There’s a delicate balance in discussing the case of The Biggest Loser contestant Rachel Frederickson’s extreme weight loss. Commentators around the country — world? — run the risk of focusing too much on Rachel herself and the 155 pounds that she shed to be crowned the TBL champion. Around the internet this week we’ve been bombarded with claims that Rachel is “anorexic,” “has an eating disorder,” or is, “disgusting.”
I’m always curious when I hear the popular media report that someone is “anorexic.” I wonder when the “anorexic” person sat in that journalist’s office and reviewed the DSM-5 criteria, and where exactly they received their graduate degree in psychopathology. You get my drift… The fact is that assigning who has and eating disorder and who does not based on physical appearance is a dangerous practice. It’s harmful not only to those individuals being diagnosed, but to everyone with eating disorders.
Unfortunately, many of the writers who have addressed the TBL finale have fallen into the trap of trying to diagnose Rachel. The real issue, though, is The Biggest Loser itself. It makes me sad and frustrated that it took Rachel’s win to shine a spotlight on the freak show that is this competition. (It wasn’t bad enough, apparently, that they put their abhorrent antics to adolescents last year…)
We’ve be hearing for years that The Biggest Loser promotes extraordinarily dangerous weight-loss practices. Contestants have reported exercising working out (for eight hours per day in some cases) while significantly injured, prohibited from consuming doctor-prescribed substances, and eating far below even the minimum amount of calories to sustain a person. Worse, contestants have reported that they were treated as sub-human, humiliated and shamed throughout the competition (go read Golda Poretsky’s expose — parts I, II, and III — now if you want more gut-wrenching details).
As angered as I am about what I consider to be human rights violations on the part of the TBL machine, what makes me most angry about the whole enterprise is the fact that they are duping the American public. They are systematically lying to the masses and the result is weight stigma and the promotion of unhealthy behaviors. The lies range from telling the public that a contestant lost X number of pounds in a “week” when it is anywhere from 5 to 14 days (and thus setting up dangerous and unrealistic expectations for home weight loss) to claiming the contestants are given a stabilizing network of support, which is then pulled out dramatically when the cameras are turned off, according to a former trainer.
The show touts health, wellness, and the just how HAPPY you’ll feel when you’re THIN! But what’s behind the curtain is something much darker. Like most of the media, TBL is an enterprise dedicated to ratings and product endorsement. Does Rachel Frederickson’s weight loss concern them? I’m inclined to think not given the show’s history, and would imagine that producers are eating up (no pun intended…) the astronomical attention given to the show since the finale.
So if you’re as disgusted as I am, what is there to do? There are letters to write and petitions to sign, but the most useful thing we can do with our time and energy is to shift our tube time to another program. Don’t get counted in the show’s statistics, even if you’re watching is disgust. Don’t buy into the TBL enterprise with all of their merchandise. And most importantly, don’t get sold the idea that this kind of weight loss is realistic, sustainable, or healthy.
What was your reaction to The Biggest Loser finale?