Thursday, February 06, 2014

The Biggest Eating Disorder?

The Biggest Loser winner Rachel Frederickson has made waves across the nation with her 155-pound weight loss. Frederickson dropped about a pound a day, a loss more rapid than any health professional would advise, and landed herself south of a healthy BMI.

Many have criticized Frederickson's new physique, calling her "unhealthy" or "anorexic." Truth be told, we know nothing of her health or eating disorder status. We do know that it isn't healthy to drop such a large amount of weight in a short period time (regardless of starting and ending weight), but we don't know where Frederickson falls on various health metrics.

But let's zoom out a bit. . . .

In our culture, we seem to stand on the sidelines, cheering weight loss among celebrities, fat reality show contestants, personal contacts, etc. It's as if we chant, "Thinner, thinner, thinner!" until, "Oops, too thin." I've seen this happen with a number of stars and hear it constantly in my work and in the world around me.

Millions of people watch TBL and cheer unhealthy weight loss methods until, oops, someone takes it a bit too far. But Frederickson was just playing the game well. This is a show that is predicated upon an eating disorder. It's a show that demands over-(compulsive) exercise and a very low calorie diet. It's a show that encourages weight stigma and fat shaming. And it's a show that gives the not-so-subtle message that it doesn't matter what you do, as long as you lose weight.

Just recently, trainer Jillian Michaels was slapped on the wrist for supplying her team with caffeine supplements in her quest to get them thin. Would you consider Adderall or cocaine, Jillian, if it meant securing the win? Where do you draw the line?

In the pursuit of skinny, lines are blurred and health is relegated to back-burner status. The only reason Frederickson's possibly unhealthy loss has garnered so much attention is that she happens to look so gaunt. As prior TBL contestants have revealed, the show promotes disordered behavior and unhealthy measures. Just because other contestants haven't dropped to Frederickson's low doesn't mean that they haven't compromised their physical and psychological health as a result of their participation on the show.

Michaels and fellow trainer Bob Harper declined to comment on Frederickson's weight loss, but as a personal trainer, I will. Frederickson's weight loss is unhealthy, as is the other contestants'. It's accomplished via destructive and humiliating behaviors and beliefs, and it lands a sucker punch on America's self-esteem. I can't even tell you how many people have ended up on my therapeutic couch who begin their story with some variation of, "I lost a lot of weight when following a personal trainer's diet and exercise guidelines."

Leslie Goldman, author of The Locker Room Diaries, thinks that Frederickson's weight loss "sets the body image movement back." I think the show itself, and its celebrated place in our culture, proves we still have work to do.

5 comments:

Kmarie said...

Well said. This made me so sad. I actually tweeted "People trade obesity for an ED and we give them 250k #America".
I personally know how triggering it was for me to see someone so thin being praised, where I just got out of treatment and I wasn't allowed to be that thin (same height, build etc). It makes me so sad knowing what she is going to have to go through if she keeps up her underweight status ("starvation mode" mentality).

LizzExists said...

The best article I've read yet concerning the end of this Biggest Loser Season. Thanks for your input and I totally agree.

www.eatingdisorder-ly.com said...

I agree. As a woman that is living with ED and is practicing the balance of over exercising with real life, I feel quite saddened for those that buy into the belief that this approach to health and wellness is actually one that is in fact HEALTHY. What makes it even more heartbreaking is that it is seemingly supported by medical professionals, given the parade of professional trainers hired to coach contestants. Thank you for sharing your words and perspective. It is important that we continue to shed light on the skewed picture that media presents.

Jana Talavaskova said...

Very good article, thank you! 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. I suffered from bulimia for 13 years and the last 3.5 years of full recovery made me re-evaluate many things in life and I can't express how happy I am from the positive changes that I made happen. I shared them in my book The Most Honest Book About Eating Disorders: www.amazon.com/Most-Honest-About-Eating-Disorders-ebook/dp/B00HRWF15I

drstaceyny said...

Like the tweet, Kmarie and thanks for the comments Lizz, eatingdisorder-ly and Jana. Stay tuned for more posts on this topic and, of course, the book in a few months. . . .