THE OTHER DAY THE WORLD HAD A LOT TO SAY ABOUT THE WINNER OF THE 'BIGGEST LOSER AND SO DID I
By Sara Romeo-White
This morning I came online to a bombardment of social media commentary about the winner of The Biggest Loser. I don’t have tv. I didn’t even know The Biggest Loser was on. But who needs television when there are gifs of Jillian Michaels “OMG” face, and hateful messages under photos of a girl just trying to figure things out in life. Before I move forward let me make the disclaimer that I have very little against this show and if I could afford tv I probably would have been watching it. I’m a sucker for television guaranteed to make me cry, so maybe I’m part of the problem, and I fully own that. Honestly in many ways I respect The Biggest Loser. Call me naive, but I truly believe that underneath it all there are good intentions. If it even gives one person a real chance to learn some tools to take care of themselves and start dealing with their food and body issues, then great, keep it up. I do also realize that there is another side to it though, a side that has the potential of creating more harm than good. And I’m not going to lie, when I saw Rachel Frederickson’s before and after I couldn’t help but be a little shocked. But given my history and given what this show actually is, I also wasn’t.
I have been in recovery from a binge eating disorder for almost ten years. It’s a daily struggle. There are ups and downs and tears and smiles. My weight, my issues with food, and my mental health have been the focus of my life since I was seven. My highest weight and lowest low was 312 lbs, I was nineteen years old. After years of therapy, diets, and hospitalizations I managed to lose over 160 lbs. It’s been a long time since I lost all of that weight and it’s still a struggle. Almost every day I catch myself calling myself fat. Almost every day I battle with my desire to binge, my desire to hate myself, my fear of moving forward. And at the same time almost every day I work at it. I know what it’s like to be someone so obese that desperate measures need to be taken. I also know what it’s like to watch your whole life change at the same time your body does. I know how vulnerable and scary and amazing it all is. I know how one misstep can feel like the biggest failure and how the numbers on a scale can start to decide how you’re going to feel that day. None of it is easy. It takes showing up and working hard. And all of it is deeply personal.
I consider myself lucky because unlike so many of the people I have seen on that show I have an incredible support system. A system I was born into, sought out, or forced into. An incredibly diverse, knowledgeable, loving, ass kicking, ever growing support system. At the core of it is my parents who lovingly/desperately forced me, at a really young age, to delve deep into the reasons behind my disorder. You know, the important stuff. The stuff that as a society we somehow secretly agreed to glaze over until shit gets bad enough, or someone dies. We live in an age obsessed with body image, but that’s not even the big issue. The issue is the focus is so much on the solution. The dieting, the exercising, the juicing, the detoxing, the quick fix, the 10 ways to a better ass. Sure, it is important and helpful to understand the solution. Let me rephrase that. It is incredibly important to understand health and how and what to do in order to work towards it. But without going deeper, without understanding the why, facing the why, and getting down and dirty with your darkness, the solutions make no difference.
The problem with The Biggest Loser is just that. The focus is 90% on the solution, and the menial therapy they’re getting is happening in a room with a camera crew filming their deepest moments for television. What if they’re not ready to admit what’s really going on in front of the entire world? Yes, they signed up for this and knew what they were getting into. But what if they didn’t? What if they had no idea that once they started shedding their literal guard that what was going to show up was too difficult to share. See what people don’t seem to understand is that so many eating disorders develop because of some form of trauma. In fact let me be bold enough to make this statement. Most addictions develop because of some form of trauma. In my 28 years of being surrounded by addicts of some form, both in and out of treatment centers, hearing the stories after stories after stories, I feel well versed enough to make that claim. Trauma comes in all shapes and sizes and affects each person differently. Some people block it out, think it’s too small to be traumatic, or think they’re fine. And many don’t even know how much it has affected them until they’re passed out on the floor next to 10 pints of ice cream, or empty handles of vodka, or a needle in their arm.
After Philip Seymour Hoffman died the conversation about addiction has been everywhere. It’s a horribly sad way to get it started but you know what, good, keep it going, lets talk. And while we’re at it, now that the winner of a weight loss competition show showed up looking like she may also have a problem, lets open up that conversation. Let’s start talking about how an eating disorder is a form of addiction too. Because addiction comes from many places, but the biggest place addiction comes from is believing you’ve found that one thing that instantly fills whatever hole or void you maybe didn’t even know you were looking to fill. That one thing that for that one short moment numbs out the pain or accentuates the high or alleviates the boredom. It is the chase to escape. It is a disease. And whether it’s food or lack of food or drugs or alcohol or gambling it doesn’t matter, underneath it’s all the same.
I’m honestly surprised that this is the first time something like this has happened on this show. When you put a person struggling with addiction, struggling with control, into a competition there is huge possibility for a dangerous outcome in either direction. But I also don’t know Rachel Frederickson or her journey or her issues. It’s not fair to put all of this, for lack of a better word, weight, on to her. So many of the people who are up in arms about it have been hateful and mean instead of supportive or concerned and all that does is create more problems. The girl deserves to be shown love. She deserves a support system. People in her life who will applaud her for her successes and at the same time not shy away when it’s clear she needs help. And on another note have we forgotten that Rachel came on the show with an eating disorder to begin with? Does NBC not realize that that is the basis of what their highly rated show is? Helping people who are struggling with eating disorders. As an audience can we really be surprised when in a matter of months a lifelong issue doesn’t just go away? Maybe at it’s core it’s the ignorance that is the biggest problem.
Even with all of the hate I’m glad that people are talking about this. Because it needs to be talked about. We need to as a society stop putting a stigma on addiction in any form. We need to start focusing on the issues instead of just the solution. We need to change. I truly hope that this controversy forces the shows producers to do just that and until then I hope that they are reaching out to Rachel Frederickson and offering her the support she needs in whatever way she needs it.
Sara lives in LA. She'll be releasing a digital memoir called "Binge" about her eating disorder next month. Stay tuned for more.
This blog was previously published on Sara's Tumblr @sromeowhite