on The Biggest Loser: I don’t blame Rachel.

by Mindy @ Just A One Girl Revolution on February 6, 2014

in Uncategorized

The Biggest Loser has long been a show with its fair share of controversy and critics.  From the beginning, there have been rightful questions about the rigorous routines the contestants experience to pull off such a drastic weight loss, and about the expectations created when they step on the scale.  But, those dramatic stories are what draw viewers in.  A show where the contestants lost half a pound or even a couple pounds week after week wouldn’t be exciting.  This has never been a show about contestants getting healthy, it’s a show about contestants losing as much weight as they can over the course of approximately seven months.

The controversy continued with the season 15 finale.  In case you missed it, Rachel Frederickson won this season with a 155 pound weight loss, equating to a series record of almost 60%.  She came on to the ranch at 260 pounds and weighed in at the finale at 105 pounds.  On her reported 5’4″ body, that’s tiny.  Like many others, my first thought was that she went too far.  In all honesty, Rachel’s weight loss should not come as a surprise.  It’s been a long time coming, but I think it’s all so much more complicated than my initial gut reaction.

BL Rachel Finale

Here’s what I am saying:  I don’t blame Rachel for what happened.  Yes, she’s the one that got herself to 105 pounds, but I think that this draws light to much, much bigger issues beyond one contestant’s dramatic weight loss.  When it comes to this one woman’s journey, or anybody else’s for that matter, it’s not our place to judge because there is so much that we don’t know.

The thing is, at the end of the day The Biggest Loser is a reality show about nothing more than who can lose the largest percentage of weight over the course of the show.  It’s a damn game that she was playing to win.  Rachel knew that when she left the ranch as a finalist, she was competing against David and Bobby to win the grand prize.  They were big guys to start, weighing at at 409 and 358 respectively.  For Rachel to pull out that win, she had to have known that it would take a jaw-dropping number to pull it off and win that $250,000.  She had no idea what she would be facing on that scale, so if she wanted to win, it was go big or go home.  That’s the game.  It’s easy to sit back and say that money shouldn’t have been a big enough of a factor or motivation for her to put her health at risk, but until you’re in those shoes, it’s easy to have that opinion.  And really, by signing up for the show, that’s what every single contestant is ultimately doing.  I can understand how the temptation and draw would be there because that’s a lot of money.  She played the game and she won.  She did what the premise of the show asked her to do, so let’s not make her the target of our outrage.

There has been a lot of talk that she looks anorexic, she looks emaciated, she looks this, she looks that.  And yes, on the finale she definitely looked weak and frail, especially compared to the athletic Rachel we saw win the triathlon in the previous episode.  Yes, 105 pounds may be cause for concern but I’m quite confident that she’s not the first 5’4″ woman to weigh 105 pounds.  While it’s a BMI of 18 (anything under 18.5 is considered underweight), I fully believe that BMI is far from the be all, end all measure of good health.  After all, if she weighed 108 pounds, she would be in the normal weight range on the BMI scale.  So, would it still be so concerning if she had lost 152 pounds and were still in the “normal” weight range. We don’t know this girl, so who are we to say that she is or isn’t healthy simply based on her appearance?  

To be honest, if Rachel were just someone I passed walking down the street, I don’t know that I would think anything of her size.  I have people in my life that are incredibly slim, but I don’t think they have an eating disorder or look malnourished.  It’s pretty common for contestants to get to their lowest weight for the finale, then gain some of that back and plateau at a comfortable, sustainable weight.  That has played out time and time again, because once again, it’s a game about who can lose the most weight before they step on the scale one last time.  There’s a lot of talk about how her losing 155 pounds in that time frame is unhealthy and preventing her body from receiving the nutrition that it needs, which I wholeheartedly believe to be true.  But, using that argument, let’s talk about David who lost 222 pounds or Tumi, the at-home winner, who lost 175 pounds.  Let’s not single her out on this because a lot of people on this season, and every season, lose what should be considered an unhealthy amount of weight in the time they are given.  Rachel isn’t the problem, it’s the premise of the show as a whole we should be concerned with.

While it’s no secret that the contestants go to drastic extremes in the days before the live finale to drop some fast weight, we don’t know what Rachel did at home in the months she was home to lose that last 45 pounds.  In a media event following the finale, she defended the work she put in at home, saying that she continued the regimen she received on the show including a diet of 1,600 calories a day.  Whether or not that regimen is healthy is a different issue that falls on the hands of the experts caring for her.  But, to call her out for something like an eating disorder is an incredibly bold statement, and one that I think downplays people who truly do struggle with those issues.  

Anorexia and bulimia are very real, very serious things so let’s not throw those words around lightly.  Yes, I realize that it is a possibility she went that route (and I sincerely hope that she didn’t), but for people to make such accusations is unfair.  But, let’s play devil’s advocate and say that is she is truly struggling with an eating disorder.  The negativity flying at her right now isn’t going to make things better or help the situation.  Rather, now would be a time more than ever to embrace her with love and grace.  Personally, I don’t believe she went that route, but that’s not my judgment call to make.  All season long viewers watched her, literally and figuratively, work her ass off.  She was clearly a fighter and had her eye on the prize while at the ranch.  We don’t know what she did at home, so we shouldn’t claim we do.  

In terms of the series itself, I believe this incident raises a bigger questions about show in general, but what comes to mind in particular how much support the contestants receive from NBC and The Biggest Loser once they are home.  While at the ranch, they have a myriad of professionals monitoring their progress, including dietitians and physicians.  But, what about when they leave the ranch, be it if they’re voted off mid-season or they go home as a finalist?  I’m not saying that they should have the exact same resources at home as they do on the ranch, because that would somewhat defeat the purpose of going home to finish out the season.

It makes me question, though, if there is anyone following up in the weeks and months leading up to the finale to be sure they aren’t putting themselves in serious danger.  Was there anyone following Rachel’s at home journey, or did she arrive back in LA with the producers unaware of how much weight she had lost?  If it’s the former, did anyone intervene or talk with her about what was happening?  Given Bob and Jillian’s reaction, I believe it might be the latter, in which case the network is setting themselves up for serious problems in the long run.  I think that this should be a wake-up call to NBC to consider the support the contestants receive both on and off the ranch, because even once they’re home, they are still contestants representing the show, so I think there is some responsibility to walk them through the journey to the finale.

On a larger scale, isn’t Rachel’s thin body what we, as a culture, have come to hold as a standard of beauty?  Sure, we were all shocked when she walked onto that finale stage, but isn’t that image the same one we are bombarded with constantly?  Fitness inspiration (or “fitspo” as it’s more commonly called) runs rampant these days and while it’s meant to encourage fit, healthy bodies, I think that more often than not, it has the opposite effect.  I don’t think that Rachel looks any different than the models gracing the ads for Victoria’s Secret or Abercrombie & Fitch.  Jennifer Lawrence has talked on many occasions about how she is considered a “fat” actress in Hollywood and she is by no means fat.  Heavier women like Melissa McCarthy are routinely cast in the funny sidekick role, not the leading lady.  So, for us to cry out that Rachel is too thin on this television show that is built around (and celebrates) dramatic weight loss stories when, in fact, it’s that same rail thin figure that our society champions any other day, seems hypocritical.

My hope for Rachel is that she can find a comfortable, happy weight now that the show is over.  I hope that she has a solid support system surrounding her on this journey, and that if she is actually struggling with an eating disorder, she can find the help she needs.  I hope that she, and all the contestants, can continue to strive towards healthier, happier lives in a much more realistic, sustainable approach.  I hope that we, as a society can turn away from this terribly unhelpful criticism about Rachel’s weight and use it as a catalyst for a discussion about what true, well-rounded health looks like.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Stina February 6, 2014 at 8:09 am

This! So.much.this! For as many issues as TBL has, the show is not my problem in this controversy. My problem is all the body shaming from these media personalities and health experts toward a girl who did exactly what we told her to do – lose a lot of weight.

All this has done is create another example of how women are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. There is no winning. Oh you’re overweight, society is going to pick you apart and tell you everything that’s wrong with you. Lose weight and get skinny, which is what society has told you must be done to be accepted, and well, now you’re too skinny and society is going to pick you apart and tell you everything that’s wrong with you.

The problem here isn’t Rachel, the problem is that people think it’s okay to comment on her body.


Nicole @ Foodie Loves Fitness February 6, 2014 at 12:53 pm

You bring up some interesting points. I happen to be a fan of the show, because although extreme, I like its focus on helping people to lose weight and be healthier. Throughout the season, Rachel has been really competitive, and her competitive nature is probably why she took her weight loss as far as she did. Maybe she wants to start her own biz with that money and decided to take it to the extreme for the last month to get there. Perhaps she juiced for the last 2 weeks to lose that last 10 pounds or something, who knows. I definitely agree that she looked very, very thin and fragile, but like you said, maybe now that she has won the title and money, she’ll relax a bit and gain 20 pounds back. I mean, ultimately her exercise regimen has to relax right? I imagine that she has been working out for 5 hours a day leading up to the finale, and that’s a lifestyle that nearly no one can continue, unless they’re a pro athlete whose job is to work out.
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Michelle @ Tales of a Fit Kitty Mama February 6, 2014 at 9:41 pm

Yes, Yes, Yes!!!!!
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Jordan Lynn // Life Between Lattes February 6, 2014 at 10:42 pm

I think you hit a lot of great points. I think the saddest thing about Rachel’s story is that this should have been an amazing moment in her life – winning the Biggest Loser. Instead, she has become scrutinized by the media, and I’m sure that is the last thing she needs in this situation. You are so right that our society idolizes people who are Rachel’s size, and when she finally attained that level of “thinness,” she has been attacked, on a national scale. And regardless of she is actually too thin, I don’t think anyone deserves to have their appearance scrutinized like that.


Irving February 10, 2014 at 12:19 am

Wow what a great write up, I loved it! You’re so right, everybody it seems is down on Rachel because she looks anorexic or whatever, but the greater point is where she goes from here. Does she have the support she needs to keep the weight off? And secondly, my concern is losing that much weight in such a short amount of time can’t be healthy. Sure I suppose it’s great that she lost all that weight, but at what cost? When I see something like this I can’t help but to think of someone like Elvis Presley who when he wasn’t touring, he’d put on a lot of weight. And just before going back on tour again, he’d lose all that weight again, but in his case through drugs and artificial means. Sadly it caught up with him in the end. Getting to a comfortable and healthy weight for your body type is really the best way to do it. Anyway, thank you for the very informative post, I really enjoyed reading it.
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