National Eating Disorders Association

Who's the Biggest Loser? All of Us.

Caitlin Hamilton, Communications Associate

Once again, the Biggest Loser is drawing criticism after the announcement of season 15 winner, Rachel Frederickson. According to the show, Frederickson lost nearly 60% of her body weight over the course of the season. Now fans and critics alike are taking to the internet to sound the alarm that her extreme weight loss is a dangerous example of the show's unhealthy promotion of excessive weight loss and exercise.
Although you cannot judge a person's health by their size or appearance, such dramatic weight loss in a short period of time is cause for concern. Despite the Biggest Loser purporting to be about helping the contestants becoming healthier people, dieting and a drive for thinness are risk factors for developing an eating disorder and previous contestants have reported that their participation in the show triggered their eating disorder.

Experts in the eating disorders field have noted that some of the male contestants also lost a potentially dangerous amount of weight, but pointed out that there has been little speculation about them, likely because of the misconception that only women suffer from eating disorders.

NEDA’s President and CEO, Lynn Grefe, agrees, “Extreme dieting is never a healthy alternative. Among “normal” dieters, 35 percent will progress to pathological dieting and of those, 20-25 percent progress to full-blown eating disorders. The Biggest Loser is not only a trigger to those on the show who are predisposed to develop an eating disorder but to viewers at home as well. We need to quit looking at the number on the scale and adopt a healthy lifestyle."
A healthy lifestyle cannot be measured on a scale. It includes both emotional and mental health, which are often overlooked in these types of weight loss competitions. One study found that up to 25% of people who seek treatment for obesity suffer from binge eating disorder, and experts recommend that the BED be treated before weight loss even enters the picture(1).
The important take away from this renewed controversy is television and media that promote quick, extreme weight loss are dangerous and can potentially trigger eating disorders. In this contest, all of us lose. Frederickson's weight loss was a new record for the show, which indicates that the trend for Biggest Loser contestants is to become more extreme in their goals. For more on the impacts of the Biggest Loser, check out this article from Proud2Bme, entitled, "Losing More than Weight: Humiliation, Extreme Dieting & Unhealthy Exercise on the Biggest Loser."

1.    Wilfley D; Wilson, T; et al, (2003). The Clinica Significance of Binge Eating Disorder. International Journal of Eating Disorders. Vol. 34, Issue S1, pp. S96-S106.