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With Eating Disorders Awareness Month came the finale of NBC’s fifteenth season of reality television series, The Biggest Loser where Rachel Frederickson is the first person in the show’s worldwide history to be underweight at the finale. She had lost 60 percent of her body weight (155 pounds), putting her body mas index below a level that doctors consider healthy. All the publicity, attention and money bring up the question whether the show is reinforcing unhealthy weight standards.
The nature of The Biggest Loser demonstrates a disturbing reflection on our societies’ obsession with dangerously thin standards. The value judgments that go along with the show say people are better if they have lost weight; as though they are doing something wrong if they are living in a large body. The contestants may have complicated relationships with food which would prompt seeking a positive support system and natural development of healthy standards. The ultra-fast pace, competitive angle and sensationalized attention the show operates with undermine the practice of achieving a healthy body image.
Rachel Frederickson, former three-time state champion swimmer clearly fits the competitiveness and perfectionism which characterize high risk for an eating disorder. Good performers on the show will often display a compulsiveness, low self-esteem and obsession with being thin and are encouraged to measure their progress by weekly weigh-ins on national television. Weight has become something for entertainment in a society where weight related criticism and judgments are made daily in the media.
Are we are effectively paying people under questionable direction to achieve dangerously thin standards?
While the recommended physical activity for most adults is two hours and 30 minutes per week, Rachel and other Biggest Loser contestants are pushed on a 1,600 calorie diet with six hours of physical activity each day. Exercise addicts tend to think that a two-hour run makes them four times as healthy, and not only is it dangerous to think this way, it’s also untrue. This kind of unhealthy weight loss can cause loss of bone mass and an increase in bone marrow fat, leading to increased fracture risk, heart attacks or high blood pressure. Severe vitamin deficiency evident in restricted eating causes hair loss, fainting, fatigue and depression.
Since admitting she may have taken her weight loss too far, Rachel Frederickson indicates she is hopefully on a path to a healthier body image. The attention of The Biggest Loser generates suggests it’s time to stop encouraging people to focus so insistently on weight. That our focus could be one of mental, emotional and physical health would be a refreshing change.