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When Inspiration Meets Painful Reality: The Biggest Loser Finale

Jillian and Bob reacting to Rachel's reveal at the finale.I’m breaking out of my gadgets and gear mode in this post to discuss what happened in the finale of The Biggest Loser this season. I’ve been a huge fan of the show for a long time and have seen every season of it. It’s been a big source of inspiration for me in my own weight loss journey, and a show I’ve recommended to countless family and friends to hopefully inspire them in their journeys. What I saw in the finale this season is a first on several levels, and one that makes me incredibly uncomfortable for both the message it’s sending and also the way NBC is responding to it thus far, but more on that in a second.

First let me say that when it comes to weight loss, what is seen on The Biggest Loser in terms of the pounds they strive to lose each week (sometimes into the double digits), is not a model we at home should strive to achieve. Unless you have a team of doctors, personal trainers, a nutritionist, and eight hours a day to dedicate to weight loss, you cannot and should not attempt to mimic these weight loss results. Losing a pound or two a week in the real world is a huge achievement and should be celebrated.

With that in mind, the inspiration I find in the show is the journey of self actualization and emotional healing that many of the contestants go through. Most on the show become a new person from the inside out, and rediscover how to live life to its fullest. I identify with a lot of the contestants, and have had my own struggles with food and weight. From being treated for bulimia in high school to compulsively overeating as a young adult, I have run the gamut of ups and downs both in weight and in addressing the emotional issues behind my struggles. I don’t talk about these struggles openly, and many in my life don’t know that I have had them. I think it’s important to mention them in this post though, because what I saw when Rachel walked onto the finale stage this week is a young woman still struggling and trying to heal.

Rachel's Finale PictureWith the caveat that we can’t know everything about these contestants, since editing plays a big role, what I saw this season was an emotionally broken young woman who did not fully address the emotional piece behind her issues with eating and weight before she left for home. She is also a very competitive person by nature, which undoubtedly fueled her losing almost 50 lbs at home in 3.5 months after leaving the ranch. That’s almost 4 lbs a week to come into the finale five lbs underweight according to the BMI index (which mind you already has ridiculously low weights for what is considered “normal” and definitely not the weight range athletes should be in). We even saw a clip of Dr. H saying to Rachel before she left the ranch that she only needed to lose five more pounds to be in the professional athlete weight range.

The part that has made me the most uncomfortable in all of this though is the lack of response we’ve seen from NBC and the show’s star trainers, doctor and host, at least thus far. I do understand that they are probably in crisis mode and having meeting after meeting to discuss the appropriate response. Ethically, in terms of what is needed from them in the next several weeks in order to keep me (a die hard fan) watching the show is:

  • First determine how much of Rachel’s weight loss was fueled by competition and how much was fueled by unresolved emotional issues. Then talk openly about how this is being addressed and steps that are being taken. Whether that story is told now or throughout the next season of The Biggest Loser, it needs to be told.
  • Second, come forward and talk about setting healthy weight goals and knowing the difference between when you need to push harder and when you’ve pushed yourself too far.
  • Thirdly, talk about plans for future seasons to ensure that when contestants go home they have the resources they need to continue their journey until a healthy weight has been reached, and to not reward unhealthy habits for being underweight just as much as they don’t reward habits for being overweight. Perhaps a red line for losing too much that disqualifies you from being in the finale. I think this New York Times article sums it up best about the danger of not doing this and the message it sends.
  • Fourth, protect Rachel from what is obviously going to be a tumultuous public backlash. I think Shannon Oliver of the Huffington Post put it best in a recent post by saying:

“I’m glad that most viewers agree that rewarding anorexia is not the message The Biggest Loser should portray, but spewing Tweets about how “awful” and “gross” Rachel looks is just as harmful. She is human. She has working eyes. She will feel defeated, mortified, and confused. Trust me, from the look on Bob and Jillian’s faces, they’ll let her know that her body is in trouble. She doesn’t need all of America harshly criticizing her and feeding whatever food issues she already faces.”

As for me and my journey, I have finally found a healthy relationship with food and it no longer controls me. I have also discussed my ultimate goal weight of 130 lbs with my doctor, and it is a weight we both feel comfortable in me achieving and maintaining. Mind you, this weight puts me right on the line of being “normal/overweight” according to the BMI index – which is ridiculous. If I were to lose any more than that, I would be nothing more than a stick and would have a heck of a time trying to maintain it.

Whether I continue watching The Biggest Loser after this season has yet to be determined. But what I do know, and I do encourage, is for all of you in the FitJourney family to have open conversations with each other, your doctors and your trainers about your own goals, celebrating your successes, and realizing that each of us have our own journey to travel to get to our healthy weight.

About Vanessa

Vanessa is a content strategist by day and marathoner by night. A reformed asthmatic couch potato, she found her way from topping the scale at more than 200 lbs. with her five-foot frame to living the life of an endurance runner who eats hills for breakfast. She’s completed everything from marathons to 200-mile relay races. She’s not a natural born athlete, but truly believes determination and a little bit of laughter can go a long way in accomplishing big goals. Her insights on how technology can help in living a healthier lifestyle come from mixing her passion for fitness with her in-depth of knowledge of user experience design. With almost a decade of experience working in the high-tech city of Seattle, she’s excited to join the FitJourney community and share all she knows about the good and bad of gadgets and gear.
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