“People Can Be Mean”: An Open Letter to Controversial Biggest Loser Winner Rachel Frederickson
Editor’s note: I watched the internet blow up yesterday with comments about Rachel Frederickson, the newly crowned winner of season 15 of the Biggest Loser, who, the world learned on Tuesday night, lost a staggering 155 pounds over the course of the reality weight-loss show—59.62 percent of her body weight. The 24-year-old, 5’4″ contestant shrunk from 260 pounds and a size 20 at the show’s outset, to 105 pounds at its conclusion; that puts her at a size 0 or 2.
Not surprisingly, viewers were shocked by the dramatic change (as were BL trainers Jillian Michaels and Bob Harper, by the looks on their faces), and some were outraged, accusing Rachel of developing an eating disorder and saying she was dangerously thin. Many people pointed fingers at NBC, too, for promoting a too-thin body image by crowning her winner.
Yesterday, Philly dietitian Katie Cavuto reached out to me, saying she wanted to weigh in on the brouhaha. She said she felt profoundly sad for Rachel “for so many reasons.” Here, in her own words, are her reasons. I’m betting some of them will surprise you. — Emily
We have obviously never met, yet the media buzz surrounding your recent win on the The Biggest Loser has evoked a variety of emotions for me. From concern for you and anger towards commenters to compassion, I have been thinking a lot about all of this.
As a dietitian, I truly appreciate the drive and determination it took to take control of your lifestyle; however, it’s hard not to be concerned when someone loses so much weight (nearly 160 pounds in seven months), so quickly. Extreme, rapid weight loss can be detrimental to one’s health and difficult to maintain, sure, but excess weight comes with its fair share of health risks as well—and that is important to note.
For many people, it is hard to comprehend that you could lose nearly one pound a day for months. It is hard to condone that. It seems extreme when compared to the recommended weight loss goals of one to two pounds per week. Is it possible? Of course it is; you and several of the other contestants continue to be proof of that. When people have a significant amount of weight to lose, it is common to lose more than one to two pounds per week but most people don’t maintain it as long as you did. This amount of weight loss is not realistic for most people nor is duplicating the environment at the ranch. But, as we all (should) know, reality TV does not mirror reality.
I do, however, appreciate the complexities of weight loss. Through work with many clients I understand how difficult it can be, both mentally and physically, to be overweight or obese. I understand the health risks associated with obesity. I realize how challenging it can be to dramatically change your lifestyle and stick with it. If it were easy we would not have an obesity epidemic. I understand the appeal of going on a show like the The Biggest Loser. From what I have read, you were in a rough place that was full of regrets and you were struggling to recognize your overweight self. You were unhappy. The show offered you the support and time away from your day to day life to harness your emotions and find the motivation to change your lifestyle. It gave you the opportunity to participate in a weight loss and lifestyle program that enlists the expertise of several health professionals and offers accountability and support. These are often the keys to a successful weight loss and lifestyle change.
But the show is so much more than a weight loss program. The Biggest Loser is ultimately a contest. There is more at stake than the satisfaction of losing weight. There is $250,000 at stake. There is the title of “winner” at stake. There are millions of people watching you. I worry that these added pressures may perpetuate unhealthy weight loss practices—for you, and your fellow contestants.
Is it fair to say you are “unhealthy” or “malnourished” without a proper assessment? No. Is it fair to accuse you of having an eating disorder? No. Is it fair to accuse you of going to extremes to win the show? No. I do not know you, nor do the majority of the people that have taken to commenting on the matter. I do, however, hope you have the help and support you need. I truly hope you are healthy, happy and confident in your newfound self. I also hope you have the support and strength you need to get you through the cruelties of being in the public eye.
People can be mean. Really, really mean. It was near impossible to avoid the comments saturating social media this week. I hope you did. You faced criticism when you were overweight and now you are being criticized for being too thin. Though it comes with the territory of being in the public eye, it is sad.
What we often forget when we watch a show like this is that the competitors are real people. You are a real person with real emotions and a very real journey regardless of the outcome. I hope, for your sake, that people will be gentler with their comments. I wish people were not so quick to criticize and place judgment, as it does no good.
So I congratulate you for your accomplishment. I wish you all the best as you move forward with your life. I hope you have continued support and that you can take all that you learned from the show and use it to cultivate a healthy lifestyle that you can maintain for the years to come.
Katie Cavuto MS, RD is a dietitian, chef and the owner of Healthy Bites, which offers culinary and nutrition services including a local meal delivery service. She’s the dietitian to the Phillies, a blogger for the Food Network and Philly.com, and can be seen regularly on stations like FOX and ABC as an expert in her field. She was most recently seen in the January issue of Fitness magazine and doing cooking segment on the nationally syndicated “Better Show.”
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