Throughout the years, there have been several times during the finale when I personally thought the winner had taken it a bit too far losing weight. They looked a bit too thin, but not anything that really looked dangerous. That is, until this past week's finale. When Rachel walked onto that stage, it completely shocked me almost to the point of tears. I really like Rachel. She and I seem to share a lot of issues with eating, and I enjoyed seeing her come into her own all season. I thought she looked beautiful and strong when she left the ranch and went home. I did not see any trace of that girl on the finale stage. The girl on that stage seemed frail and on the point of collapse. In case any of you haven't seen the picture, here it is:
It's disturbing to say the least. A lot of people have come to the conclusion that she must have an eating disorder. I personally think it is irresponsible to throw about labels like that when you don't even know the person. Did Rachel look too thin in my opinion? Yes, she did. But I don't know what all went on, so I'm not going to speculate on that. Some people say that losing that much weight is okay because she did it for the money, and she'll be healthy afterwards. I disagree with that logic. It's not so easy to just to turn off such an extreme attitude and be healthy afterwards. I know this to be true because I have personally lived it, although to a lesser extent. It's why think this whole thing has affected me so strongly; it's because I know how this story goes.
Several years ago, I was selected to be a contestant in a local televised Biggest Loser contest. I had been going to the gym and eating healthy for a few months at the time already, and the contest seemed like a really cool opportunity to take things to the next level because it also included free personal training. Plus there was $500 cash and a $500 jewelry store gift certificate grand prize! It started out innocently enough, but then as it became harder and harder to lose weight, I became more and more extreme in what I was willing to do to win. 6 am workouts became 5 am, then 4 am. 5 miles became 10 miles became 15 miles a day. I sat in a sauna for hours at a time to sweat off weight. It got so that if I wasn't moving, if I wasn't burning calories, I felt anxious. My healthy eating deteriorated as my calorie intake took a nosedive. At the end of the contest, I was only eating lettuce and canned crab, barely 500 calories a day. And on weigh-in days, since I had to weigh in at night, I didn't eat or drink anything at all. And what's worse is, my trainer encouraged this behavior. The one time I showed a modicum of good sense and took a day off because I had pneumonia, he called me at 4:30 in the morning demanding to know where I was. So I went back to the gym the next day and ended up being carried out on a stretcher after having a severe asthma attack and passing out.
I won the contest by a wide margin. But it was such a joke because the point of this contest was all about losing weight the healthy way. I had won in a most unhealthy way. I told myself I would go back to normal now that I had won, just like some of those people claim that Rachel will do. But it was hard to give up those kind of results, and so, so easy to rationalize what I was doing. After all, at that point I was still 194 lbs and still needed to lose weight. I told myself that I was just doing what it takes to get results. That you have to make sacrifices sometimes. That I would go back to normal after I got to my goal weight. Well, let me tell you, you can only live how I was living for just so long. I was absolutely exhausted physically and mentally, and had the circles under my eyes to prove it. I got to 170 lbs before the weight began coming back on. A day off from the gym became a week, a week became a month, and before I knew it, it had been nearly 6 months since I set foot in a gym. Little food indulgences here and there (because I certainly deserved it after all I had been through!) became regular occurrences. And so less than a year after I had lost the weight, I had put more than 50 lbs of it back on. Here's me after the contest in February and then at Christmas that same year.
And not so winning moment (although I did love seeing my Nana here!)
That's how this story goes. And that's why I am so afraid for Rachel.
People tend to think that binging on food and severely restricting calories are completely opposite issues. On the surface, this seems true. But really, I've found that both of these issues stem from the same problem: not knowing how to live any way other than extreme. Rachel has said she had problems with emotional eating and binging before. I certainly know all about that. And I am here to say that it is very easy to make the leap from binging to eating too little and overexercising. It's something that I still have to battle with every single day. Some days are easier than others, but there is always that little voice in my head telling me how much more weight I could lose if I ate less than 1000 calories a day or spent even more time in the gym. That voice is also the same one that sometimes tells me to just screw it all and eat a dozen donuts. Moderation is something I have to consciously practice every day. I worry that Rachel does not know how to stay in the middle of these two extremes and exercise some moderation.
It's taken me a long time to start living in a truly healthy way, physically and mentally. The lessons I have learned have been hard-won. Here's what I would tell Rachel if I could: I don't count it as a victory if you become so thin that you have to starve yourself and obsessively exercise to get to and maintain that unhealthy weight. I don't count it as a victory if you look at food as the enemy instead of fuel for your body and something to be enjoyed. I don't count it as a victory if you look at exercise only as a means to burn calories instead of something to make you stronger every day. And I don't count it as victory if you honestly believe your emaciated body is somehow better than the strong and powerful body that won a triathlon, better just because it is 40 lbs thinner. I would tell Rachel that life is for living, not for powering through to reach an unhealthy goal.
I truly hope Rachel puts on a healthy amount of weight and does learn to have some moderation in her life. It makes me mad that the Biggest Loser head honchos doesn't encourage anything but an extreme method of losing weight in their contestants, but then it seems to come as a big surprise to them when some of the contestants learn this lesson a little too well. Personally, I think the show would do better if they completely eliminated the cash prizes and took away the eliminations so that all the contestants could stay on the ranch the whole time. I think this would put the focus more on living a healthy life and losing a healthy amount of weight, instead of on winning a game and money. It's the people's stories and their journeys that most viewers really care about, not game play and who wins. If Rachel needs help dealing with issues, I hope she receives it. She obviously has extraordinary drive and determination, and she deserves to lead a healthy and happy life. I really hope that happens for her.