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'Biggest Loser' anorexia controversy: Trainers, experts and winner weigh in

Did the winner of "The Biggest Loser" become anorexic and addicted to weight loss? See the article for the skinny.
Did the winner of "The Biggest Loser" become anorexic and addicted to weight loss? See the article for the skinny.
NBC

Ever since the novelty of "The Biggest Loser" faded faster than Jillian Michaels' smile during a workout, producers have been trying to find a way to ramp up the ratings. But they never anticipated the firestorm and bitter backlash that would blow up when the winner of season 15, Rachel Frederickson, stepped on stage in all her frail glory and weighed in at 105 pounds. Now all three trainers as well as Rachel herself and eating disorder experts are speaking out in an attempt to douse that fire, reported People magazine on Feb.7.

The winner: Did she go too low?
The winner: Did she go too low?
NBC Photo; republished with permission

Bob Harper, author of "Jumpstart to Skinny: The Simple 3-Week Plan for Supercharged Weight Loss" and "The Skinny Rules: The Simple, Nonnegotiable Principles for Getting to Thin," taped a show for Rachael Ray, during which he stated: "I was stunned. That would be the word. I mean, we've never had a contestant come in at 105 pounds," according to People.

What people don't understand is, when the contestants leave to go home… they're in charge of themselves. So, I had not seen her until that night, and when she walked out, I was just kind of like, whoa. And I've been on the show since the beginning, forever.

Words to remember: "They're in charge of themselves." Translation: So if a contestant wants to restrict calories dangerously while working out four times a day in the gym, they're free to do so.

But Twitter has continued to explode, with thin-shaming replacing fat-shaming as fans fretted that Rachel was too thin and looked anorexic, reported the New York Times on Feb. 7. And it wasn't just Twitter. Shows ranging from "Extra" to "Katie Couric" to "The View" chatted up their own views, with some contending that Rachel has become addicted to weight loss and others insisting that she had her eyes on the prize of money, and now would gain back the weight.

So with all the guessing games going on, where was the person who really knew? Dolvett Quince, who actually trained the winner and recently authored a book focused on rapid weight loss called "The 3-1-2-1 Diet: Eat and Cheat Your Way to Weight Loss--up to 10 Pounds in 21 Days" (click for details), attempted his own justification via Facebook:

'Biggest Loser’ is a journey which has its ups and downs. Please try not to look at one slice of Rachel's journey and come to broad conclusions. Rachel's health is and always has been my main concern and her journey to good health has not yet ended!

Words to remember: "Her journey to good health has not yet ended." Translation: Rachel has said she exercises three to four times per day on 1600 calories per day. Now fitting into a size zero at 5 feet, 4 inches tall, the 24-year-old insisted "[My body] is absolutely the prize."

But Jennifer J. Thomas, an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School and the co-director of the Eating Disorders Clinical and Research Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, told the New York Times that "The Biggest Loser" is giving contestants and viewers a dangerous message.

"If a person you knew was working out six hours a day and eating a very restricted calorie diet, you would be worried they had an eating disorder,” said Thomas, who is also the co-author of the book "Almost Anorexic: Is My (or My Loved One's) Relationship with Food a Problem? (The Almost Effect)," which analyzes the relationship between obesity and anorexia.

As for Jillian? She's been focused on damage control (perhaps feeling burned after the mini-scandal that erupted early in the season when she gave her team unauthorized caffeine supplements). Thus she's hiding behind the statement jointly issued by Bob and Jillian initially.

We're not comfortable commenting on Rachel's journey because we weren't her trainers and weren't given an opportunity to work with her at any point. Any questions about the contestants on The Biggest Loser should be directed to the show's producers.

Words to remember: "We weren't her trainers." Translation: We're exempt from feeling guilty that Rachel appears to be dangerously thin.

However, Ali Vincent, the winner of Season 5, is taking a different approach and contending that Rachel pushed her weight as low as it could go solely for the money, reported Extra TV on Feb. 8.

And Ali admits now that's precisely what she did to win the prize.

I was working out from 10 in the morning to 2 in the morning. Is that healthy? No! But it's a conscious adult decision to win. I weighed 122 lbs. [at the finale]. I took a drink of water and I gained weight back.

Bottom line: No one except Rachel really knows her plans for the future - and even she, at 24, may still be lost in the excitement of that low weight and big money award. Will she quietly gain a few pounds - and does she need to?

Worth noting: The show is called "The Biggest Loser" for a reason: It's all about weight loss, not living a happy healthy life at whatever your weight is or feeling good about your body. The trainers' focus always has been on taking off the pounds, working through wailing and puking, crying and fainting. The goal is expressed in Jillian's recent book title: "Slim for Life: My Insider Secrets to Simple, Fast, and Lasting Weight Loss."

What's not in the title? "Safe" weight loss.

As for the label of anorexia, here's what the Mayo Clinic says: "Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that causes people to obsess about their weight and the food they eat. People with anorexia nervosa attempt to maintain a weight that's far below normal for their age and height. To prevent weight gain or to continue losing weight, people with anorexia nervosa may starve themselves or exercise excessively."

Is exercising four times a day excessive, as Rachel has stated she continues to do? Post your comments below.