This month, hear from the newsmakers behind some of TODAY.com’s biggest moments of the year in “2014 Voices,” a special series of essays and interviews.
Rachel Frederickson won season 15 of “The Biggest Loser” in February, only to have her weight loss spark a backlash by those who criticized her transformation as too dramatic. In this essay for TODAY.com, she shares what led her to the show, what it was like to be at the center of such a negative viral storm, and how she’s doing today.
I am honored to have my voice represented on TODAY.com as a “Voice of 2014.” My story has been shaped by the voices that I’ve allowed into my life, including my own.
Happy and healthy: Frederickson today.Today
As far back as I can remember, my parents, family, teachers, coaches and people I met throughout the years would tell me there was something unique and special about me. I knew I was different but I didn’t understand what that would mean in my life. I was never afraid to dedicate myself, work hard to be an exceptional swimmer, study hard to earn great grades and accomplish as much as I could. I loved it.
When I fell in love during high school with a foreign exchange student, I made decisions from my heart. This strong, confident, independent and proud young woman landed in Germany on her 18th birthday. I started college and a new life with a young man I thought I would be with forever.
It didn’t take long before the voice of a boy I loved started diminishing my self-esteem. His voice told me I wasn’t enough and I believed it. I started listening to a louder voice than my own, and in turn, I lost the person I loved being.
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Fast forward to a lonely, overweight girl. I spent most days alone working from my home vocal studio. A job I loved, but loneliness I hated. I made a decision to start fighting for myself again and I was so excited and grateful to be chosen as one of the contestants on Season 15 of “The Biggest Loser.”
Watch: Rachel Frederickson speaks out about her ‘Biggest Loser’ weight loss on TODAY
It was at the ranch I learned that my voice had to be stronger than everyone else’s. From the beginning, no one thought I would make it to the final three and dismissed me as a finalist that could actually win. But I was there to get my life back. I knew if I worked hard every day and prepared my meals to fuel my body, I could do it. I’m a competitor. I could win. I worked on building myself up both mentally and physically while staying focused on the positive. It was hard listening to the voices that tried to bring me down, but I was determined to never give up.
Rachel Frederickson, before and after her time at “The Biggest Loser” ranch.Today
When I stood on stage at the live finale, I had never felt stronger. I had accomplished everything I wanted to do. I was extremely proud of myself.
That moment didn’t last long.
These days, Frederickson is listening to the most important voice: her own.Today
Comments during the controversial storm following my weight loss were hurtful. My self-esteem once again was affected by other people’s voices — this time, the kind that live forever in Facebook posts or written in the pages of magazines. People tried to bring me down and (privately) succeeded. To the voices of those who tried to lift me up after the finale, I thank you!
2014 has been a year full of learning, changing and growing for me. I’ve been taking college classes, working in voice-over, walking dogs at the local shelter, training for my first marathon, and through my new career at DreamJobbing , I’m helping others change their story.
There will always be other voices in life. The trouble comes when you stop listening to your own. I am committed to trusting my decisions and standing strong behind them. I found strength in this struggle and I am listening to my own voice again!
My question to you is this: What voices will you allow into your life to tell you who you are? Everyone’s voice is powerful. Is your voice going to be one that tears others down or one that lifts this world up with positivity, hope, and love?
Find more of TODAY.com’s “2014 Voices” here:
*Woman whose weight-loss bikini pic went viral: ‘I can help others not feel alone’
*Behind the music: ‘XMas Jammies’ family on their wild year, new holiday video
*Ice Bucket Challenge star on ALS fight: ‘I want to grow old with my wife’
- ‘Biggest Loser’ speaks out on dramatic weight loss
- Rachel Frederickson, The Biggest Loser, and Losing Weight Fast
- The Biggest Loser Goes Too Far
- Biggest Loser Winner Rachel Frederickson to PEOPLE: I Was ‘Too Enthusiastic’ with Training
- ‘Biggest Loser’ winner faces criticism on social media
‘Biggest Loser’ speaks out on dramatic weight loss
Feb. 26, 201404:02
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For anyone unfamiliar with the show, NBC’s Biggest Loser takes a group of contestants to a secluded location, where their diet, exercise, and lifestyle are monitored 24/7 for approximately 16 weeks.
Physicians, dietitians, personal trainers, counselors, and a team of experts are supposedly monitoring their health & well-being throughout the season.
The show’s finale crowns “The Biggest Loser,” the person who has lost the highest percentage of body weight. Before this point, they have successfully completed a dozen different challenges in both team and individual formats, but the “winning” criteria is the same – lose more weight than everyone else.
Last night, that “winner” was Rachel Frederickson.
Rachel is 5′5” and 24 years old. (Edit: There are no definitive height measurements on The Biggest Loser’s web site. CNN and CBS News report Rachel’s height as 5’5″.) At the beginning of the season, Rachel weighed 260 pounds. She had been a swimmer in the past but a series of life events and self-esteem issues impacted her health and lifestyle.
Last night, she weighed in at 105 pounds.
That’s a total loss of 155 pounds, taking her from 260 to 105 pounds (118 kg to 47.7 kg) in 16 weeks.
Again, Rachel is 5′5“. The CDC defines anything under 18.5 BMI as “underweight.” Rachel has a BMI of 18.
Contrast Rachel to last season’s winner, Danni Allen. Danni was 26 years old, 5’6″, and went from 258 to 137 to win the show. At the finale, Danni was lean, had visible muscle, and looked healthy. (Danni had BMI of 22.)
Last night, Rachel Frederickson looked weak, frail even, and tripped climbing the stairs to be weighed.
The trainer’s reactions said it all. It’s a notable statement that none of the trainers congratulated Rachel upon her victory announcement. This is a first.
I’ve had a personal issue with The Biggest Loser’s format since Day One. The whole concept of a contest for losing weight is flawed for numerous reasons. #1: Lasting weight loss comes from a powerful reason for the change. The motivation to change will last only as long as the contest in most cases.
The experiences of past Biggest Loser contestants bear this out. A number of former contestants have regained weight, and/or gone on record to talk about questionable practices happening off-camera, about eating disorders they developed during/after the show, and more. Here is one example. Here is another.
#2: Shows like this set very wrong expectations of what it takes to lose weight, and how quickly it happens. We’ve discussed this topic on Tips Of The Scale several times. Long-term weight loss does not happen overnight.
#3: Many people already have body issues and unhealthy ideas of what the “perfect” body is. For someone to be celebrated, rewarded, crowned on television for emaciating themselves and clearly having an eating disorder – is a horrible message.
I sincerely hope that NBC rethinks its contest format, or does away with it altogether. At the very least, there needs to be a public discussion on mental health and eating disorders. Body Dysmorphia is a serious issue.
Edit: There are people on Twitter saying that Rachel did what it took to win. I get that. I understand that. However, it’s still very wrong of a show – that supposedly is aimed at inspiring better health – to celebrate unhealthy habits and reward someone for doing the exact opposite of that. The format must change.
Others are defending Rachel by saying she’s being bullied, and that no matter what a woman does she will always be judged and criticized. While I understand it may seem she’s being attacked, that’s not the case. The big pictures is, this is a really unhealthy thing to celebrate, and a really harmful image/message to send impressionable people around the world.
I am proud that Tips Of The Scale spends as much time as we do covering the mental aspect of health & weight loss, and it’s no accident. It’s such an important part of the journey, and neglecting it puts people’s health in danger.
More Discussion in The Blogosphere
= UPDATES: =
- 2/11 Eonline!: ‘The Biggest Loser Considering “Tweaks” After Rachel Frederickson’s Shocking Weight Loss’ (The Biggest Loser will begin monitoring contestants off-ranch before finale episode, ensuring they aren’t embarrassed again.)
- 2/12 Huffington Post: ‘Biggest Loser’ Winner Rachel Frederickson Says She May Have Gone Too Far’ (Rachael owns up to exercising 6 hours a day!)
- 2/12 Fitbie: ‘The Biggest Loser Winner Reveals Her Over-The-Top Workout Routine’
What do you think, Scale Warriors? Is this a big deal, or am I over-reacting? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Rachel Frederickson, The Biggest Loser, and Losing Weight Fast
When season 15 Biggest Loser winner Rachel Frederickson stepped out on stage for the final reveal to show that she’d dropped 155 pounds-going from 260 to 105-the Internet basically broke. Twitter exploded, headlines blew up, and even Jillian Michaels and Bob Harper were stunned. Everyone had an opinion about her weight loss. Frederickson herself later admitted that she might have lost too much weight too quickly. Now the 24-year-old’s in the spotlight again, this time for gaining 20 pounds. “I’m at my perfect weight,” she told Us Weekly.
I’m not Frederickson’s doctor, so I’m not going to speculate about her health. I also don’t want to punish her for doing exactly what she had to do to win a contest that demanded extreme change of her. The Biggest Loser exists to help people lose as much weight as possible as quickly as possible in order to win a cash prize. Frederickson simply followed the show to its inevitable, logical, and totally predictable conclusion: She lost more than half her body weight and won $250,000. In fact, I find it troubling that 7.4 million people-who are presumably familiar with the show’s premise-tuned in to see the BL finale and then felt it was appropriate to pick on Frederickson for doing exactly what was expected of her.
The more concerning issue is the “lose weight at any cost” mentality that the show promotes. Ultimately, what does the show accomplish? Although popular, it gets mixed reviews. Experts have often spoken out about the show’s methods, saying that placing the contestants in what essentially amounts to a grueling, weight loss-focused bubble sets them up for failure when the show ends.
“Creating a contest around this huge public health issue really is a very dangerous proposition,” Connie Quinn, director of the Renfrew Center of New York, told the L.A. Times. “It really puts people who are extremely vulnerable emotionally and physically at high risk. You’ve got cardiac issues, physical injury, extreme weight loss.”
RELATED: The Better Way to Try Quick Weight-Loss Strategies
Indeed, BL has seen its fair share of complications. Two patients were hospitalized after collapsing during the season eight premiere, according to LiveScience, and a season nine contestant had to be dragged off a bike after developing severe cramps during the premiere (contestants were racing 26.2 miles on stationary bikes). And several Biggest Loser contestants have regained the weight they lost on the show. Kai Hibbard, a season three finalist, has been critical of her time on the show, saying that in addition to having sleeping problems, she stopped menstruating on the show and developed an eating disorder. Multiple contestants have admitted that transitioning back to life after the ranch is extremely difficult.
On the other hand, The Biggest Loser is a reality show. Presumably, the contestants know what they’re getting themselves into (and some contestants, including season 10 winner Patrick House, have attributed their weight-loss success to the show), and no one really wants to watch a reality show called The Contestant Who Lost the Most Weight by Eating Right, Sleeping Well, and Exercising Properly. (Well, who knows? I’d watch that!) Perhaps the show has a very minimal responsibility to its viewers. In fact, maybe I’m not giving the audience enough credit. Most people probably do realize that they’re watching a heavily edited, manufactured version of reality that doesn’t reflect their everyday lives-that’s part of the fun of reality TV!
If nothing else, this has, as Frederickson says, “sparked a national conversation about body image. That’s huge.” She’s right. In a country where nearly a third of adults are obese, where the average woman tries to diet at least twice a year, and where girls as young 10 worry about their weight, it’s more important than ever to continue the conversation about what it really means to be healthy. What do you think of The Biggest Loser? Are you a fan of the show? Let us know why or why not in the comments below or tweet us @Shape_Magazine!
- By Alanna Nuñez
The longer The Biggest Loser went on, though, the harder it was to maintain this position. Though participants were reportedly forbidden from talking to reporters without the show’s permission (and were warned about potential fines of up to $1 million if they broke the rules), news began to eke out about what happened behind the scenes. In 2007, the Season 3 contestant Kai Hibbard spoke out about the tactics she’d used to shed weight before the finale, which included eating only sugar-free Jell-O and asparagus (a diuretic) for days at a time, and sitting in a sauna for prolonged periods to sweat out more water. In 2014, after the Season 15 winner, Rachel Frederickson, weighed in at an emaciated 105 pounds, a visibly shocked Michaels quit for the third time, with People reporting that she was “deeply concerned” that attention wasn’t being paid to the contestants’ health. In 2016, Biggest Loser alums told The New York Post that they were given diet pills on the show, sparking an internal NBC investigation. (Producers, doctors, and trainers on the series denied all allegations.) Most damning of all was a wide-ranging National Institutes of Health study published the same year, which revealed not only that the majority of former contestants had regained the weight they’d lost, but that their extreme dieting had also permanently damaged their metabolism.
Read: Can television destroy diet culture?
Even after so much scrutiny, The Biggest Loser wasn’t officially canceled by NBC in 2016. It just never came back. And, in the four years it was off the air, a lot changed. Weight Watchers pivoted to wellness, supposedly rebranding itself away from the hard focus of numbers on a scale and toward more general encouragement of health and well-being. Consumers became more skeptical of diet culture, and more cognizant of the societal factors that lead to obesity. TV also adjusted to the times. Dietland and Shrill premiered, deftly dissecting fatphobia and the self-hatred that products like The Biggest Loser subliminally encourage. As if to illustrate how anachronistic the NBC show seems now, Michaels—whose unfiltered, unflinching style was historically a big part of her appeal—was broadly denounced for fat-shaming this month after making comments about Lizzo’s weight on a BuzzFeed show.
And yet, despite everything, The Biggest Loser has shuffled, zombielike, back to prime time, with a new season debuting this week. USA Network, the sister network to NBC where the show has found a new home, announced last year that in its new incarnation the series was going to offer a “holistic, 360-degree look at wellness.” In a panel at the Television Critics Association conference in January, Harper (now serving as the show’s host) and two new trainers insisted that this time around, things would be different—that the focus would be on health rather than weight. Which is both a funny comment about a series whose final 20 minutes still revolve around mass weigh-ins optimized for peak drama in a TV studio, and, it turns out, completely untrue.
The Biggest Loser Goes Too Far
Twitter exploded after the finale of The Biggest Loser last night when the winner of the show revealed what many consider to be a t00-thin frame.
Rachel Frederickson, 24, began the show at 260 pounds. Last night she weighed in at 105 pounds, setting a show record by losing 60 percent of her body weight. Frederickson is 5’4″, which means her height-weight ratio puts her slightly below the threshold doctors would consider “healthy” according to the BMI scale. The World Health Organization dictates that anyone under an 18.5 BMI is considered underweight, and the fashion industries in Israel, Madrid and Milan have banned models under an 18.5 BMI from walking the runway. Frederickson’s BMI is 18.0.
But even without that information, it’s easy to see that Frederickson looks unhealthy. The show’s trainers, Bob Harper and Jillian Michaels didn’t hide their shock well last night when Frederickson took the stage. If you watch the video (below) or look at the screenshots captured by Twitter users, you can see Harper wincing and Michaels mouthing “Oh my God.” And not in a good way.
The Internet did not receive Frederickson’s transformation well either. Even as Frederickson looked at the hologram of her formerly-overweight self and said, “you are so gross,” people at home were wriggling in their seats at the sight of her now-emaciated body as much as the image of her larger self.
Brandi Koskie, a dieting blogger, wrote, “we turned to shock when millions if viewers at home noticed her frail, skeletal frame…no one has ever looked as frighteningly emaciated as Rachel did tonight.” Others agreed that NBC should be ashamed they pushed a contestant to lose so much weight (and win $250,000) that she no longer looked athletic and healthy but waif-thin.
Even former contestant Kim Nielsen weighed in:
This isn’t the first time the show has come under fire for pushing people to lose weight by whatever means necessary. Season 3 Biggest Loser finalist, Kai Hibbard, told Jezebel that the show gave her an eating disorder. Neither NBC nor Frederickson have yet responded to criticism, but after this reception it looks like the show will have to be restructured in some way.
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Write to Eliana Dockterman at [email protected]
Biggest Loser Winner Rachel Frederickson to PEOPLE: I Was ‘Too Enthusiastic’ with Training
When Rachel Frederickson revealed her new, size 0-2 figure on the Feb. 4 finale of NBC’s The Biggest Loser, she thought she would wow friends, family and viewers – and maybe win the title of Biggest Loser.
She did win, but the 24-year-old voice actress also ignited a firestorm of controversy about her dramatically slimmed-down figure, down to 105 lbs. from her starting weight of 260 lbs. (At 5’4″, her height-weight ratio puts her BMI at 18, below the threshold doctors consider normal.)
Sitting down with PEOPLE in Los Angeles, just days after she made headlines for her striking transformation, Frederickson says she maintained a 1,600-calorie daily diet, working out six hours a day in the three months before the finale.
“Maybe I was a little too enthusiastic in my training to get to the finale,” she tells PEOPLE exclusively in this week’s cover story.
Asked point blank whether she has an eating disorder, she replies, “I am very, very healthy.”
Producers say she was carefully monitored throughout her seven-and-a-half months with the show, including in the days before the finale. “Rachel passed all the required medical tests ensuring she was healthy,” says the show’s executive producer, Dave Broome.
Still, Frederickson’s trainer, Dolvett Quince, admits he was “shocked” by her appearance.
RELATED: Four Ways to Fix The Biggest Loser
“The first thing that went through my mind was, ‘That’s just too much,’ ” he says.
For much more on this story, including personal photos of Rachel through the years and interviews with former Biggest Loser contestants, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE
• Reporting by PATRICK GOMEZ and RAHA LEWIS
MINNEAPOLIS — A day after Rachel Fredrickson won the latest season of “The Biggest Loser,” after shedding nearly 60 percent of her body weight, attention wasn’t focused on her $250,000 win — but rather the criticism surrounding her loss.
Experts cautioned that regardless of her current weight, the criticism being levied on social media about her losing too much isn’t helpful. A more constructive message is needed, they say, centering on overall healthy living and body image.
The 5-foot-4, 24-year-old Frederickson dropped from 260 pounds to 105 under the show’s rigorous exercise and diet regimen, and time spent on her own before the finale. She was a three-time state champion swimmer at Stillwater Area High School in Minnesota, then turned to sweets for solace after a failed romance with a foreign exchange student she followed to his native Germany.
Frederickson’s newly thin frame lit up Twitter on Wednesday, with many viewers pointing to the surprised expressions on the faces of trainers Jillian Michaels and Bob Harper during the show’s Tuesday night finale. Many tweeted that Fredrickson looked anorexic and unhealthy, while others congratulated her for dropping 155 pounds.
Frederickson’s body mass index, a measure of height and weight, is below the normal range, said Jillian Lampert, senior director of the Emily Program, an eating disorder treatment program based in St. Paul, Minn. But she said the criticism directed against Frederickson isn’t helpful.
“As a society we often criticize people for being at higher weights — that’s part of why we have the TV show ‘The Biggest Loser’ — and then we feel free to criticize lower weight,” Lampert said.
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A more constructive message to send young people would center on well-rounded health and the importance of eating well, moving well and sleeping well, she said.
Joanne Ikeda, a dietitian and retired faculty member at the University of California at Berkeley’s Department of Nutritional Sciences, added that focus needs to be on embracing body-size diversity.
“We are just obsessed with body size, women particularly. There’s just tremendous body dissatisfaction,” Ikeda said. “I’m sure even if she was the exact right size, someone wouldn’t like the look of her fingers or the length of her hair. “
A listed phone number for Frederickson couldn’t be found by The Associated Press late Wednesday. During an appearance on “Access Hollywood,” Frederickson didn’t directly respond to the criticism but said she intends to live a healthy lifestyle going forward.
“My journey was about finding that confident girl again. Little by little, challenge by challenge, that athlete came out. And it sparked inside me this feeling that I can do anything I can conceive. And I found that girl, and I’m just going to embrace her fully,” she said.
In a statement released late Wednesday, NBC said it was committed to helping all of the show’s past contestants live healthier lives..