ASK A TRAINER: 'What Do You Think of THE BIGGEST LOSER Controversy?'
"I have to ask. What is your opinion on the controversy surrounding The Biggest Loser winner being TOO skinny?" - Paige C., Mount Pleasant, SC
For those of you that don't know what controversy Paige is referring to in her email, let me briefly explain. The popular television show crowned 24 year-old, Rachel Fredrickson, as the winner of its 15th season on Tuesday night. When "the new Rachel" was revealed on the live broadcast, jaws dropped, whispers filled the auditorium and all in attendance were shocked at the incredible transformation the formerly obese young woman had undergone since the show began filming. She, as has been the case for every previous winner in the show's history, looked like a different person. But, according to many that saw the broadcast, not in a good way.
Criticism on the Internet was rampant with the consensus being that she looks too thin and prompting many to speculate that she has an eating disorder.
Here are the stats on Rachel's journey: She shed nearly 60% of her initial body weight going from 260 to 105 pounds. At 5'4", Rachel's body mass index is 18, which is considered underweight. Beyond that though, I cannot begin to comment on what Rachel has or has not eaten since the show broke before the finale or as to the frequency and intensity of her workouts. All any of us can do is speculate. I will say this: people need to lay off Rachel. She willingly participated in a competition in which the winner was decided based solely on the basis of who lost the largest percentage of their initial body weight and that is what she did. Those are the rules of the game and, in this particular case Ice-T said it best when he said, "Don't hate the playa/ hate the game."
And if it is true that Rachel has simply exchanged one eating disorder for another, and I am not saying she did, than it is unfair for anyone to shame her for her illness.
Seeing the finale inspired did force me to reconsider my already ambiguous feelings about the show. On the one hand, I have enjoyed the show as entertainment and found the stories about people setting and reaching goals through developing a healthier relationship with food and exercise to be inspiring. Further, I know so many others have been inspired by the show to make changes to their lifestyles. The show humanized a segment of the population that has been marginalized and showed that behind the layers of flesh, these people were human beings with stories, and that their battles with weight went well beyond reducing their plight to a lack of willpower.
The inspirational power and truth of these messages led me to disregard some of the more troubling aspects of the show despite the fact that I, of all people, know better. I even thought my experience with helping clients lose weight coupled with my experience in front of the camera would have made me an ideal trainer on the show. After watching the finale, I won't even be able to watch the show again.<
For one thing, the premise of the show is flawed. The number of pounds an individual carries around is not an indication of fitness level. Factors such as BMI (height to weight ratio) and body fat percentage are not taken into consideration. The show deals only in pounds lost and those pounds can be fat, water or muscle. In theory, this almost places those contestants more genetically-inclined to put on muscle at a disadvantage meaning one could be penalized on the show for being more fit than their peers.
Granted, I don't know exactly what the food and exercise plan the contestants on the show followed. Outside of the brief glimpses of the contestants exercising presented in montage, the show was (intentionally?) vague on the specifics. I do know that in the contexts of those montages, I witnessed a lot of poor form, I saw people new to exercise using advanced techniques that shouldn't even be attempted until one has a solid foundation on more basic forms of movement, I saw people exercise to the point where they vomited and then soldiering on post-puke (No matter what your CrossFit friends may tell you, exercising to the point where you vomit is not an indication of a good workout and once you've hurled, your workout should end.) Hell, they had a triathlon this season. Yet I justified DVR-ing the show every week because the contestants were critical cases in dire situations so maybe drastic action was appropriate.
Yet I know firsthand that these tactics are not suitable for dangerously overweight individuals. I have worked with such cases. I have witnessed clients lose a great deal of weight through lifestyle changes. I know that the capacity to change is possible for all of us. In my experience, in all of the cases in which people have changed it was never in one fell swoop but through a culmination of little incremental changes over an extended period of time. There are no secrets. There are no short cuts. My clients that have succeeding in reaching their weight loss goals have done so through the development of sensible, sustainable eating habits and a well-designed exercise program appropriate to their fitness level that progresses and evolves at the same rate that they are progressing and evolving.
I was a fan of the show because I believed so strongly in the inspirational and positive message it sent out to the general public: that through hard work in the gym, discipline in the kitchen and confidence in oneself anyone CAN transform themselves. I still believe that. But in reality, it takes time.