the only thing that matters is that number on the scale, and for years contestants have been celebrated for this type of drastic weight loss, why wouldn’t she become as small as possible? When the entertainment industry and network TV is telling us that the real “winners” are those of us who become as small as possible, where is she supposed to draw the line? And what kind of precedent is this setting for future contestants of this “reality” show?

Personally, I don’t think The Biggest Loser should be on the air anymore. I think it’s quite dangerous, both to the contestants and to the viewers who think that this quick weight loss is healthy, probable, and manageable. But I do not fault Rachel for this, she was just doing what she had to do to win. Would you compulsively diet and exercise for six months if you knew it would get you $250,000?  If you were 10 lb above the “winning” weight, would you go to drastic measures to get below that red line — even if you knew it wasn’t quite the healthiest thing to do? Something to think about. Money talks, but not quite as loud as the message that was sent from the producers of TBL the other night: “The smaller you are, the better you are, and nothing else matters.  Skinny equals success.”  I’m just wondering when society will realize that this is not true, that there are far more important things than the number on the scale. I’m wondering when society will realize that people are not winners or losers depending on their body weight, but I certainly won’t hold my breath.

Readers: Do you watch TBL? What did you think of the finale and of Frederickson’s drastic weight loss? Do you find shows like that inspirational? How do you feel about the focus on body weight as the determining factor of healthy vs. unhealthy?

Also, for more thoughts on this, check out Caitlin’s awesome post here.

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35 thoughts on “The Biggest Loser: Gone Too Far?

  1. No I don’t like it, and I do actually like Jillians 30 Shred vids, I’m kind of into being yelled at while I work out so that works for me but I’ve never signed on for more of her product or design, and she truly needs to stay away from Yoga. 😉
    As far as the program – I thought the premise was neat at first and then I tuned in. I couldn’t stand the drama, the show never really spent much time going over nutrition, and the reality show hollywood vision of what it was too lose weight by standing on a scale in your underhuggers just made me sad.
    I don’t know if she’s too skinny/unhealthy, and frankly I don’t care. I get sick of watching all of these people jumping on board for their 1 week of fame on the net just by doing something that causes the viewers/public to get their panties in a wod and fist shake all over the comments and FB posts. If they (the FB posters) spent as much time reading up on the facts behind the glam they might be able to make an intelligent response. My two cents. Phew. 🙂

    • Loved the ideas in your post as well! It’s a shame because something does need to change, but if they make all those changes they no longer have the drama filled “reality” that they want for TV. Like I said before, I think the show is great in theory but so poorly done!

  2. Health is wealth – and I agree that if the whole purpose if just to target weight, it doesn’t add up. All parts of a human being needs to be looked after, nurtured, and most of all cherished – for a healthy long life full of vitality and fun. Thanks for your great blog! Cheers,

  3. I watch TBL and I know it’s a disturbing concept. When I watch I get more involved with their physical accomplishments and personal stories and could care less about the numbers. I think people forget that these people were living in the opposite extreme before the show. Working out 8 hours a day and eating 1500 calories VS 8 hours of nothing and 3500 calories….usually more! These people hardly moved more than what their daily lives required and in two weeks of TBL they are running on a treadmill for 10 minutes! They do get psychological help as well. So I think between the physical and mental re-conditioning these people receive, they are far better off than their pre-Biggest Loser selves. It would be nice if their accomplishments were measured another way. Maybe in miles or reps? Rachel did complete and win a tri-atholon to insure her entry in the final weigh in. I think we all knew she was TBL when she crossed that finish line.

    • I didn’t watch as I sad, so I may be wrong, but I have heard that when she finished the triathalon she was very healthy looking, and very muscular. Then at the final weigh in, it was clear that she had lost almost all of her muscle mass, just to get to that lowest number. So I’m just conflicted as to why that is the celebrated version of her, not the fit, muscular version. But you are right, there are two extremes, and these people were all at a very unhealthy place before the show. That’s why I really do think the show is great in theory, but in reality it just takes things to unrealistic, and unhealthy extremes. I like your idea about measuring accomplishments in other ways — now that I could get behind!

  4. I wrote about this topic today too. While I see why everyone has a problem with Rachel’s weight at the weigh in, I think she’s more the victim in the situation than anything else. In a situation where she either loses the most weight and wins $250 000, or comes in second place and wins nothing, who can blame her if she took herself to a drastically low weight in order to ensure the prize? Some people are stating that this might be a healthy weight for her, but I honestly find that incredibly hard to believe. I 100% agree that The Biggest Loser really should be taken off the air – what they promote is not healthy or realistic.

    • I agree that this is probably not a healthy weight for her, considering she used to be an athlete, and even when she completed the triathalon a month or so ago, she had quite a bit of muscle. Either way, it’s the principle of the matter that is so disturbing to me. Glad to hear you agree!

  5. I generally enjoy the show, and she did appear to be exceptionally skinny at the reveal, especially if you remember that the producers of the show constantly played up the fact that she was an athlete formerly and that she felt the athlete in her was returning; she won the majority of challenges including the triathlon. So we would have to assume that her dedication to workouts and eating healthy as taught by the trainers is the way she got to be her current 105 pounds, therefore assuming she is healthy because she got there by healthy means…so however skinny she LOOKED doesn’t necessarily matter. Keep in mind, they also had a powerlifter on the show this season, who in the end dropped about a hundred pounds but still was “overweight” by most standards…and could bench press ME 100 times without breaking a sweat…whereas previous to the show, maybe she could only have bench pressed me 70 times.

    But the monetary incentive is the most important factor. If you look at year’s past winners though, and some former contestants who return to the show, they all appear to be very skinny at the finale, but have put on some weight when you see them again and appear “healthy”. I thought the male finalists looked a little skinny also. As you said though, a quarter million dollars is a powerful motivator. The only possible defense Loser could have is that when she left the ranch, she looked like a powerful, healthy, athletic person, and she did the rest at home on her own (a defense ruined by the monetary incentive).

    I do find portions of the show to be inspirational and useful; considering the stories of some of the people involved, and I do appreciate the trainers hard work approach (Jillian is a bit much at times), and what Biggest Loser has done off the ranch to promote healthy living; however, it is an odd pairing to combine this philosophy with a reality show format. There are also certain parts of the show that don’t sit well with me that could be totally eliminated and the show would be fine (example: whenever they have grainy home video footage of someone crushing 4 donuts or something; we get it, they have a food problem).

    Lastly, as far as weight determining health: her weight previously led to diagnosed health problems. As she lost that weight, those problems were eliminated. I think the same attitude should be taken in this instance…if her current weight leads to more health problems, she should do what she can medically and physically to right the ship…and I feel that way about weight in general. Should weight (high or low) be the dominant factor in possible danger to one’s life, then it’s up to them to correct it to save their life…and I don’t think most people need Jillian or the chase of 250K for that to happen.

    • Thanks for your comment Kamil! I will absolutely agree with you that some parts of the show are inspirational — there are some great stories of success and overcoming hardships, but I also agree that it’s difficult to turn that into a reality show and keep it good at it’s core.

      Although I have a lot of issues with the way they do things in general on the ranch, I would say my biggest concern is with the final weigh in. We agree that the monetary incentive is a big one, but what does that tell viewers? That it’s ok to starve oneself to the point of urinating blood (as one previous contestant admits to) just to get down to that final weight? That losing all of your muscle mass just for the number on the scale to be as low as possible (as I’ve heard Rachel did between the triathalon and the finale) is healthy?

      I just think that there is a line that can be crossed, and the show has crossed it. Yes, being morbidly obese is dangerous, but so are some parts of this show. I just think there has to be a middle ground somewhere, one that’s not so glittery and covered in $250,000. 🙂

  6. I stopped watching it the first season because the one episode I watched had a “challenge” that put them in front of a mountain of cupcakes and they couldn’t eat one. seriously? I was disgusted and never watched it since.

  7. I agree! I wrote a post on this earlier and pretty much said the same thing. I hate the show and think it is dangerous because in the end, the well being of the contestants are not a priority. It is a TV show that will do anything for high ratings in order to make money.

  8. I agree that focusing solely on the number of pounds people lose in a poor way to judge the “winner.” Discovery Fit & Health used to have a similar show that I can’t remember the name of, but it ran for a few season. I think they did a much better job. For one, they didn’t take people completely out of their natural environment like The Biggest Loser does, so it’s more about lifestyle change. But also they always had a panel of health & nutrition experts to judge the winner based on more than just weight lost. They looked at things like lifestyle, could the changes be maintained & if the person understood why they had eating issues in the first place. That’s a much better system.

    As for Rachel, 105 pounds does sound unhealthy for a woman who’s 5′ 4″. I noticed it looked like she had almost no muscle tone at all. But I don’t know what people expect for a show where the winner is based solely on weight LOST. A healthy routine incorporates strength training, but muscle weighs a lot. To win the show it pretty much requires that you focus on cardio alone, otherwise the NUMBERS won’t work.

    I’m sure the producers of The Biggest Loser have good intentions, but ultimately they’re sending a dangerous message. They’re just reinforcing the same “Skinny is Good” mentality that all other aspects of media push.

    • Yeah, it’s tough because these people win or lose based on the number on the scale, which does work for a while. But once they lose a lot of their body fat, and they’re down to a healthier weight, losing too much more does mean that they lose muscle mass too. I’d rather see them a little heavier with muscle than gaunt with no muscle to speak of.

  9. Jillian Michaels gives fitness professionals a bad rap. TRUE professionals are not her. My husband and I don’t support anything she does. Not only are her credentials very lacking, she is very mean and degrading to her contestants. I would LOVE to see a biggest loser that works with real people. People who work forty hours a week, have families, have kids, and are involved with real life scenarios. What you mentioned about skinny=success is definitely what is wrong with everything. It reminds me of the Special K “what will you gain when you lose?” while it means well, it suggests that only when you lose weight will you gain anything.

  10. I am the same height as the winner And my fat loss goal is to be a size 8, maybe a 6 since I have been incorporating weights into my routine. I acknowledge that I will probably lose another 30 pounds, but I could never imagine being 105 pounds, but I think she did it for the win. There were highlight reels that had her saying how competitive she was as an athlete. I think you’re right in saying that she’s being shamed for her weight, you can’t win. I also agree that they don’t individuals how to manage a healthy lifestyle in the real world. For me, personally, I figure a pant size is more important than the scale; muscle weighs more than fat and I just want to be a healthier version of me, not a 0.

    • I like that you’re not focusing on a specific body weight, as you are correct that body composition can greatly change that number one way or another. Personally, I weigh about 10 lb more than I did a few years ago, but I have a lot more muscle now, and am wearing the same size clothes as I did back then. The number means nothing! Good luck in your journey, keep working hard!

      • Exactly! Numbers are just numbers. Even at 160, I’m fitting into clothes I wore at 130 just as good as or better. I have way more muscle now then I did 7 years ago, but I still want to work on my fat loss. People confuse fat loss with weight loss and being skinny.

  11. I don’t watch The Biggest Loser and I don’t find shows like that inspirational at all. Part of me is inclined to say that it’s admirable for these contestants (and it really kills me to call them that) to be willing to change their lives in front of millions of viewers, but with the focus being on money and not on the ultimate outcome of health, I think it kind of detracts from that.

    It puts a negative look on exercise, just reinforcing the beliefs that it has to be painful, uncomfortable, and grueling. As people are forbidden to eat their favourite foods they end up hoarding them and binging, which later leads to feelings of guilt and shame. This show doesn’t promote a healthy relationship with exercise or food. Where do they learn about how to apply healthy habits to the real world?

    And it’s not like it’s having any huge impact on society either. Our North American countries are without a doubt gaining more and more weight. People will sit on the couch and eat a bag of potato chips while they watch these contestants struggle, cry, and try to change their lives for a large price tag.

    You’re right in saying that we may not be correct in being quick to judge Rachel’s weight loss. However in my opinion she does look unhealthy, and I can’t imagine dropping that much weight in that little of time, after already losing a considerable amount, to be very healthy. But desperation drives people to want to be on this show; who are we to judge when the desperation continues afterwards?

    • I can’t imagine dropping that much weight that quickly either — and I can’t imagine ever telling any of my clients that it would be healthy to do so. Now, I don’t know her of course, but I did hear that she was very muscular a few months ago when she finished the triathlon. THAT is much more healthy to me than a low scale weight, but then again, that wouldn’t win her $250,000! It’s a shame, really.

  12. Reblogged this on From Fat Writer to Fit Writer and commented:
    I think I’m done with this show. I really like the people who are on it, their drive to get fit but I always knew, going into watching it, that the amount of weight they’re losing in the amount of time they lose it is not good. It’s a show. The prize is a lot of money, not health. And this post puts things into even more perspective for me. I need to reevaluate why I watch, what it does for me….

  13. When I was a couple years younger than Rachel, I weighed less than her and am about an inch taller. I could run for miles (I was on my university’s cross country team) and often won races. Nobody told me I was too thin, probably because this was quite awhile ago and the reality is that people were thinner then. I wore about a size 4 or 5, not because there was anything unusual about my body (I was/am an athletic, not very curvy body type), but because sizes were more realistic then. There were no size 0s back then. I think we have gotten used to seeing a fuller female body type and also a more muscular one. I will say that back then when I weighed a little over a hundred pounds, I had no upper body muscle. I probably couldn’t have done 10 pushups. I weigh more now but I also have more muscle and can do 50 pushups! That being said, Rachel does look thin in the pictures (I didn’t watch the show) and probably lost some muscle in order to win. Of course I would diet to win $250,000. I think most people would whether they say so or not. Most of the BL winners put on some healthy weight after the show. I’m sure she will, too.

    • I’m sure she will too, and I certainly hope she’ll work to gain back some of that healthy muscle mass that she apparently had a few months ago. It’s interesting that you speak of your cross country running days, as that body type (thin, with very little muscle) is common in distance runners. Do you feel that you were any healthier back then at a lower weight, or do you feel healthier now that you are stronger?

      • I am so much healthier now. Back then I remember walking around and just feeling kind of fragile, if you know what I mean. Thanks for asking!

  14. Pingback: The Biggest Loser Controversy | Fitness & Feta

  15. My ex and I used to watch TBL religiously, at the time we both wanted to lose a fairly sizable amount of weight (around 5 stone for me and 10 stone for my ex). Although my ex stuck with watching it I quite quickly got disappointed with the lack of time spent on the nutrition side of things (from the viewers standpoint). Looking back now I can see even more how dangerous a concept the show revolves around, I have not yet achieved my weight loss goal but I won’t be signing up for TBL, health is more important than money.

  16. I totally agree in that other methods could be implemented to measure accomplishments. there is more than just the number on scale. But still, it must have taken her a tremendous amount of effort to achieve a healthier weight. She deserves an applause, instead of criticism. From personal experience. when people start criticizing others on their low weight, its almost like criticizing them for being overweight. For people who struggle to maintain a healthy weight or are trying to gain weight, it can be a real challenge.
    I am starting a new fitness routine after a long study break, and while browsing for workout routines online, I found your blog. I am glad I did. Thank you for sharing so great informative tips.
    Best,
    Diana

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