Was there a winner?

SPOILERS .... Does the Biggest Loser want strong or do they want thin? The Biggest Loser started with a doctor's premise:  Dr. Hui...

SPOILERS....

Does the Biggest Loser want strong or do they want thin?
The Biggest Loser started with a doctor's premise:  Dr. Huizenga (former doctor for the Raiders football organization) saw very large and athletic linebackers being able to exercise and lose weight (off season), so why couldn't the average overweight/obese person.  His focus was on simple exercises (calisthenics) to start and then increasing the challenge, walking, and a healthy diet.  NBC has bastardized this original premise. 

My favorite episodes always used to be the ones where Dr. H would give people devastating news about what they had done to their bodies -- their body fat percentages, pre-diabetes, diabetes, heart disease, sleep apnea -- but the simple hope that just by exercising and eating reasonably, that they could reverse the harm done to their bodies.  That episode began in tears and ended in determination and hope.  Later in the season, they'd meet with Dr. H again and learn that they had indeed done what he had promised:  they were no longer diabetic, they no longer had sleep apnea.  They were no longer killing themselves; they had learned how to live.

Over the years, Dr. H's presence and influence on the show has decreased.  As his presence has decreased, the focus on weight over health has increased.  Ever notice how one third of the show is dedicated to the weigh-in and the results?  Ever notice how they talk less and less about the diseases of obesity? America just wants to bottom line -- how much weight did they lose?

So...doot da doo... last night's finale has definitely caused a stir, to put it mildly.

I want to really separate a few issues here:

1.  People on Facebook are trying to finger wag at me b/c I'm discussing another person's body.  I'm not trying to fat shame or thin shame.  Like I said on FB, I think that concern is driving the whole debate.  People in the weight loss/health gain community are worried for Rachel as well as concerned for how viewers might perceive Rachel winning. I believe that the same psychological issues that contribute to people being obese can also swing the other way.  People lose weight and become addicted to the weight loss.  I've seen it with my own eyes more than I'd care to admit.

2.  The CDC says that the slower one loses the weight, the greater the chances are that the person will keep it off (i.e., not yo-yo).  I haven't been able to find an official start date for the filming of Season 15, but I know that she lost 155lbs in less than a year (She's 5'4" and weighs 105lbs now (a BMI of under 18.5).  That's fast.  I'll leave it up to the experts to determine whether it is too fast.  However, I just want to remind people that there are health risks associated with losing weight that fast -- the main concern being how the heart (a very important muscle) will react.

3.  I've made it very clear on most social media networks (especially when I ask weight loss celebrities why they're hosting DietBet competitions where the focus is on weight loss, not body fat percentage or positive behaviors) that I'm a firm believer that the best way to determine health is by a blood test, fitness tests, and an honest look at a person's behaviors and life.  The Biggest Loser relies on the scale as a measure of health.  If you lose more, you must be healthy.  In the case of last night's finale, people (including myself) that Rachel had gone beyond healthy and into unhealthy once again.  We don't know that for sure, we'd need to see her blood test results.  But our guts are telling us that she went too far.

4.  So why did she go too far?  If you've watched BL15, you know that Rachel is a competitive person and that she likes to win.  This is a great motivator, but also needs to be kept in check.  Any look at humanity and you know people will go to great lengths to win--even if it's illegal (ahem, Tonya Harding), unhealthy, or unsafe.  I remember the end of last week's episode how great Rachel looked after winning the triathlon.  I wondered what more she had to lose in terms of weight.  She was fast, strong, happy, healthy.  At the finale, she looked like she wouldn't be able to win a triathlon, let alone finish it.

5.  So that makes me wonder -- should The Biggest Loser change the "winning" criteria -- that you have to pass a physical examination (metabolic fitness, blood work, not be malnourished, healthy bone density, electrolytes in balance), or that the triathlon should be run or repeated a few days before the finale to ensure that the focus is on fitness, not thinness? Should a contestant be disqualified for calorie restricting beyond the recommended daily intake? Should the Biggest Loser enact fail safe measures to ensure the safety of the contestants?

6.  My dietitian weighed in on all of this:

7.  This just raises every concern that I have about how people love to talk about the obesity epidemic, but not the eating disorder epidemic.  Kids younger and younger are admitting to eating disorders. More and more adults are admitting to eating disorders or disordered eating.  IF Rachel won by calorie restricting (again, this is speculation based on what I know of weight loss), what does it say that The Biggest Loser crowned her the winner of season 15?  What does it say about us as an audience if we don't at least raise concern for this young woman's long-term health? She's not a prop or a character on a TV show.  She's an actual person.  We should put her health over the show's ratings.

8.  People are saying that she probably wanted to lose a little extra to add to her lead going in to the finale, and that she'll probably gain some weight back once the season is now over.  Is it just me or is this type of justification disturbing?  It's the same type of justification for the people who do ridiculous things all to lose just a few more pounds.  They've lost the ability to know when enough is enough.  There wasn't someone looking out for her saying "you're doing this the wrong way."

But who are we to judge what one woman did to win $250,000 and the title of The Biggest Loser. 

**raises an eyebrow** 

I don't know what the answers are.  I just know in my gut that something isn't right (and I'm not talking about Rachel's body... I'm talking about the environment in which health is no longer the focus).
As a weight loss/health gain community, I think we need to talk more about what a healthy life looks like versus what healthy bodies are supposed to look like (because our eyes don't really know... unless someone has x-ray vision that they're not owning up to).

Should we speak up if we think a friend or an acquaintance is engaging in unhealthy practices? 

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12 comments

  1. This is my problem with the biggest loser as a show and quite frankly, with society. We tell people constantly that their body type is unacceptable, they are too large, make themselves smaller and then criticize them when they get too small. This isn't the first time that I've heard that a winner of TBL (also female) was "too skinny." And trust, I agree, but if you're a contestant, what are you going to do? Keep starving yourself / sauna-ing to get those last 3 pounds off or just be OK with who you are and not have the money. The end result should be health, not weight loss, but they don't win $250K for being at a healthy weight, they win it for the largest percentage of weight lost (weight, not body fat, which is another issue).

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  2. I am in the "weight loss" business having lost 145 pounds myself, over 5 years. I now maintain a bmi of 24 sometimes 25. I believe that permanent weight loss is slow but it's also a process of more than just your body. The mind was much more responsible for my weight problem than my body's needs were. Looking at these photos, in my opinion, the focus was heavily reliant on the scales. Being healthy for me was about being able to shop in any store I wanted not just plus size, eating well and good food, knowing what a portion of food should be, feeling good and being physically and emotionally fit. Extreme anything is usually temporary. I am in full agreement with you

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  3. I didn't even recognize her when she walked out. Holy moly, she went too far. I remember in the past there were finalist who knew they didn't need to loose more weight to be healthy so they didn't. At some point, you have to decide do I want this for the money or to be a better and healthy person?

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  4. (Commenting as Anonymous only because I do not have any of the account types you allow, nor do I have a URL. My name is Michele M. from Maine and I am 46 years old.)

    #2 is an untruth. There is no proof whatsoever that rapid weight loss is less sustainable than slower. In fact, those who are admonished to "lose slowly" often take that advice as permission to hang on to bad habits and make only minimal changes in their food choices and activity level...this advice actually scares them off from succeeding and encourages them to not worry about bouncing around the same pound lost/pound gained for weeks, months, years on end.

    My own example? I lost 80 pounds in 8 months, going from 220 to 140 -- an average of about 2 lbs/week but obviously some weeks I lost more than others. I hit a plateau at 180 and 160, each of which lasted about three weeks and then resolved on its own. My approach was drastic: a complete 180 degree turn from a SAD of processed convenience low fat foods heavy in simple carbs, sweeteners,preservatives, and, of course, diet soda, and a lifestyle that included no purposeful exercise whatsoever to a diet of whole foods in appropriate portions, 128 ounces of water daily, and 30-60 minutes of meaningful exercise every day. Yes, every day.

    How have I maintained this loss for close to six years now (it will be six full years maintaining between 138-142 pounds come March)? By doing the exact same things I did to lose it: eating for health and exercising for fitness, with very, VERY few cheat meals or days off from exercise.

    TBL and other shows/contents of that ilk are destructive in that the goals are achieved and demonstrated by unsafe and unsustainable methods and take place in a controlled enviroment -- and, obviously, the footage is staged and edited to be more attractive to the audience (fake controversies are drummed up, conversations are scripted, results are manipulated). Real life, lasting weight loss is only achievable by a lifestyle that focuses on health through nutrition and fitness through meaningful activity...not a crash diet, unsafe caloric restriction, regular "treats" like sugar-free cookies and packaged low-calorie frozen pizza. Pretty much every overweight person is a compulsive overeater, a food addict, a binge eater, an emotional eater, insulin resistant -- pick any or all of the above. TBL portrays this as a simple matter of doing extreme workouts and eating celery in an attempt to starve faster than the other people. Real life weight loss is about nourishing and strengthening the body.

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  5. Christina: I want to make an important distinction -- Bottom line, I want Rachel to be healthy (physically, mentally, emotionally) and to live a long and healthy life where no one ever talks about her body ever again. I would GLADLY eat my words saying that I'm concerned about her and the environment that allowed her to arrive at 105lbs, which may or may not be healthy for her.

    Niptuck Seliger: I think anyone looking to lose weight and gain health needs to keep an eye on BALANCE. What does a healthy life entail for them every day? If it's a life based in extremes, then there is no balance.

    Brigitte: You hit the nail on the head -- a contestant who is at a healthy weight (as determined by themselves/doctors) should stop losing weight -- not continue on just so they can win a prize.

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  6. Kudos for posting this and putting it out there....Its not about skinny and winning - its about health and well being PERIOD !

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  7. Michele: an average of 2-3lb/week is exactly what the CDC recommends. Based on their studies, they say that anything more is unsustainable and indicative of yo-yo dieting.

    And you and I are in agreement -- that it's about balance -- what changes can you sustain over the rest of your life in order to be your healthiest self?

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  8. I applaud you for putting this out there, she does not look healthy. Remember my discussions w/you over the unrealistic weight goal my surgeon placed on me? YOU were instrumental in helping me to realize that being healthy was more important than a number on the scale. Once I finally realized that I found inner peace & I'm happy w/my self but more importantly, I'm HEALTHY! I owe that to you, thank you!

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  9. Meeyra -- I'm so glad that you were able to take a step back from what the surgeon was telling you and determine what was right for yourself. How we perceive ourselves is so delicate and sensitive, and yet so important to living a psychologically healthy life.

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  10. I think when she reached her goal weight that should of been enough for her to win the show. But it comes down to % so I imagine thats why she kept losing weight to make sure her % was enough. But at what stage do you draw a line? Seeing ribs and having arms that look like will snap in half is not the sort of image they should be advertising.

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  11. @Sarah -- I don't know if the contestants or the production ever really know when to say "Enough."

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  12. Thanks for providing a rational and objective point of view - really appreciate it. I think the Biggest Loser overstepped the mark this year - definitely giving off the wrong message to people trying to lose weight and love theirselves.

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<3 Robby