The Biggest Eating Disorder?

The Biggest Loser winner Rachel Frederickson has made waves across the nation with her 155-pound weight loss. Frederickson dropped about a pound a day, a loss more rapid than any health professional would advise, and landed herself south of a healthy BMI.

Many have criticized Frederickson’s new physique, calling her “unhealthy” or “anorexic.” Truth be told, we know nothing of her health or eating disorder status. We do know that it isn’t healthy to drop such a large amount of weight in a short period time (regardless of starting and ending weight), but we don’t know where Frederickson falls on various health metrics.

But let’s zoom out a bit. . . .

In our culture, we seem to stand on the sidelines, cheering weight loss among celebrities, fat reality show contestants, personal contacts, etc. It’s as if we chant, “Thinner, thinner, thinner!” until, “Oops, too thin.” I’ve seen this happen with a number of stars and hear it constantly in my work and in the world around me.

Millions of people watch TBL and cheer unhealthy weight loss methods until, oops, someone takes it a bit too far. But Frederickson was just playing the game well. This is a show that is predicated upon an eating disorder. It’s a show that demands over-(compulsive) exercise and a very low calorie diet. It’s a show that encourages weight stigma and fat shaming. And it’s a show that gives the not-so-subtle message that it doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you lose weight.

Just recently, trainer Jillian Michaels was slapped on the wrist for supplying her team with caffeine supplements in her quest to get them thin. Would you consider Adderall or cocaine, Jillian, if it meant securing the win? Where do you draw the line?

In the pursuit of skinny, lines are blurred and health is relegated to back-burner status. The only reason Frederickson’s possibly unhealthy loss has garnered so much attention is that she happens to look so gaunt. As prior TBL contestants have revealed, the show promotes disordered behavior and unhealthy measures. Just because other contestants haven’t dropped to Frederickson’s low doesn’t mean that they haven’t compromised their physical and psychological health as a result of their participation on the show.

Michaels and fellow trainer Bob Harper declined to comment on Frederickson’s weight loss, but as a personal trainer I will. Frederickson’s weight loss is unhealthy, as is the other contestants’. It’s accomplished via destructive and humiliating behaviors and beliefs, and it lands a sucker punch on America’s self-esteem. I can’t even tell you how many people have ended up on my therapeutic couch who begin their story with some variation of, “I lost a lot of weight when following a personal trainer’s diet and exercise guidelines.”

Leslie Goldman, author of The Locker Room Diaries, thinks that Frederickson’s weight loss “sets the body image movement back.” I think the show itself, and its celebrated place in our culture, proves we still have work to do.

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