When season 15 Biggest Loser winner Rachel Frederickson stepped out on stage for the final reveal to show that she'd dropped 155 pounds—going from 260 to 105—the Internet basically broke. Twitter exploded, headlines blew up, and even Jillian Michaels and Bob Harper were stunned. Everyone had an opinion about her weight loss. Frederickson herself later admitted that she might have lost too much weight too quickly. Now the 24-year-old's in the spotlight again, this time for gaining 20 pounds. "I'm at my perfect weight," she told Us Weekly.
I'm not Frederickson's doctor, so I'm not going to speculate about her health. I also don't want to punish her for doing exactly what she had to do to win a contest that demanded extreme change of her. The Biggest Loser exists to help people lose as much weight as possible as quickly as possible in order to win a cash prize. Frederickson simply followed the show to its inevitable, logical, and totally predictable conclusion: She lost more than half her body weight and won $250,000. In fact, I find it troubling that 7.4 million people—who are presumably familiar with the show's premise—tuned in to see the BL finale and then felt it was appropriate to pick on Frederickson for doing exactly what was expected of her.
The more concerning issue is the "lose weight at any cost" mentality that the show promotes. Ultimately, what does the show accomplish? Although popular, it gets mixed reviews. Experts have often spoken out about the show's methods, saying that placing the contestants in what essentially amounts to a grueling, weight loss-focused bubble sets them up for failure when the show ends.
“Creating a contest around this huge public health issue really is a very dangerous proposition,” Connie Quinn, director of the Renfrew Center of New York, told the L.A. Times. “It really puts people who are extremely vulnerable emotionally and physically at high risk. You’ve got cardiac issues, physical injury, extreme weight loss.”
Indeed, BL has seen its fair share of complications. Two patients were hospitalized after collapsing during the season eight premiere, according to LiveScience, and a season nine contestant had to be dragged off a bike after developing severe cramps during the premiere (contestants were racing 26.2 miles on stationary bikes). And several Biggest Loser contestants have regained the weight they lost on the show. Kai Hibbard, a season three finalist, has been critical of her time on the show, saying that in addition to having sleeping problems, she stopped menstruating on the show and developed an eating disorder. Multiple contestants have admitted that transitioning back to life after the ranch is extremely difficult.
On the other hand, The Biggest Loser is a reality show. Presumably, the contestants know what they're getting themselves into (and some contestants, including season 10 winner Patrick House, have attributed their weight-loss success to the show), and no one really wants to watch a reality show called The Contestant Who Lost the Most Weight by Eating Right, Sleeping Well, and Exercising Properly. (Well, who knows? I'd watch that!) Perhaps the show has a very minimal responsibility to its viewers. In fact, maybe I'm not giving the audience enough credit. Most people probably do realize that they're watching a heavily edited, manufactured version of reality that doesn't reflect their everyday lives—that's part of the fun of reality TV!
If nothing else, this has, as Frederickson says, "sparked a national conversation about body image. That's huge." She's right. In a country where nearly a third of adults are obese, where the average woman tries to diet at least twice a year, and where girls as young 10 worry about their weight, it's more important than ever to continue the conversation about what it really means to be healthy. What do you think of The Biggest Loser? Are you a fan of the show? Let us know why or why not in the comments below or tweet us @Shape_Magazine!