The Biggest Loser and a Bigger Hypocrisy

I’m not a fan of The Biggest Loser, nor have I seen more than brief clips of episodes. I generally try not to be Judgey McJudgeypants about things, but I really don’t need to watch the show to know it’s not something I would a) enjoy and b) think is good for people to watch in general.

I know I have readers that like this show and say it’s empowering and health-promoting. I believe you. I also disagree with you.

Although I knew TBL was currently on the air, I wasn’t aware that last night was the season finale (I was reading a book for my book club). It’s where everyone gets to see the results of weeks and weeks of hard work diet and exercise self-starvation and over-exercise. Last nights winner (erm, loser?) caused the collective Internet to freak the hell out. With breathless panic, judges, trainers, and TV viewers alike agreed: this year’s loser winner had lost too much weight.

You can read more details here, but be warned that there’s lots of talk of weight, weight loss, etc. I’m writing the post so that you don’t actually need to read the article if you don’t want to.

Let’s say this. The contestant, Rachel, isn’t technically underweight. But if she went to an eating disorder treatment center, they would probably encourage her to gain some weight.

Do I think TBL is potentially dangerous? Hellz to the yeah.

BUT HERE’S WHAT REALLY GRATES MY GORGONZOLA:

Why are we only worried about the effects of self-starvation and over-exercise on people who are objectively thin?

Presumably, Rachel’s co-contestants put themselves on similar diets and workout plans. They lost drastic amounts of body weight in short periods of time that could only be accomplished by a) amputation or b) seriously disordered eating (or, I suppose, c) all of the above). Yet we’re only worried about Rachel. A thin woman. Why not the others?

It would be easy to say that they’re not the loser/winner of the show. That might be some of it- I have enough media experience to know that this is a factor in why they’re covering it now. But I think that’s bullshit.

When I was significantly underweight and described my then fairly modest exercise routine (I was too exhausted and weak to do much besides walking at that point), with a tsk tsk of disdain. Such exercise was dangerous for someone in my state. No doubt true. But when I was eating just as little and working out a hella lot more, only my weight was then in the “normal range,” no one batted an eyelash. I had dedication. I was fit and healthy.

I’ve heard it time and time again: things that would get a thin woman a diagnosis of anorexia are actually encouraged in people who are “overweight” or “obese.” Crazy workouts and strict dieting are pretty much par for the advice any larger person will get from a physician. It’s the way the cookie crumbles (hopefully, not into your mouth, according to doctors).

Rachel will never be able to win. Her dramatic weight loss has condemned her to be a permanent loser. First, she was fat. That’s a loss in today’s thin-obsessed culture. Now she’s thin- too thin. Again, a loss. She’ll almost certainly gain at least a few pounds back since fasting and dehydration lead to rapid loss of water weight that return with your next sip of water. Another loss- everyone will comment how Rachel the Biggest Loser gained weight. YOU CAN’T WIN.

Starvation and overexercise are dangerous, end of. Someone with larger fat stores may be able to withstand utter starvation for a longer period of time, but that doesn’t mean that their bodies aren’t being wrecked in the meantime.

You’re not wrong to be concerned about Rachel. You’re wrong if that doesn’t make you worried about all of the other contestants who probably endured the same thing, only people are just patting them on the back and encouraging them to keep going because they weigh a bit more.

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18 Responses to “The Biggest Loser and a Bigger Hypocrisy”

  1. Glad you are writing about this topic! As an FYI, at 5’4” and [her weight], and a BMI of [XX], she IS technically underweight!

    • Hi Cristin, thanks for the improved facts. I’ve had several readers email me this. I deleted out the specifics lest they be triggering- I hope it’s clear where things are redacted.

      Carrie

      • I agree that it’s important to acknowledge that she’s underweight. The blog post still says she’s not technically underweight, though she is. Additionally, she has a lot of excess skin to to her weight loss, which makes her actual weight *significantly* lower. Even if her actual weight was what the scale said – though it’s not – she could be in a dangerous position. When I was anorexic at that weight, I was having seizures. That’s not to say that she is/isn’t anorexic. Just think that it’s important to acknowledge that she is in a potentially very dangerous situation.

  2. You’ve summed it up impressively Carrie.

    My own feelings mirror the looks on the faces of the show’s judges.

  3. ” I hope the show does not suffer because one person, on their own, went too far.”

    ^ Part of a comment someone left on a news article about this story.

    Just. No words. I don’t even. Seriously. SERIOUSLY.

    UUUUUUUUGH.

    I love your post Carrie. So much snark and passion. So true, too.

    • Thanks, Tetyana. I just…I don’t read the comments because my brain just can’t handle that amount of insanity.

      Looking forward to seeing you again in NYC. :)

      • I’m with you about how discouraging it can be to read the sorts of comments the general public leave. I did read a lot of them, and a person can relearn a lot of things about human nature that they really don’t need to be reminded of.

        The most clearly-spoken comment about the show that I’ve come across so far was this one :

        “As far as I can tell, these are people who have had issues with food for many years.”

  4. Thank you so much for posting this. I wholeheartedly agree with you. I’m hopeful TBL finale will start a conversation in American, bringing awareness to the harmful impact of disordered eating regardless of body size.

  5. So true. My thoughts exactly! Thanks for bringing awareness to this issue.

  6. I totally agree that the way people on the Biggest Loser lose weight is not the healthy way and it borders with ED behavior. I suffered from bulimia and excessive exercise for 13 years. Our society truly lives on sick edges when it comes to health and people are so concerned about terms “skinny or fat, body and looks”, that they forgot it’s actually supposed to be about healthy and unhealthy. There seems to be no rational thinking about this, it’s all about the outside instead of the inside. Over the last 3.5 years of successful self-recovery has made me re-evaluate many things in life and I can’t express how happy I am about the positive changes that I made happen. I shared them in my book The Most Honest Book About Eating Disorders: http://www.amazon.com/Most-Honest-About-Eating-Disorders-ebook/dp/B00HRWF15I and hope it will help as many people as possible to heal and find themselves again like I did.

  7. Regardless of the pros and cons and morality of this show, I just can’t understand why people enjoy watching it! My gosh, the whole focus of the show is pounds, calories, scales, etc… While suffering from an eating disorder, my personal hell was obsessing over pounds, calories and scales. That life dominated by anorexia and obsessions was painfully boring. I just CAN’T for the life of me why the obsessions that I am SO glad to be free from, adapted for the big screen, have become a national sensation in the form of “The Biggest Loser”. Baffling!!!!!!

  8. Honestly I gave up on this show a long time ago. I once heard Jillian say something like “I beat you nearly to death and you still didn’t loose much weight.” The idea what beating someone to make/help them lose weight was a major turn off to me.

    I am of the opinion that this show is self abuse as entertainment just like Fear Factor and so many others.

    My greatest hope is that these people have not done too much harm to themselves physically, emotionally or spiritually.

  9. When I had an active eating disorder, I watched one season of TBL online and thought it was so inspirational. I was an idiot, basically.

    It’s torture. I consider The Onion’s “Sex House” an applicable parody.

  10. i 100% agree to the article, just came across this site, and must tell you i was anorexic, and did it all on my own, getting out of it lasted for years, as well as getting in it , in total i lost probably 10 years of life in that disorder, but when i visited a doctor! noone told me i am anorexic, just thin :) i even had to convince a psychiatrist that i am anorexic!!! after giving him explanations , then he said yes you have a problem, ofcourse i never ever went to see that guy again and determined to solve it all on my own! not to mention what a struggle this was, i was amazed to know that, i followed just what i always was in the childhood, never obsessed with food , nor paying attention to what i eat and was thin, normal weight, and ate fats and all i liked,…. after these long 10 years i lacked all sorts of minerals vitamins…since that period….i still struggle with aenemia, and now hypothiroid…..the only interest for me now is to understand what this meant about my brain, that it cought me…….and i know how it started becasue i was trying to help my obesse friend to loose weight, and i was in puberty :(…..plus other personality traits i have: perfectionism, anxiety etc….

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