Too Much Of A Good Thing On The Biggest Loser
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02-07-14 Category: Behavioral Health

Many Americans—and people around the globe—are overweight or obese. In the United States, 35.7 percent of the adult population and 17 percent of children are obese. The obesity rate in children has nearly tripled since 1980, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Most people recognize that they should exercise and eat a healthy diet in order to maintain a healthy weight and reduce their risk of developing many of the preventable diseases related to obesity, such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.

The Biggest Loser

Many people find it difficult to adopt and sustain a healthy lifestyle, so the obesity problem continues. This does not stop their enjoyment of watching others succeed where they cannot, which is why the Biggest Loser has become such a hit on television.

The Biggest Loser, which just ended its 15th season on NBC, is a reality show where contestants compete to see who can lose the most weight. The contestants are typically obese when they begin the competition, and they are given a custom-made diet and exercise plan designed by professionals to help them  lose weight.

Biggest Loser Ranch

Each season begins with a group of contestants who are brought to the Biggest Loser ranch for a stay of several months. They are divided into teams, which are reformed periodically as the contestants compete with themselves and each other, under the guidance and supervision of personal trainers.

Each week, the show airs emotional clips of the workouts, interactions with trainers, interactions within teams and with other teams, and people talking about their fears and motivations. Each show culminates with a dramatic weigh-in, and the contestant who has lost the least weight as a percentage of total body weight that week goes home, subject to a series of rules that can create exceptions.

Two Contests

There are actually two contests. Contestants are whittled down to a group of finalists, usually two or three people, who compete for the major prize. The contestants who have been eliminated also compete for a prize to see who has had the most success continuing his or her weight loss at home.

Once the finalists are named, they also go home for a few weeks before the live season finale maintaining the nutrition and exercise plans provided to them by the experts on the show. Then, for the finale, they are brought back for a final weigh-in. The show airs retrospective footage of the competition, as well as showing all the contestants who were sent home.

The winner of the latest season has created controversy, leaving many people shocked and concerned because they believe she has lost too much weight, and may have resorted to unhealthy means such as an eating disorder.

Too Much Weight Loss?

At the beginning of the show, 5-foot-4-inch Rachel Fredrickson weighed in at 260 pounds and wore a size 20. On the season finale, which aired on Tuesday, February 4, she weighed in at 105 pounds and now wears a size 0/2 clothing. This puts her at a body mass index (BMI) of only 17.5, which is under the healthy weight range (between 18.5 to 24.9, according to the CDC).

During the seven and a half months she was involved with the show, she lost 59.62 percent of her body fat, which is the biggest percentage of body weight lost on the show to date. Fans, experts, and past contestants all expressed their concerns after the finale that she lost too much weight too quickly and looked sickly and gaunt. Fredrickson’s final weight loss was a huge shock to everyone, including two of the show’s other trainers, Bob Harper and Jillian Michaels, who refused to comment on Fredrickson’s weight loss.

The Reaction to Fredrickson’s New Body

Although Fredrickson insists she lost the weight through following the diet and exercise regimen set up for her by the show, mainly by her trainer Dolvett Quince, many fans of the show and past contestants began to express concerns that she might have developed anorexia or another eating disorder to lose all the weight, which could damage her health.

They also were concerned by the fact she won an award for losing such weight, which might inspire others to develop an unhealthy weight loss regimen to likewise drop so much weight, even if Rachel’s weight loss turns out to be healthy rather than based on an eating disorder or other unhealthy behavior.

Rachel’s Weight Loss Program

Rachel discussed her weight loss program, saying she ate five times a day, which added up to 1600 calories daily, the amount recommended to her by the show. She also exercised often throughout the day, saying in a conference call with reporters:

“Well, when I’m walking, and I’m working on my treadmill, I work you know, kind of all day.” She added, “And then, you know, I would take 3 to 4 classes a day and have fun with all the people in the room. It was pretty cool. I’d be in Zumbas and I’d be in spin class.” Many people feel that this might be too much exercise, which could also contribute to health problems even if she is eating throughout the day.

Her trainer from the show, Dolvett Quince, posted a statement about the weight loss on his Facebook page: “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!!”

The Health Concerns of Extreme Weight Loss

Whether Fredrickson lost the weight in a healthy manner or not, this extreme weight loss should not be one to which to aspire. For many people, losing so much weight so quickly can be unhealthy. It can lead to electrolyte imbalance and other chemical imbalances that can harm one’s health, including damaging the organs.

To lose that kind of weight in the amount of time Frederickson did, many people might find themselves lacking important nutrients, which can also lead to dangerous health concerns. Even if someone is eating throughout the day, it might not be enough, especially to counter vigorous amounts of exercise, such as Fredrickson was doing.

In extreme cases, this amount of exercise can become exercise compulsion, a symptom of several eating disorders, and a possible behavioral health disorder. Too much exercise can cause overuse injuries, and at times it can lead to malnutrition problems because the person does not eat enough nutrients to counter the amount of exercise.

Weight Loss Is A Complicated Issue

Weight is a tricky subject. People are ostracized for being too fat, and they can be likewise criticized for being too thin. The media idealize a certain body type for both men and women, one that is often dangerously thin and unattainable for most people through natural means.

These weight issues lead to many people developing body image issues, some of whom turn to disordered eating and other unhealthy behavior patterns to achieve and maintain a low weight, sometimes a dangerously low weight. In America, 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their life.

The Importance of Balance

Fredrickson and Quince both remark that Fredrickson is still trying to find the right balance to be healthy and maintain her ideal body size. She has the luxury of working with a medical team and trainer from the TV show, so hopefully if she does have an underlying eating disorder or other issue, it will be recognized and she will receive the treatment she needs to get healthy. It is important that others do not try to follow her exact example. Even if this type of weight loss is healthy and natural for her, it is not for everyone.

Care needs to be taken when trying to lose massive amounts of weight. A person should work with professionals, which might include a medical doctor, a dietician, a nutritionist, and a personal trainer. At the end of the day, it does not matter what a person weighs, or how much weight a person loses. The most important factor is how healthy a person is.

At Sovereign Health Group, we believe in maintaining a healthy weight through a balance of eating well, exercising, and leading an overall healthy lifestyle. We offer state-of-the-art, evidence based treatment programs for eating disorders, mental health issues, substance abuse, and co-occurring conditions.

You can call our Admissions team at 866-264-9778 to discuss any concerns you may have, or you can visit our program page to learn more.

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