I watched the finale of the reality show, “The Biggest Loser” a few days ago. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this program; the basis of the show is to select approximately a dozen participants who are morbidly obese and submit them to an intense program that involves diet and extreme workouts coached by celebrity trainers that yell and scream , often bringing the participants to tears when these extremely overweight individuals stuggle through their workouts (I guess it's good for ratings). After each week, the person with the lowest weekly weight loss is kicked off the show.
This blog post isn’t to discuss the program’s training methods that most professional trainers find to be highly questionable, but the reaction directed towards the young women that won the $250,000 and the title of being the “Biggest Loser”. Rachel Frederickson who used to be a national class swimmer started the show, (which runs over a number of months), at an extremely unhealthy 260lbs and finished at an incredible 105lbs, an astonishing weight loss of 60% of her original body weight!
As I mention above, the extreme methods employed by the show’s trainers to get these people to lose this incredible amount of weight in such a short period is highly questionable. That being said, the social media network lit up like a Christmas tree immediately after Rachel lost the highest percentage of her original weight (which, let’s not forget is the objective of the show), and was severely critical of the 24 year old for being too thin and appearing unhealthy. I find this criticism is a direct reflection of how “health illiterate” North Americans have become.
When Rachel first weighed in at the beginning of the show’s season, she was 116lbs overweight with a morbidly obese BMI of 44.6! When she finished, she had a BMI of 18.0, which is 0.5 underweight, or 3lbs for her 5'4" height. Currently in North America (Canadians and Americans), there are 245,000,000 citizens that are either overweight or obese. I found the outrage over this young women’s final weight disturbing. When was the last time you saw this kind of outrage directed towards anyone that is just 3lbs overweight? NEVER!
I find there’s a double standard when it comes to weight. I coached a guy who was an obese 245lbs by changing his diet and trained him to compete in the grueling 200km Etape de Tour bike race in France. After 10 months of healthy eating and a daily structured cycling program, he successfully completed the race and weighed a healthy 165lbs (a loss of 80 pounds of fat). His only complaint is how many of his friends and family feel compelled to tell him how unhealthy he looks, even though he’s the healthiest and fittest he’s ever been. And that no one ever told him he looked unhealthy when he was obese.
It seems thin people are open game and criticized for being thin, even though they sport a healthy weight. I also experienced this phenomenon last year when I was in training for Haute Route (7 day stage race from Geneva to Nice through the French Alps). I monitored my weight, body fat and lean muscle mass regularly to ensure I never jeopardized my health. But that didn’t stop people from telling me that I looked unhealthy, even though I was in the best condition of my life. By comparison, it’s socially unacceptable to show concern and point out that someone is overweight or obese.
The health consequences associated with the overweight and obesity epidemic are well documented and understood, and it's cripling our healthcare system. If only we had a general population consisting of people that were only 3lbs underweight; we wouldn’t have many of the health problems and costs associated with Type 2 Diabetes, Heart Disease, Joint Degeneration, Workplace Productivity, Cancer and many more health issues. In fact, studies have indicated that people that are slightly underweight live longer and healthier lives when compared to their normal weight, overweight and obese counterparts.
I think this unwarranted criticism of Ms. Frederickson is the result of a general population that can no longer recognize what healthy looks like, and when they see a person that’s healthy thin, they immediately associate them with some kind of unhealthy eating disorder. Instead of ostracizing this young woman for being 3lbs underweight, I’d like to see people with weight issues focus their attention and energy on themselves byeating a healthy diet and being more active.
Enjoy the Ride….Rob