Friday, February 07, 2014

The ugly business of "The Biggest Loser" blogging

I'm not very happy with my Biggest Loser finale post. I think it is so easy to forget when watching this show that the people we're commenting on are real people with feelings. So I feel bad about my snarky comments about David, and my commentary on Rachel.

I loved this group of contestants as I watched the show, and Rachel especially. I don't want to hurt anyone. Who can blame David for wanting to say that no matter who won, they had all been brave to try to make a change in their lives? Especially since all season he had been pigeonholed as the guy whose wife had died, no matter how much he tried to say that he was more than his sad story.

I hadn't realized that the "Rachel is TOO THIN!" hysteria had gotten so bad when I posted. I hadn't really read other commentaries before I wrote my own.  The difference between Rachel's weight and a healthy BMI is only 5 pounds.

Just how far did this go? I have pretty light blog traffic most days, and my page views suddenly spiked after the finale with people searching for "Rachel Biggest Loser height" and similar searches. It, of course, went right back down again.

My concern was more that she had worked so hard to become an athlete again, and that losing so much lean mass (when she was leaving the ranch, Dr. H had said she was only 4-5 pounds away from an "athletic" body composition) would hurt her in the future, since it is so hard to rebuild. But a lot of the shocking thinness comes from the fact that like fitness models and runway stars, these contestants purposely dehydrate themselves to look as lean as possible.  Maybe she looked fine the next day after she had some water and a normal breakfast.

If Rachel has really developed an eating disorder, as so many people have speculated, she would deserve sympathy and our best wishes for recovery, not vilification.

I do think that the show needs to learn from this and set a bottom limit for the contestants on their visits with Dr. H as they leave the ranch, based on their personal body composition. Those would have to be confidential, of course, so no contestant could use them to have an advantage, but it would be a way to keep things from going too far.

Or maybe the show has run its course and we don't need it anymore. The one thing this show has done in its 10 years on the air is to give people hope that it is possible to lose large amounts of weight without surgery.  But there are other outlets, like Half Size Me, that do that without the circus atmosphere of reality television. There is still the potential for The Biggest Loser to be something good, if the producers are willing to give up the sideshow elements and really let us see the contestants for the whole human beings that they are, and not a one-or-two note caricature.

If the show continues, and if I continue to blog about it, I am going to push myself to be better and more sensitive to the real people whose lives I'm chronicling, and I hope the show will do the same.


  1. I have been defending her like crazy. I am quite sure people have thought I did not understand.

    Comments I left on another blog this morning :

    I agree anorexia is serious problem and if she continues to lose weight, big danger. But if she simply dropped to win, and went right back up, then simply, temporarily got carried away, or did it on purpose to be sure she won.

    If you lose all your weight and get down to middle/low end of normal BMI, people will get really upset and come out of woodwork to tell you that you have lost too much. If you get to that range and then have the flu, they will think you are dying.

    I get it, anorexia, being under weight and wanting to lose more and seeing self as fat, is serious problem, but we do not know that is what is going on with her.

    Society is used to seeing very over weight people. And when you take an obese person and take all their weight off, they tend to have that gaunt look.

    If they instated a normal BMI rule, most of the past winners would not have won.

    Less than half have been in normal range (seasons 3, 5, 6, 7, 11, 14).

    Half have been in overweight BMI (1, 2, 4, 8, 10, 12, 13)

    One was in obese (season 9).

    I don't know what they are going to do. Shorter at home time perhaps. I have always thought mandatory therapy should be part of the process.

    1. She is the first person to be in the underweight category. I think that is part of the shock. I don't know what they are going to do either, but I would hope there would be closer contact so that contestants didn't lose perspective on winning.

    2. She may have had close contact. He might have been intent on winning too. We just don't know. The other thing is she may not have been under weight. It might have been that she restricted fluids, carbs, dairy for a couple days right before and slipped below normal. It is very easy to do at lower end of normal, because just a couple pounds makes a bigger/proportional difference.

  2. I have had TV people leave comments for me in the past. They had read my post. Very weird feeling. Even before I went private, I started putting those posts in comments.

    On some level I am amused there is all this hullabaloo over 10 lbs UNDER when all those others people have been high in obese categories and no one (much) said anything.

    1. So far I have not had anyone from the show contact me, and I don't expect it -- I don't get enough traffic for that.


"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07