I don’t watch NBC’s The Biggest Loser, but this morning a colleague of mine tipped me off about last night’s controversial finale.
If you haven’t heard, the winner, 24-year old Rachel Frederickson lost an astounding amount of weight. A record-breaking amount of weight. Many are saying she lost too much weight. Many are criticizing the way her body looks. Many are criticizing NBC for not having stricter standards ensuring contestants can only lose a “healthy” amount of weight.
I’m a dietitian who works mostly with the late-adolescent collegiate population, the population most at risk for disordered eating and eating disorders and equally at risk for overweight and obesity, owing to the fact that I work in the United States of America.
Let me tell you this: one cannot tell how healthy someone is by the way he or she looks. Period.
I’m not saying Rachel Frederickson is healthy. I’m not her dietitian. From what I’ve read, she lost 60% of her body weight very quickly down to an underweight BMI. Do I condone any of that behavior? No. Women and men who struggle with eating an inadequate amount of calories or exercising excessively put themselves at risk for cardiac dysfunction, bone abnormalities, a decline in reproductive health, and more. However, the fact remains that none of us has any of this information about Rachel’s health.
I’m not trying to defend The Biggest Loser. I have only seen one or two episodes, mainly because it makes me supremely uncomfortable to support a show that so openly promotes the thin ideal – the premise that the idyllically slender, “beach-ready” body (don’t even get me started about how much I despise the term “beach-ready”) is the gold standard for health and beauty.
What I am trying to say is that we can’t know if Rachel’s weight loss was good or bad for her body by looking at her. We don’t know if she’s getting her period or if her bones now have holes in them. Do I hope she is being followed by a doctor, a therapist and a dietitian? Yes, because in a perfect world, we all would have such a supportive, health promotion team. Plus, in Rachel’s case, she’s just finished a significant feat that might have various impacts on her physical and emotional health.
The bottom line for me is, again, to urge everyone to remember that we can’t tell how healthy someone is by the way she or he looks. I see some skinny minnies in my office who have sky-high cholesterol levels and insulin resistance, and then I have larger patients with perfect lab work who could run a 5K at the drop of a hat. You just don’t know how healthy someone is by the number on the scale.
Further, whether someone is 105 pounds or 205 pounds, frankly, is none of our business. Body snarking only continues to feed an environment of shame, low self-esteem and confusion about weight and health, which, as I’ve seen in my office a hundred times, are the very things that lead to disordered eating and eating disorders. Ease up on the body policing, people.
And Rachel, congratulations on the win, honey. Now, go see your dietitian.
If you are a UNC student, have questions about food or weight and would like to see a registered dietitian at UNC Campus Health Services, click here for more info.