Did this ‘Biggest Loser’ contestant lose too much weight?


Rachel Frederickson at the start of “The Biggest Loser” (L) and on the finale (R). (NBC/Paul Drinkwater/AP; NBC/Trae Patton/AP)

Celebrity trainers Jillian Michaels and Bob Harper wore twin expressions of shock when “The Biggest Loser” contestant Rachel Frederickson had her big reveal Tuesday night — but the only surprise, really, is that this hasn’t happened sooner.

Frederickson, who weighed 260 pounds when the show began, shed 60 percent of her body weight during the show and ended at 105 pounds. Since she’s only 5’4”, that puts her body mass index at 18 — below what the National Institute of Health considers a healthy minimum. In other words, the Twitter masses have claimed, Frederickson lost too much weight. It’s impossible to say whether that’s true based on numbers alone — more on that later — but it’s equally impossible to see why anyone’s surprised by Frederickson’s “scary” weight loss.

 

The popular reality show, which just wrapped its 15th season on NBC, has (literally) made its name off dramatic weight loss — the person who loses the most wins $250,000, which basically amounts to a quarter-million reasons to drop as much as possible, at any cost.

Of course, as nutritionists and eating-disorder advocates have pointed out, viewing obesity as a pure numbers game is a fundamental misunderstanding of how the human body works. For one thing, different people have different body compositions and nutritional needs. For another, how you lose the weight matters — a healthy, moderate, maintainable diet and exercise regimen is better for the long-term than the “PTSD-inducing” hoops “Biggest Loser” contestants get put through. (Fredrickson’s trainer on the show, for his part, said on Facebook that her health “is and always has been my main concern.”)

And therein lies the whole problem not only with the concept of the show, but the whole cultural dieting complex: This shallow obsession with numbers has more to do with appearance than with actual health, despite protests to the contrary. And that preoccupation with and scrutiny of appearance — even when it’s well-intentioned, as in the case of all the Twitter users expressing “concern” over Fredrickson’s reveal — ultimately undermines healthy weight loss.

“As a society we often criticize people for being at higher weights — that’s part of why we have the TV show ‘The Biggest Loser’ — and then we feel free to criticize lower weight,” Jillian Lampert, the director of an eating disorder treatment program in St. Paul, told the AP. “We certainly see a lot of people who struggle with eating disorders who use the same behaviors on that show to an extreme.”

But unfortunately, watching Fredrickson and her competitors cut the red meat out of their diets and take up a casual walking routine would not make for riveting television. And so we have “The Biggest Loser,” where apparently either the loser is too big … or the loss is.

A suggestion: If you’re concerned about all this, stop watching the show.

Caitlin Dewey runs The Intersect blog, writing about digital and Internet culture. Before joining the Post, she was an associate online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
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