The Biggest Loser: Going Too Far

This is a not a blog about reality TV, but I feel compelled to say something about The Biggest Loser  finale that aired last night. Let me say this: the right person won. Rachel was a machine all season long. She worked her butt off (literally!), dominated in challenges and, by the end of her time on campus, had won the triathlon competition, looking like a woman on a mission with many more finish lines in her future. I was all, “Go Rachel! Own it, girl! Grab a tiara and meet me in Disney World at the Princess Half!”

When she left the ranch, she looked absolutely, positively fabulous:

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But, there was nothing to celebrate about the final weigh-in. Gone was that strong, healthy woman and in her place was a gaunt, frail and skinny shadow. At 5’4, Rachel now weighs 105 pounds. She won the show. But what did she lose? Well, besides 60% of her body weight. She lost her muscle tone. She lost her healthy glow. She lost her youthful look. That girl who easily won the triathlon didn’t look like she could run a mile. The confetti that fell on her could have knocked her over.

The Biggest Loser - Season 15

This is supposed to be a show about getting healthy and fit. Taking control of your life. Chasing goals that once seemed impossible. And that’s what this blog is about too. On a different scale (pardon the pun!), sure – but it’s what I strive for every day as I juggle life as a single mom, raising 2 kids and working-full time while training for half-marathons. Is it easy? No. Might I rather just sit on the couch and eat a plate of nachos? Sure, sometimes. It’s a journey. I’m a work in progress. And that’s ok because the journey is what keeps me going. It would be all too easy to be lulled into complacency – after all, that’s where I started. Big and fat and unhappy and unhealthy. Always putting myself last. Unable to comprehend how to do otherwise. But then I did it anyway. It was my own Biggest Loser  transformation without a personal coach, a gym, a chef or a leave of absence from work.

So I usually find inspiration in The Biggest Loser. Seeing these people start their journeys. Remembering how I started mine. Seeing where it takes them. During the finale, I was so inspired by all of the progress. When I heard that some of the contestants have discovered running and are now training for races, I was so excited for them. I remembered how it felt when that spark ignited for me. And I know what running has done for my life.

And then Rachel came out. The looks on the trainers’ faces were a mirror of my own, I’m sure.

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I was rooting for Rachel all season. I was looking forward to her reveal most of all. But it was shocking – and not in a good way. All of that inspiration was deflated immediately. Because sometimes you can go too far. And I’ve been there too, on that other extreme. Eating one meal a day. Held hostage by a scale. Letting skinny trump healthy. Guess what? I may have looked fantastic in those skinny jeans, but I was just as unhealthy as I was before I started my journey to fitness. Society just sees it differently. People are applauded for being unhealthy when they are skinny, and shunned for being unhealthy when they are fat. But neither place is one to strive for and neither place feels good.

I have a problem with this show, priding itself on promoting healthly lifestyles, rewarding skinny over fit. But that is how the show is set up. It is all based on the highest percentage of weight lost. Rachel didn’t make the rules. She did what she had to for the win. But, it felt like everyone lost.

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After the final week on the ranch with the trainers, the contestants were sent home to “prepare” for finale. This clearly creates an unhealthy environment where they are under so much pressure to drop weight and drop it fast, with no supervision. These are people who were obese only a few months before. They have learned a lot, yes, but they are still students. They are still learning what it means to be healthy. They can’t see themselves clearly in most cases because their bodies have changed so rapidly. Their relationships with food are complicated.

I hope and expect there will be pressure on The Biggest Loser  to change things. Do that final weigh-in on the ranch in the last week. Don’t send them off to figure it out themselves with a $250,000 carrot dangling in front of them. That is asking for trouble and, quite frankly, I think they are just lucky this hasn’t happened before now.

This is a show I watch with my kids. I want them to see and hear what healthy living means. They enjoyed the Kid Ambassadors last season (who were never weighed), and it makes for easy conversation about health and exercise and eating well and portion control. After the triathlon last week, they both decided they want to do one! And at the beginning of the season, they observed, “Mom, you run all the time so you don’t look like anyone on this show – except that blonde girl.” That blonde girl is the host, Alison Sweeney. I realize I don’t look like her at all, of course, but the amazing thing about that comment is that, if they could remember what I looked like when they were young, they would know that I actually looked a lot more like the contestants at one point. Now they seem to think I could be a trainer! And that is exactly the reason I chose to take my life back – for my kids.

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But at the moment, I struggle with whether to show them this finale. It does not send the message I want my young daughters to see. I show them every day that fit and strong is better than skinny. My body is not perfect. But they see me training for and finishing half-marathons, and coming home from 2-hour bike rides, and demonstrating funny, new yoga moves I learned in class. I want them to see – first hand – that I treat my body as an instrument, not an ornament. And that makes Rachel’s win difficult to explain. Her appearance does not support the lessons I am working so hard to instill. Lessons that I struggled with for 35 years.

It’s not Rachel’s fault. She won the title. She won $250,000. But there was clearly a price. Our challenge is to keep our eyes on the real prize: being healthy, feeling strong, moving forward one mile at a time.

~Princess Jodi

UPDATE: The trainers have now released official statements.

Jillian Michaels: “So here it is. Bob (Harper) and I want to take a moment to congratulate all of the BL contestants on their hard work. We’re not comfortable commenting on Rachel’s journey because weren’t her trainers and weren’t given an opportunity to work with her at any point. Any questions about the contestants on the Biggest Loser should be directed to the show’s producers.”

Bob Harper: “Jillian (Michaels) and I want to take a moment to congratulate all of the BL contestants on their hard work.  We’re not comfortable commenting on Rachel’s journey because we weren’t her trainers and weren’t given an opportunity to work with her at any point.  Any questions about the contestants on The Biggest Loser should be directed to the show’s producers.”

Dolvett Quince: “Last night’s Biggest Loser Finale has sparked a huge reaction and I do not want the day to end without addressing it.  Biggest Loser is a journey which has its ups and downs.  Please try not to look at one slice of Rachel’s journey and come to broad conclusions.  Rachel’s health is and always has been my main concern and her journey to good health has not yet ended!!”

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17 thoughts on “The Biggest Loser: Going Too Far

  1. Oh, so so so true! “I want them to see – first hand – that I treat my body as an instrument, not an ornament” – love it! I really do hope BL makes some changes because it really got to me too that it’s all about the number.

  2. You are so right Jodi. I was horrified when I saw Rachel. Having been a competitive swimmer at nearly a world class level, it was shocking that she did this to her body….I guess the money was just too much to resist.

  3. Very well written Jodi! I’ve seen many posts about this come through my newsfeed this morning and yours is the only one I chose to read! I did not keep up with BL this season nor did I see the finale. I am curious if the trainers ( or anyone else) on the show expressed any concerns over Rachael’s extreme weight loss? I may have to see if I can get online and watch this episode.

    • Thank you! What a great compliment. The trainers have since released official statements about Rachel’s health and I have updated my post to include their thoughts. Clearly, they are concerned as well.

  4. The finale just made me so sad. I don’t want to criticize Rachel, she obviously needs some more guidance.
    I’m disappointed that she was allowed to win when her BMI registers as below healthy. It’s a total bastardization of what the show claims to be and reads as totally hypocritical.
    The only reassurance I can take away is that all of the contestants regain a little (or a lot) of weight after the finale, once the pressure is off. I hope the same is true for Rachel.
    I’m sure NBC and BL have the lawyers and the PR people on speed-dial today, reminding EVERYONE of their non-disclosure agreements and their legal obligations to the show.

  5. I did not watch BL this season, however, I have watched several over the years. I have had several issues with the show. Each season, the contestants seem to be bigger and bigger to begin with and each one is trying to lose double digits each week so that they can stay on the ranch. That kind of weight loss, too much, too soon, in itself is not healthy. Quite honestly, I’ve always been surprised that no one has died or had a heart attack. Running halfs or marathons, when they are so out of shape, in itself is NOT healthy. For what? A two pound advantage? As the show creators sit around a room each season, trying to come up with the next ‘extreme’ scenario to incorporate into the show, they should be also realizing, this is people’s lives too. Each season do not need to push the envelope. I’m not surprised this contestants weight loss has now moved to the other extreme. I hope she gets the help she needs if she indeed does have an eating disorder.

  6. Oh! Now I get it! I’ve only ever seen a few minutes of the show at a time, so I didn’t get why people were so shocked if they’d been watching this weight loss happen over the season of the show. I didn’t realize the participants go home and then come back for this. They’re not doing any type of check-ins during this period? Or are they and the show did this reveal purely for shock value?
    Regardless, it doesn’t surprise me. It’s like the home makeover shows where you find out afterward that the plumbing isn’t really finished and the cabinets are not really secure because they’re rushing for television. It’s all about appearance. I think we need to remember that television shows claim to be substantive, but they’re really all about how things look. I saw that the trainers are distancing themselves from it in the press. I’m not sure what people expect when there’s a cash prize for losing weight. It’s only surprising it hasn’t happened before.

    • That’s a great analogy! The trainers have now released official statements and you are right, Jillian Michaels and Bob Harper are clearly trying to distance themselves from this situation. I don’t particularly think that helps anyone – they are integral to The Biggest Loser and the finale highlighted a huge flaw in the show. Effectively throwing their colleague under the bus does not do much for my opinion of either one of them.

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