She shed 155 pounds and gained $250,000 by winning the 15th season of “The Biggest Loser,” but there’s one result of extreme weight loss that Rachel Frederickson may not have bargained for: the barrage of vocal critics, who have called her newly thin self “anorexic” and “disturbing.” While the 24-year-old admits that she may have been “a little too enthusiastic” with her workouts, she maintains that she’s both “confident” and “very, very healthy.” But is she happy?
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It may be too soon to tell. But the harsh public reactions she’s faced thus far have served to shine a spotlight on what can be unexpected results of dropping a serious amount of weight, including the jarring realization that shedding those pounds may not be the panacea you’ve been longing for.
“When it comes to obesity, we often look at the disease as a cosmetic thing,” James Zerrios, spokesperson for the Obesity Action Coalition, tells Yahoo Shine. “But there’s often a psychological aspect that’s underlying somewhere, and just because somebody’s lost the weight doesn’t mean the underlying issues are gone.”
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Sometimes, he explains, relationships can begin to fray — especially if one person in a couple has lost a lot of weight while the other has not, leading to resentment, jealousy, or even a sense of loss. “‘The Biggest Loser’ did cause my wife some apprehensions,” Season 8 winner Danny Cahill tells Yahoo Shine. “She was afraid I would possibly leave her.” Luckily, he adds, he anticipated her worry and set her at ease right away, asking her to renew their vows on camera after the show wrapped.
Other newly thin people, Zerrios notes, will start to notice how the world reacts differently to them, which can be upsetting rather than exciting. “A lot of times women will say, ‘I can’t believe men hold the door open for me now,’” he says. “And then they’ll say, ‘What was wrong with me before? Was I not human?’”
That closely describes some of the hurt feelings of New York writer and vegan activist Jasmin Singer, who wrote about how losing 100 pounds changed her life in a January essay for MindBodyGreen. “Don’t get me wrong. Losing the weight that had plagued both my knees and my spirit for so long was an important accomplishment for me, something I’d been desperately longing for since I was a kid,” she writes, explaining all of the changes that go along with transforming yourself from 221 pounds (with a litany of medical problems) to a fit and healthy marathoner who even appeared on "The Dr. Oz Show" to talk about her weight-loss journey. Still, the new behavior of those around her — men enthusiastically holding open doors, women giving unsolicited compliments about an item of clothing she was wearing — left her both “gobsmacked” and “furious.”
“As a fat person, I had recognized that I was a victim of an unfair, unjust society,” she writes. And though she’s grown to like the warmth that she now experiences –– “savor” it, even –– the lesson has been a tough one. “I still am and always will be a fat girl, with a fat girl’s awareness that the world is not nearly as nice as it sometimes seems right now.”
Jen Larsen touched on similar issues in her 2013 memoir, “Stranger Here,” in which she delves into how her life was changed — mostly for the better — after weight-loss surgery helped her go from 308 to 168 pounds. But when self-acceptance didn’t come automatically, it sent her into emotional turmoil and left her feeling as if she’d lost her sense of identity, especially after she’d spent years believing that being thin and being happy were always entwined. "I realized I was depressed," she told the San Francisco Chronicle last March about her post-surgery epiphany, "and even though I was way thinner, I was in no way happier."
The same goes for countless others who have lost lots of weight, including Harvard grad student John Janetzko, who said in a November New York magazine interview that losing 120 pounds had actually left him with a sense of disappointment. "I haven't spoken to a single person who lost a ton of weight and didn't have some issues with their eating habits or body image after it was done," he said. "And I'm pretty sure if you asked them at the beginning, they all thought that it would just be magic, and they would feel better automatically when they lost the weight."
Still, those who have shed their old bodies admit that while finding happiness is indeed within reach, it might take a bit more time and work to get there than they’d initially believed. “I think the most challenging thing since losing the weight is finding balance in everyday life,” Olivia Ward, winner of “The Biggest Loser” Season 11, tells Yahoo Shine. “Now that I have been in maintenance for a few years, I have found a healthy balance between exercise and life, but that took time and trial and error. I'm proud of where I am today, and so excited about the road ahead — and I can honestly say that most of my life I didn't feel that way.”
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