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Controversy On The Biggest Loser Finale—Why It Matters

Mark Cornelison —  February 5, 2014 — 27 Comments

Biggestloser

Since the season finale of The Biggest Loser last night, when it appeared that the three finalists on the popular weight-loss show (and the overall winner) had not only dropped an unbelievable amount of weight, but may have ended up dangerously (and obviously, see above photo) under-weight, I’ve been answering emails and Facebook messages all morning. That’s because I was finalist on the show two years ago, and our “alumni” community is active and strong—I’m the resident BL expert for lots of people in my life. I love talking about my experience because it was life-changing, but what we saw last night was a big deal, and not in a good way.

The finale of The Biggest Loser is always special because it’s the last big “reveal” for these formerly obese contestants who’ve been going through an amazing process. The idea is to put your best foot forward and, if things go well, even win some money. A lot of money. This can be the pinnacle of inspiration, the pit of embarrassment, or something much worse. Unfortunately the “much worse” is becoming more the norm on the show. People who put their lives out there for a chance at regaining their health are losing sight of the real goal.

biggestloser_2I watched last night as some truly wonderful people showed that their journey to health had taken a detour towards fame and fortune. They forgot what really matters.

I completely get it; they wanted to win, plain and simple. It’s a game show. No one wants to think of it that way, but in the end the network is looking to make money. However, the way I see it, there are at least two major problems with this. One is the message that is sent to the fans of the show, and the other involves the mental state of the contestants…

The show’s finale said to America, and to everyone who struggles with their weight, that size equals health. So many people were raving about the amount of weight lost, even though the contestants were possibly not “healthy.” Herein lies the problem—the fans think, “If The Biggest Loser does it, then it must be okay.”

The other issue is that there is zero aftercare for contestants post-finale. Mentally, we all had to make a huge adjustment to head back to “reality,” but in this case you have people who have traded one food issue for another (too much for too little). They need continued help and, sadly, they won’t get it. The alumni try to support one another, but many times it’s the blind leading the blind. All we have going for us is that we have the shared experience of the show. It’s actually been an interesting opportunity for ministry, as each person realizes that their original hurt didn’t go away with the fat.

But isn’t this just a visual representation of what we all see everyday—a message that gets tainted and support that disappears? We have a goal—a desire for health (physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual) that we pursue. We start well, we even make great progress, but something happens along the way. I know there’s always a moment when I think I’ve got it. I can take it from here—and that’s where it starts to go wrong.

Jesus saw this in us, and that’s why He chose to walk with us. He wants to travel by our side to keep our eyes on the prize. I think about the guys on the road to Emmaus. They were walking and talking with Him, but didn’t realize who He was. They were so involved in talking ABOUT Jesus that they missed the fact that they were walking WITH Jesus. He chose to open their eyes at the perfect time to remind them that He was the message, and they were never alone. Their message was about Him, but it got lost because it didn’t include Him.

We’ve got to take note of this in our own journey. We must continually remind ourselves of the message, and know that support exists along the way—first in Christ and then in others. In a similar sense, people are watching us and are thinking, “If they do it, then it must be okay.”

It looks like the news stories revolving around the show will be around for awhile. But, like everything else in Hollywood, it will die down and people will be getting excited about another new season. I genuinely wonder if anything will change. Will they be more mindful of their message? Will they recognize a deeper need for continued support?

How about you? What can you do to keep the message in front of you? Who will you bring alongside to support you as well as keep your eyes on what really matters?

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Mark Cornelison is a longtime youth pastor and a finalist on The Biggest Loser. He is the author of the popular book Undressed (pictured right). He also leads a two-hour track at our Simply Youth Ministry Conference (March 7-10, 2014) called Living Healthy In an Unhealthy Culture. Read his bio below this article to learn more about Mark.

It’s not too late to join Mark at SYMC, where we offer an innovative early morning experience called SimplyFit for those who are interested in both their physical and spiritual health. It was a huge hit at last year’s event.

Mark Cornelison

Mark Cornelison

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Mark Cornelison went on The Biggest Loser, because he was ready to make the life changes necessary to get healthy. A former youth pastor of more than 17 years, Mark now works for VisionTrust International helping children in poverty around the world. He and his wife have also started SweatCor as a way to support others in their health journey. He is a regular contributor to Group Magazine and writes a popular blog through his SweatCor website at www.sweatcor.com.

27 responses to Controversy On The Biggest Loser Finale—Why It Matters

  1. Why would you publicly shame and embarrass your alumni…you don’t do it when they gane the weight, you don’t do it to the kid ambassadors that haven’t finished the journey. Nobody bashed Kim for being an alcoholic….be better than this…help them!

    • Mark Cornelison

      Hi Julie,

      Thank you for commenting! I want you to know that there was no intention of shaming or embarrassing my friends. These are fantastic people who, like myself, struggle with the blurred line between our health goal and the public eye. I assure we support each other deeply, we are not alum of a TV show, we are a family.

      God continues to bring opportunities to minister through this experience and so I would ask for your prayers as I still learn how to live with the change I’ve had, as I listen to Him and as I help others by pointing them towards Christ.

      Mark

    • Excuse me, where in this article did Mark bash anyone?????
      Correct me if I am wrong…..
      YOU brought up Kim and alcohol…………….and this is the 1st I have EVER heard about that.
      So why did YOU feel the need to bring that up???
      Your comment is confusing and UNNECESSARY.

    • First, the word you meant to use is ‘gain’. Gane means to gape or yawn. Second, this article is not shaming anyone. Please go look in the proverbial ‘mirror’ (in other words, look at yourself on the inside) if you feel that way and see why the article bothers you so much. The article is pointing out facts, using an example of a public event which included the alumni. The facts represented here are indeed facts, not picking on someone or bullying anyone.

  2. Great article and congratulations on your weight loss and lifestyle changes! I have never seen the show but I you are spot on. I think why most people fail is because of no accountability and no follow up plan. I also think people are duped into believing that if they achieve their goal, then it’s mission accomplished and they’re done. In reality, maintenance is forever, right? You have to keep things in check. And too much of a good thing can be bad. Prayers for all of us to walk in victory in Christ alone.

    • Mark Cornelison

      Thanks, CK,

      You’d be surprised how many times I get asked if I still have to workout and eat healthy. Sometimes people think the show is magic. My health is still a battle on many days, but thanks to my strength in Christ and a great support group I feel that I have my life back. I pray the same for all of us who travel this journey together!

      Mark

  3. Thank you for saying all of the above. Everything you’ve said is true…true…true… I became overweight many years ago, and lost it all of it, and looked GREAT. For awhile. But, as you said, losing the weight didn’t mean I lost the “hurt” that caused the weight. I found myself in a situation that caused even more hurt to myself, and others, because the underlying issues were never addressed. As a result, all the weight, and more, was added back on (I became morbidly obese). I’m in the process of trying to take the excess weight off, again, but I keep plateauing. I need to address the underlying cause, and with the LORD’s strength, help, and guidance lose the weight permanently, for the right reasons. And, keep it off…for the right reasons. Thank you.

  4. I appreciate your insight and comments, especially the reference to the road to Emmaus. I do have one significant issue with one of your comments, one that is common in the aftermath of the final episode: “So many people were raving about the amount of weight lost, even though the contestants were obviously not “healthy.” ” I am not sure how it is possible to judge someone’s true health by their appearance. I have participated in several runs in which trained runners run marathons and half-marathons. One thing that I have noticed about both the male and female winners is that they are really thin-appearing. Are they not healthy? I have an adult stepdaughter who has cystic fibrosis and often appears very skinny due to the effects of CF on her digestive system. Some might assume she’s anorexic. She’s not. She’s a hero who fights every day to be as healthy as she can be. Furthermore, some of us have naturally-thin frames. I am about 20 lbs from my target weight, on the low edge of overweight, but no one except my wife would know that I’ve put on that weight over the last year (I’m “skinny-fat). Ultimately, I think that it’s a mistake to make judgements on someone’s health based on appearance. It’s the wrong message to send to anyone. Our appearance does not tell the truth of us. Regardless of our shape, size, hair, or demeanor, we are lovable and worth it. Finally, I believe that a central message of Jesus’ ministry is to challenge us to see God, others, and ourselves as God does: in love through the heart. The appearance is often not the reality. The only way we can see the truth of God, ourselves, and others is through the lens of love. Relying on appearance doesn’t work. PS: I think Rachel is really healthy. I’m sure she’d kick my butt in a tri.

  5. Mark Cornelison

    Mary,

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. It is such a struggle for so many. I tell this to people all the time, but I had to take control of my health because I was in the public eye through the show. My inspiration comes from people like you who are doing something about it without anyone making you. You will get there. God has created you as a beautiful creation. Find confidence in Him. I love to share Philippians 1:6 with people, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it in the day of Christ Jesus.” You are being perfected through Christ’s work in you.

    Would love to continue to encourage you on your journey!
    Mark

  6. Look at the muscle tone the winner has gained, how dare you say she’s at an unhealthy weight with the clear hard work she put to get her life back. I have a friend who went thru the surgery and lost 185#’s are you going to tell me that she is unhealthy at her size zero also. The dedication and commitment each person taking on this journey makes is a choice they make in their life. A person doesn’t lose that amount of weight without a change in their mindset and a choice they made to make their life better. We all have our own battles we are fighting each and every day. Biggest Loser is a show that inspires others to take control of their life now. I applaud the winner and all the other contestants as they are all winners as they have taken the step in the right direction to improve their health and share their journey with us..

  7. Oh and by the way
    GREAT article Mark!!!
    Keep up all of your hard work!!!!

  8. As another FB friend of mine pointed out, it is just as bad to shame someone for being too thin as it is to shame them for being too fat. I think the negative message is actually coming from those, like this blog’s author, who are not pleased with the winner when she’s big or when she’s small. I definitely see his point, though, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find her alarming skinny when I watched. But I don’t have any first hand knowledge of how healthy she is. I do know though, that when someone loses that much weight quickly, they tend to have some sagging skin and can look gaunt. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are unhealthy.
    When the author revealed he was a pastor and started preaching about God half way through, it made me really sad. He’s passing judgments. Typical. He doesn’t know first hand if they are unhealthy or not, so in my opinion his blog is an attempt to put himself above others.

    • Mark Cornelison

      Hi Kenton,

      Thank you for your thoughts. I want to say that I was not shaming anyone. As a former contestant I understand the struggle of being visible while addressing a very important part of life. The alum always support one another, so I apologize if it seemed like I was saying otherwise.

      As far as my preaching is concerned, I am no better than anyone on the show or off. My strength to keep on comes from my faith in Christ. I admit I need help and I can confidently say He provides it. I’m not above anyone; I’m simply just another person hoping to connect and love others in the journey.

      Again thank you for sharing your impressions of the article with me.
      Mark

      • Mark, I remember when you won BL. I have watched since the first season and have supported the show while realizing that it IS TV and is not perfect nor ideal, but that it gives inspiration to millions of people while shedding light on the obesity problem in our country. I was shocked to see Rachel looking underweight as was my husband. I respect your opinion very much because you have DONE this show and are in communication with a community of alumni and most readers of this blog are completely out of that circle of perspective. Also, you are speaking from a place of humility that is rarely seen and that I perceive as completely genuine. Thank you for your concern and insights into this real problem that involves people we care about and that is rising to epidemic proportions among our youth. It needs to be addressed and what better way than by someone with your credibility and non-judgemental spirit. I don’t know you personally but God bless you!

        • Mark Cornelison

          Hey Jody,

          Thanks for your words of encouragement. I will say things need to change on the show for the sake of health and proper focus. However, I think it is still necessary as it is what God used to get me where I needed to be and is such an inspiration for millions of people. I have loved the open doors to connect with people, hear stories, and the opportunities to share the love/acceptance of Christ. The show has been the very thing God used to make this possible for me.

          I so appreciate your kind words. Thanks for posting.
          Mark

  9. Mark,
    I read your article and the comments and responses to it and I am not sure how to take everything you have said. I have lost 60 lbs, dropped from a size 16 to a size 2, work out regularly, run marathons, eat clean and also in the ministry in a very public way. When I was losing my weight people within the church would tell me ALL the time how “unhealthy” and thin I looked. To the point I was so worried I went to my doctor to run basic blood work and do a physical again to make sure. His diagnosis of me was that I was one of the healthiest people he knows and to ignore all the others trying to give me “health” advice. From the ministry aspect of all this, I find it very passive aggressive to keep throwing out all these scripture references to back yourself up when you are disagreed with. Most people that have gained weight and taken control enough to lose it in a big way need to be lifted up and encouraged because most times the weight was put on due to an underlying insecurity. The insecurity doesn’t go away bc they are “skinny”. It is something they battle everyday! I hope that the words you wrote don’t feed into more insecurities she may already have. And as a minister, I would hope you would consider that next time.

    • Mark Cornelison

      Hey Kimberly,

      Thank you for your comment and congratulations on all your hard work! I completely agree with you in that what we look like is not an indicator of our health. My words were simply from experience of having been on the show and to say there are underlying issues that matter more.

      I guess I didn’t see where I threw out scripture to back up where I was disagreed with. The story I referred to impacted me and exposed some of my struggle with health; not holding on to the goal/message and not recognizing or utilizing support. Lots of us on this journey have felt these issues and so the story connects our physical struggles to one that is spiritual as well.

      Again I appreciate you taking time to share. Wishing you the best on your continued journey!
      Mark

  10. Kevin Patterson February 6, 2014 at 6:47 pm

    Mark, you post in my opinion was spot on. First, as a person who has watched Biggest Loser from episode 1 anyone who thinks that this ‘shocking’ weightloss was not about the money and was about health is blind. Rachel would have stopped around 130-140 if it was about health, I’m not saying she’s not healthy but people there is a vast difference in fitness and health. You can run all the marathons in the world and not be healthy. I know a marathoner who had a heart attack on the course due to a blockage brought on by his diet. I’m sure she is fit, and please don’t think I’m bashing her for being underweight I’m not, but she is certainly underweight. Sure there are things that can cause it, cystic fibrosis etc, but I doubt she had that and was overweight at the beginning, else wise she would have been skinny.
    I participated in a weightloss competition that was originally hosted on the blog but is now elsewhere. At first it was about losing weight and breaking the fat youth minister stereotype. Then after I got into the top three it became about winning. My original goal was 195. At my height 190 was in my healthy range. When it was all said and done I weighed 175. I looked terrible, oh I was fit, I was running around 13 miles every Sunday before church. But even I knew I looked bad. Oh I took third in the competition and won the prizes I was competing for but I took my eye off of what mattered my health. What does this have to do with it? I’m right back to where I started, 40 lbs overweight. I didn’t keep the main thing the main thing.
    My question is, how much weight would she have lost had it not been for the money? Want to see it become interesting. Let the twist be that this season there is no prize money. See what the weight loss is, then surprise them at the finale with a prize.
    Great post Mark!

  11. Mark thank you for this blog. Reaching others and serving them for God’s purpose is your absolute calling. I am so proud to call you my friend and brother in Christ. My heart has ached over the past 2 days. I have felt guilt and convicted. As I am the ONE contestant on the show that suffered such negligence and almost lost my life. I wake up with dreams hearing the producer saying “NO keep filming as I am crawling in sand”. I chose not to sue them because I knew the impact it could have had on so many fans that watch. I did not sue them out of respect for the good people that came into my life during the show and after. I did not sue them because God had not led me to do so. I have felt guilt of I could have stopped the madness that seems to be on going. I could have done something for everyone involved to have after care for all. There is a part of me each day that feels I should have done something to hold them accountable. I am thankful to be filled by the Holy Spirit and he has given me control and balance in my life. I love our BL alumni and am so thankful we have one another. I cherish the friendships and hold them very close to my heart. Danny Cahill and I chatted this morning as I was driving he has the gift of discernment he knew and understood as I needed to cry a few tears. All current contestants will need all of us and we will have them apart of our lives very soon. My prayers have covered them constantly as I covered you as well when you were a contestant. Love in Christ Tracey Yukich Season 8 Biggest Loser

    • Mark Cornelison

      Tracey,

      You are a great friend and a wonderful sister in Christ. An important part of this journey for everyone is to find those who understand and can support/love as we push forward. We need one another and I am so thankful for you as well as the rest of my BL family.

      In Christ,
      Mark

  12. I continue to read multiple articles about how she is too thin…..before the television show everyone would have said she is too fat. What concerns me the most is the unrealistic weight loss for those who are overweight. From what I have read she lost 155 pounds in 6 months….24 weeks. The weight lost would average almost a pound a day. In brief summary, 3500 calaries burned a day OVER what is consumed. Are we too assume she exercises about 8 hours a day and eats 1500 calories???? With those battling weight problems should understand realistically what is achievable. BUT that would not make good television. Very few of us can work out all day…some of us have to work, get kids to school, and actually live a life….but hopefully everyone can eat better…move more….and live healthier. Losing 5 lbs a month is a good thing and should not be view as a failure!!!!!!!! No money or competition…..just your life.

  13. Look at the muscle tone the winner has gained,and the fact that for her 5’4 height she’s right inside health departments healthy BMI. It is just as hurtful to attack someone for being thin as it is for being overweight. I admire that you are a youth pastor but aren’t we supposed to uplift each other. Doesn’t Psalms talk about this, and that gossip is evil and considered witchery?

  14. I don’t know Rachel’s height, but I think it is very possible she is within a healthy weight category. I am very happy for all those that are taking back their health, but many of those that were participants are still over weight and obese. They’ve made great progress, but still have a ways to go. Of course those in a good weight bracket are going to look dramatic compared to those who are still over weight/obese. The problem is that Obesity is now such a problem that Americans no longer understand what healthy looks like. We saw that with some BL partipants who’s family or friends told them they were normal and wouldn’t make it on the BL. So if normal now is a person who can easily be a BL contestant what must they think of a person in good health? I hope bad press won’t deminish all the good the BL has done for those on the show as well as those of us doing it at home by exercise and eating right. Perhaps they need to have a session on establishing a good BMI, and look at a goal weight for each person based on sex, age, body type, height etc. Then there wouldn’t be any shock when someone reaches it. Just a thought.

  15. I too, was shocked at how she looked at the finale, but when the show ended and the final contestants went home, she looked nothing like she did at the finale! She obviously has some emotional baggage, which I believe involves her father ( in reviewing the meeting with her parents after the makeover), to gain his acceptance for her appearance. She had been a competitive swimmer in her younger years, and for whatever reason(s), she stopped swimming and became morbidly obese.

    What she did after she left the “ranch” was her choice…and she obviously took it to the extreme.

  16. You are spot on with your article! I have seen many debates about this, and yours was by far the most correct! I am 19 and have struggled with my weight my entire life. I’ve done every fad diet you can even think of. I watched the biggest loser and thought, if they can do this, so can I! My dream was to join the United States Marine Corps. When I decided to join, I had to lose 150 pounds to make the weight requirement. At age 16, I finally had enough. I put down the fork and signed up for a gym membership. Exactly one year later, I was at my goal weight. The Marine’s told me that before I could sign my papers, I had to gain 15 pounds, because I looked unhealthy. Talk about a slap in the face! So I went to the gym and gained muscle instead of gaining fat. My body would only let me gain about 5 more pounds of muscle. So I pleaded with them to just let me join. About a month later, I signed my enlistment papers. So reading this article made me not feel alone. It made me feel good to finally read an article from a Christian stance. Thank you so much for such an amazing article. I don’t know how I found it, but I will definitely be looking for more of your articles! Thank you!

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