Weighing in on the Biggest Loser

Tuesday night was the finale of the Biggest Loser. Due to schoolwork and what not, I was not able to watch it until yesterday. However, I was pretty shocked when I saw it.  Since the finale, controversy over one contestant has been buzzing around the internet. For those of you that don’t know, here is a summary of what happened:

before and after

before and after

Rachel Frederickson came onto the show weighing 260 pounds. She was unhappy and extremely overweight. Over the course of the season, we saw her transform herself into a confident athlete that started dominating in all of the challenges. She even won the final challenge – a triathlon. At the time she left the show to get ready for the finale she was already at 150 pounds. However, when she returned for the finale she weighed a measly 105. Her extreme weight loss led her to earn the winning title of the Biggest Loser and $250,000 by a huge margin over the other finalists.

rachel weight

The best way I can describe the reaction to her weight loss was just… awkward. Bob and Jillian (the trainers) looked horrified. The crowd seemed slightly hesitant with their clapping. Even Alison (the host) seemed awkward and like she didn’t want to dwell on Rachel. It was a live show, so it wasn’t as if the situation could be covered up. Overall, just an awkward episode.

bob and jillian

Bob and Jillian’s reaction to Rachel’s appearance.

As most of you know, I am a huge fan of the Biggest Loser. I wrote a recent blog post explaining why I love it so much. However, the last show just left a sour taste in my mouth. I’ve seen a good six seasons or so of the show and I’ve never seen something like it. There have been times in the past where the finalists have looked a little too skinny, but they were still within the healthy weight range for their height.

A Few Facts:

Rachel left to prep for the finale at 150 pounds. To some people this might still seem like a high number, but it’s important to focus on body fat percentage. That tells a lot more than just a number on the scale – it tells what the body is made of. Here’s a picture to show you. There can be two people with the same BMI, but very different body types. They might both be considered overweight according to the BMI, but one of them could actually still be healthy.

bmi-comparison

At this time, her body fat percentage was only 19%. To give you some perspective, the essential body fat for women lies somewhere between 8-12%. Essential body fat is the amount of fat one’s organs need to function properly (AKA the body fat needed to survive). The doctor on the show informed Rachel that she was just 5 pounds away from having the body fat composition of an elite athlete. Female athletes typically have body fat somewhere between 12-22% while the average female has body fat between 25-31%.

Rachel before she went home to prep for the finale.

Rachel before she went home to prep for the finale.

At 19%, Rachel was already very healthy. 6 weeks later (in real time), though, and she had lost a staggering 45 pounds and almost a third of what she weighed 6 weeks earlier. That averages out to about 7.5 pounds a week, which is a HUGE amount given the low weight she was at. Her weight loss must have really increased when she went home. Her body fat must have been quite a bit lower than 19% at 105 pounds. She probably didn’t just lose fat, but muscle as well, which is not good.

I am not a doctor, and more importantly, I am not Rachel’s doctor. However, I think it’s safe to say that there is something wrong. At 5’5”, her BMI is well below the healthy weight range. Whether or not she has a problem – I don’t know. I think there is something wrong with the situation, though.

While Rachel was on the Biggest Loser I admired her drive and spirit. I love when I get to see the real athletes come out and she even became one of my favorite contestants towards the end. Rachel is an extremely competitive person, and she was willing to do anything in order to win. This was made especially evident in episode 12 and 14 where many of the contestants commented on this trait. She wanted the title of the Biggest Loser – plus, I’m sure the $250,000 was part of the equation as well. However, her competitiveness went over the edge. In order to win the title, she only needed to get down to 120-ish pounds, which is within the healthy weight range. She took it to the extreme and must have been starving herself for those last few weeks.

rachel

Although Rachel claims that she had the backing of the Biggest Loser medical staff the whole time, I really doubt that the doctors encouraged her to lose more weight before the finale. One time I saw the doctors tell a contestant that they reached a healthy weight and that they should not lose any more. I hope this is what the doctors did, but I do not know. Also, Rachel was on her own for the last 6 weeks. She was not being medically supervised and it is obvious that she kicked her weight loss into high gear those last few weeks.

Future Considerations

I have never seen a contestant take it this far on the Biggest Loser. They might have in the past, but I am not aware of any similar problems and this is the 15th season – over 250 contestants have been on the show. The Biggest Loser might have covered it up, but I just don’t know. However, for future seasons there should probably be some considerations taken into account to make sure that this does not happen again.

Season 9 contestants

Season 9 contestants

For instance, the contestants should probably be monitored when they go home before the finale. Maybe contestants should be removed from the show if their body fat gets too low. Most of the contestants are at such high weights when they start that even if they make it to the finale, they will not be underweight. I’m sure that the Biggest Loser is already thinking about future seasons and what changes they will make in order to prevent this from happening again.

I still believe that the Biggest Loser does a lot of good for people – provides inspiration and encourages people to achieve a healthy lifestyle. It’s important to not let this misfortune cover up all the good that the Biggest Loser has done in the past. It’s changed the lives of over 250 contestants and even more people watching the show at home. It’s too bad that this happened, and hopefully the Biggest Loser will make the appropriate changes for future seasons.

What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments.

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10 thoughts on “Weighing in on the Biggest Loser

  1. The thing is, obviously, she went to extremes. But, if you look at the situation wholly from a competition standpoint, she was successful. She won. Which is why people go on the show. While I don’t agree with her assessment that she “feels great” in her current body, I do believe she feels great with her hundreds of thousands of dollars. Some people are just competitors to the core. They will do anything to win, even to their own detriment. As runners, we all struggle with that. So, while on one had I applaud her dedication to the competition I also hope she uses some of that money to buy a cheeseburger now that it’s done.

    • That’s the weird thing. Rachel still followed the rules of the competition and won fair and square. I just don’t think the show saw it coming. She definitely was a “competitor to the core.” Thanks for stopping by!

  2. I was going to write about this, but I’m glad you did instead. Great recap and explanation- much better than I could do. I completed agree with everything you said. I’m 5’5, her height, I run and/or do yoga nearly every day- I weigh 125. I have never struggled with my weight either which I do believe is a factor. Here
    is a young girl who has struggled with weight loss and BOOM she is a staggering 105- I can’t even imagine the dedication (and lack of eating) I would need to maintain to lose 20lbs. I hope she’s healthy and I’m trying not to be too critical because in reality, good for her on many levels. I just hope she’s ok.

    • Thanks so much! I was nervous to write about it since it is so controversial, but felt the need to since I wrote a post about the Biggest Loser a couple months ago. I agree – she has a lot of dedication and drive. I hope she is alright as well. Hopefully she can find that balance now that the show is over.

  3. You hit the nail on the head. I felt incredibly awkward watching Rachel’s final reveal. It was even more uncomfortable watching everyone else’s shock and awkwardness. I think this will serve as a great teaching moment and will undoubtedly restructure Biggest Loser’s rules/regulations/guidelines.

    • Thanks! I definitely hope that it will restructure the Biggest Loser. I don’t think they’ve have this type of problem, but hopefully they can move forward to prevent it from happening in the future.

  4. I don’t watch the show regularly but, I have heard about this season’s winner. It’s a tough issue to debate and lots of people have different opinions. I think the one good thing that has arisen from this is that people are talking about what a “healthy weight” is. Most people don’t realize that it can differ from person to person.

    • I definitely agree. I think what added to the shock of it all was seeing the flashback of what she looked like when she first started the show before she came out. The difference was pretty alarming. Hopefully she can find balance now that the competition is done.

  5. This is such a tough one for me. As you and I know, there are many body types out there and it’s easy to jump to conclusions about what is ‘too thin.’ Yes, she lost an extraordinary amount of weight in a short time (which makes me believe/hope that some of it will come back on), but it worries me to see the media so publicly body shame someone who recently suffered through body shaming at the other end of the spectrum. As you and I know, many runners can look “scary thin.” Sometimes it’s for bad reasons. Sometimes it’s because that’s the person’s set point. I don’t know Rachel, nor did I watch the show but I do hope that she is working towards body acceptance and finding a weight that makes her feel capable of living the life she wants to live.

    • I agree. For someone that recently felt criticized for being overweight to feel the criticism for going to the other extreme must be pretty hard – especially with people jumping to the conclusion that she has an eating disorder. Maybe she is perfectly fine – we just don’t know. I too hope that she can find some balance now that the competition is over. She is obviously a very driven person, but hopefully she can use that drive to even out a bit.

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