This morning, a friend asked me what I thought about all “The Biggest Loser” finale drama. I hadn’t watched it yet, but I had a feeling.
“Can I guess?” I said. “Rachel lost too much weight, didn’t she?”
I was right. I didn’t want to spoil the outcome of finale as I’m an avid fan of the show, but I had to look at the pictures of Rachel Frederickson, who is now weighing in at 105 pounds after losing a whopping 155 pounds. People on social media and the blogosphere are freaking out about her weight loss — including Jillian Michaels and Bob Harper — a screenshot of their faces when she walked out on stage says it all. The girl lost 60 percent of her body weight, which can’t look any other way but shocking.
I say this as a person who has had my own struggles with weight and body image. I’ve never had an eating disorder, but I’ve had an unhealthy relationship with food for most of my life. I’ve gone through the spectrum — from being an emotional eater, to yo-yo dieting. I was an overweight child and I got programmed with unhealthy messages about my body. I went up and down on the scale in my 20′s and into the beginning of my 30′s. I had this idea that my weight was out of my control. Finally, I took back control of my body, took ownership for my dysfunctional eating habits and, as a result, lost 20 pounds. I felt high, like I’m sure Rachel must at this moment.
Think of it like this: you have the flu for a week and you’re homebound and feeling like dregs of humanity; finally, the flu goes away and you feel the euphoria of being well. It’s the same with weight loss. You go from feeling uncomfortable in your own skin to loving the shape of your body and fitting into the clothes you’ve always wanted to wear. Add to that the external validation from everyone about how great you look, and it’s a truly thrilling experience. Here’s where it gets tricky: you’ve spent so long believing that your life was awful because you were overweight, so it will instantly be perfect now that you’re thin. While yes, you might feel better in many ways, the reality of weight loss is never so simple, and this is an extremely dangerous way of thinking about yourself. Your self-esteem should never be tied to a number, because those numbers can be fickle. When your self-worth is pinned to something changeable, so will be your emotional state. And why is this such a clusterfuck? Because it was really never about the weight to begin with, it was about all the other emotional crap surrounding it. I can’t say for sure that Rachel is on a similar emotional roller coaster, but little clues throughout this season of “The Biggest Loser,” like her cooler full of food, led me to believe she might be.
On the quest to lose weight this season, I suspected Rachel might take it too far. First of all, she’s young, just 24 years old. It really takes time to put these things in perspective. I can’t blame her for getting mired down in the confusion and excitement of it all. I saw her competing at the game just a little too well. The whole season, she never faltered. She never had a bad week. She won every challenge. Well, wasn’t this because she was a former athlete and the youngest contestant on the ranch? Well, yes. But also, she was driven in a way that the other contestants weren’t. The moment she started to lose significant weight, her mood shifted. But isn’t that the point, you might ask? Not really. The point is self-acceptance, which is a much more difficult goal than shedding pounds. What I’ve learned, and what I hope Rachel learns sooner rather than later, is that losing weight is math, but gaining love for yourself is an art.