Biggest Loser: Eating Disorder Edition

“OMG HELEN ANOREXIC MUCH?!!!! Too skinny! Tara and Mike looked great!”

This was my friend M’s Facebook Status Update yesterday, following the season finale of the Biggest Loser. And M isn’t the only one chastising 48-year-old Helen Phillips who, having shed 140 pounds (from a high of 257), won the BL title. The internet is buzzing with comments like “Random thought: Does The Biggest Loser finale cause eating disorders?” and “I agree that Helen looked way too skinny...I too hope that she did it for competition’s sake and then puts back on a few pounds” and “When she came out on stage during the finale -- 30 pounds lighter than when she left the ranch -- she looked like a skeleton; arms spindly, face drawn. She went from a pretty middle-aged mom to someone that, to put it bluntly, looked anorexic.”

I’ll admit, I was totally floored by the extreme weight loss of some of the contestants. Helen looked radiant in that pink dress (and her butt – wow!) but she DID look quite tiny. At-home winner Jerry Hayes, 64, also looked a bit on the too-thin side – gaunt, even. He’s 6’3” and went from 369 to 192 pounds.

Helen addressed the “too thin” controversy in a NeverSayDiet interview:

“They think I’m too thin? No, no, I’m not too thin. I am so healthy that it’s not even funny. As everybody should know we are carefully monitored by doctors and carefully tested. I saw the doctor and spoke with him. He was just like, “Oh yea, you look wonderful. But, I do want you to gain some muscle.” And so, because I wasn’t body building, I will do that now.”

Of course, it’s healthier to be where they are now versus where they were. Maybe this is all just an extreme reaction to an extreme show. And the show IS extreme – so much so that during the finale, I found myself saying things like, “55 pounds? That’s it? That’s not a huge weight loss.” Um, compared to what?! Dropping half your body weight? That’s like saying Sheryl Crow just has an OK voice…compared to Mariah Carey.

And consider the radical measures these people took to lose the pounds. To drop 54.5 percent of her total weight, Helen quit her job and hired THREE personal trainers to replace TV trainer Jillian Michaels (“It kind of went back to the old-school type of training," she told E! Online. "I was running up and down bleachers. I would get up at 4:30 every morning and hit the gym—two hours in the morning, two hours in the afternoon and two hours in the evening.")  That’s enough to make even the most dedicated exerciser feel downright slovenly.

Finalist Tara Costa, a former plus-size model, shed a whopping 155 pounds but she didn’t escape snarky commentary either. Wrote one commenter: “I think they did a big disservice (sic) last night to women. They tried to make us believe that Tara weighted (sic)  140 pounds last night for the finale. Now Tara was my favorite person on the show, but at 5'9" there is no way she weighted (sic) in at 140 last night. More like 180 which is nothing to be ashamed of, more like the producers trying to put on a good show. Thousands of women that look at her that weigh 140 and say, ‘Do I really look that big?’ The showing is getting to be too much about the game and less focused on them getting help.” 

The third finalist, Mike Morelli, lost more than 200 pounds. His congratulations? Speculation that, “it looked to me like Mike was wearing something to hold himself in or flatten himself around the torso.” 

Was a line crossed? Did these very-recently obese reality stars go from too heavy to too thin? And even if they did, does that necessarily mean they have an eating disorder? Anorexia and bulimia are rarely about food and typically develop over years, as personality, nature, nurture, biology and just plain old life mesh together, often set off by a negative or stressful event. There must be a healthy in-between stage…I just wonder if it’s being overlooked in the name of winning $250,000?

I’m also wondering, for those of you who watched: Did the BL finale make you, in any way, feel badly about your own weight loss efforts?

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