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Did ‘Biggest Loser’ winner take it too far?

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#biggestloser #tookittoofar #skeletal #anorexic. Holding my iPhone close to my face in bed Tuesday night, I watched as the shocked, frightened and concerned hashtags, tweets and posts started filling up my feeds.

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On Wednesday morning, I picked up my phone again and clicked on a few links to see for myself what everyone’s talking about. I, too, was shocked, frightened and concerned by “Biggest Loser” winner Rachel Frederickson’s appearance and final weigh-in.

My (and other critics’) concerns about the show are nothing new. After all, NBC’s ratings horse has been on the air for 15 seasons, and plenty has been written on its flaws. But Frederickson’s claim to the “highest percentage of weight lost by any contestant in the show’s history” has brought the discussion to a new level.

In about seven months, the Stillwater, Minn., woman dropped 60 percent of her body weight from her 5-foot-4 frame, going from 260 to 105 pounds. Yes, 105.

On stage and under bright lights, she looked at least 10 years older than her 24 years of age. When she brought her hands to her gaunt face at the sight of “105,” her bony arms seemed to be covered in nothing but skin. Even the show’s trainers looked visibly upset.

Now, I didn’t watch the whole season, but from what I’ve heard, Frederickson was a fierce competitor. I don’t doubt that. You have to be able to lose more than half your body weight for $250,000. Nor am I discrediting her hard work. But do I think she #tookittoofar? Yup.

I don’t know if Frederickson’s healthy (she told the “Today” show she is), but I do know that I wasn’t healthy at my lowest weight, which was about 10 pounds heavier than hers, and we’re about the same height.

If we crossed paths on Broadway, I would not make assumptions based solely on her appearance, and I would hope she wouldn’t make any based on mine. Lots of underweight (as determined by the flawed BMI) people are healthy. Lots of normal-weight people are healthy. Lots of overweight people are healthy.

Weight does not determine health. Rather, it’s one indicator. Nor does it determine happiness. And I hope she can find both after the firestorm dies down.

I recognize that “Biggest Loser” provides people desperate for help an opportunity to focus on nothing but their weight and health. It can be inspiring. I’ve shed many tears over past contestants’ personal trials and triumphs.

But it does so within a game-show atmosphere.

“Watch drill sergeant Jillian Michaels bark at obese men and women as they sweat to the point of exhaustion! Will he puke? Will she pass out? Stay tuned …”

That’s not fitness for life. That’s fitness for ratings. And a monetary prize.

Although we only see an hour of edited reality TV once a week, life is no “Biggest Loser” ranch.

Anyone who compares themselves to contestants has to remember that they’re doing it in isolation. For the duration of filming, they’re shielded from the external stressors, triggers and temptations we face every day “out here.” In there, it’s their full-time job to lose weight.

Under medical supervision, they work out for at least four hours a day. Michaels herself told Time magazine back in 2009 that that’s not only not possible, but not safe in “real life.”

The “Biggest Loser” premise boils down to “exercise equals weight loss, and weight loss equals success,” which sets a dangerous example for young people, who are at the highest risk of developing eating disorders and body image issues.

Hey, remember A&E’s “Heavy”? That was a much more realistic depiction of extreme weight loss.

Holt, a Forum News Service features reporter and columnist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead,

lost more than 100 pounds between 2010 and 2012. Email her at mholt@forumcomm.com

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Meredith Holt
Meredith Holt is a Forum features reporter who writes a twice-monthly column on body image, weight loss (and gain), health and fitness. Her topics of interest include mental health, relationships and women's issues. She also does page design and copy editing, which she did for six years prior to joining the features staff in March 2012.
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