Did Helen Get Too Skinny? A Biggest Loser Nutrition Perspective

During the Finale Episode for Season 7 of The Biggest Loser we continued to watch the weight loss and transformations in awe. These contestants, who broke records on set starting with Day 1, lost a combined total of 2763 lbs in 18 weeks! On average, contestants lost 37.2% of their body weight, decreasing their risk of diabetes and heart disease. According to Dr. Huizenga (MD on set), each one of them added years to their lives.

The winner was selected based off of “percentage of body weight lost”. At age 63, Jerry was named the At-Home champion, after losing 47.97% of his body weight (177 lbs) – with only two weeks on the ranch! At age 48, Helen was the Season 7 WINNER, after shedding more than half of her body weight (54.47%, 140 lbs) and showing up at a mere 117 lbs.

I was shocked at that low weight. She looked tired to me and a little weak. But when she got on that scale and threw that number, I could not believe it. I ran to my BMI calculator to crunch the numbers… just as I suspected! Her BMI was only 18.9 — at risk of underweight (as in malnutrition underweight) – anything under 18.5 is underweight. Helen is dangerously close to that category… combined with her apparent weakness and lackluster energy, it looks like she went to unrealistic desperate measures at home to win some cash – a big letdown for me because I love the positive inspirations the show can provide. Turns out she hired three personal trainers, worked out 6 hours a day, ate meticulously and hid from friends until the finale. Yeah, not what I’d call normal by any stretch.

What if the contest was judged differently? What if it was based off of the change in each person’s Body Mass Index (BMI)?

Let’s take a look at some different numbers….

Contestant: Starting BMI*Ending BMI (classification) = ____
*note that EVERY contestant’s (except Mandi and Estella) starting BMI falls under the category of Extreme/Morbird Obesity (+40).

Helen: 41.2 (Morbid Obesity Range)- 18.9 (Normal – at risk for underweight) = 22.3

Mike: 54.1 (Morbid Obesity Range) – 25.2 (Borderline-Overweight) = 28.9

Tara: 43.4 (Morbid Obesity Range) – 20.5 (Normal) = 22.9
Jerry: 46.1 (Morbid Obesity Range) – 24 (Normal) = 22.1
Kristin: 58.1 (Morbid Obesity Range) – 31.1 (Obesity, Class I Range) = 27
Nicole: 41.5 (Morbid Obesity Range)- 22.5 (Normal) = 19

Ron: 58.2 (Morbid Obesity Range)- 32.3 (Obesity, Class I Range) = 26

Sione: 50.4 (Morbid Obesity Range)- 30.6 (Obesity, Class I Range) = 19.8
Dane: 50.1 (Morbid Obesity Range)- 31.4 (Obesity, Class I Range) = 18.7
Filipe: 50.8 (Morbid Obesity Range) – 31.9 (Obesity, Class I Range) = 18.9
Damien: 53.1 (Morbid Obesity Range) – 34.2 (Obesity, Class I Range) = 18.9

Daniel: 69 (Morbid Obesity Range) – 44.5 (Morbid Obesity Range) = 24.5

Mandi: 38.8 (Obesity Class II Range) – 25.2 (Borderline-Overweightl) = 13.6
Estella: 36.8 (Obesity Class II Range) – 24.2 (Normal) = 12.6
Carla: 57.6 (Morbid Obesity Range)- 38.2 (Obesity, Class II Range) = 19.4
Shanon: 47.1 (Morbid Obesity Range)- 31.8 (Obesity, Class I Range) = 15.3
Cathy: 44.5 (Morbid Obesity Range)- 30.1 (Obesity, Class I Range) = 14.4
Blaine: 40.1 (Morbid Obesity Range)- 27.4 (Overweight) = 12.7
Laura: 42.1 (Morbid Obesity Range) – 29.4 (Overweight) = 12.7
Joelle: 47.7 (Morbid Obesity Range) – 35.2 (Obesity, Class II Range) = 12.4
Aubrey: 41.4 (Morbid Obesity Range) – 32.3 (Obesity, Class I Range) = 9.1
David: 53.3 (Morbid Obesity Range)- 47.5 (Morbid Obesity Range) = 5.8

**Helen’s new weight places her a mere 0.4 points away from being classified as Underweight.

Notice the three biggest changes – Mike, Ron, and Daniel! Followed by Tara, then Helen and Jerry. (Actually, Helen should get last place for getting so close to underweight… that is a polar opposite of unhealthy she was facing 16 weeks ago, but nevertheless it is still unhealthy.)

While using BMI is Not a fool-proof way to decide if someone is normal/overweight/obese, it does provide a representation of weight for height. In many institutions (including most hospitals), it is still used as the standard for weight classifications.

From a Dietitian’s perspective of the top 3 Finalists, Mike and Tara looked much healthier and stronger. According to NBC’s Biggest Loser website (Contestant Bios), this was the amount each finalist lost between leaving the ranch and returning for the Finale only 4 weeks later:

Tara: 20 lbs
Mike: 33 lbs
Helen: 30 lbs

Considering her much smaller frame and stature, Helen’s dramatic loss raises concern. As does her new BMI of 18.9. This is not to deter from her overall weight loss success, just to point out that the other end of the spectrum (not weighing enough) can also be harmful to your health!

In short, weight loss is more than just numbers and percentages. It’s much more than restricting a diet or putting in countless hours in a gym. Achieving a healthy weight through an active lifestyle and a diet full of nutrient-rich foods should be your goal. Keep your body at it’s best; this is a choice you can make every day.

There is no question that The Biggest Loser is a fantasy land. It is their full time job to exercise (6 hours a day) and learn how to eat healthy (calories determined by dietitian Cheryl Forberg). But I think that this shows that moderate reductions in total pounds can have a big impact on your health.

If you are one to get discouraged by the show, maybe this will help you look at it differently. As for Helen, I doubt she can maintain it. I hope people don’t encourge her to. She needs to get back into a normal routine and adjust to the real world. I think she had the chance to be a role model, but I think last night ruined that. The social media scence was abuzz saying she looked like “skeletor” (see:Entertainment Weekly). Hopefully she will let her body find a happy health point so she can enjoy a balanced, healthy life.

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18 Responses

  1. [...] Read more: Did Helen Get Too Skinny? A Biggest Loser Nutrition Perspective … [...]

  2. Rebecca,

    Thank you for posting this. I’m obese and I watch the Biggest Loser show for inspiration, information, and tips so I can change my life. I could tell Helen looked a little too thin and I think it was wrong of her to risk her health for the grand prize. You can’t assign a dollar amount to one’s health. I’m also angry that Tara got robbed. She played by the rules — getting healthy i.e. physically fit. I hope the show makes changes so that a contestant doesn’t “game” the contest like Helen did.

  3. Rachel, I hear ya! I think Mike and Tara went home to a supportive healthy environment and Helen went home to win. To lose 9 pounds a week at home, when she did not lose at that rate on the show is a clear sign of extreme measures. Unfortunately some of the contestants have not realized the real prize is health. Helen had the potential to be a role model for 40+ women, but I don’t know how anyone can look up to or endorse her desperate actions at home. I do hope she finds some normalcy. It can’t be easy adjusting from reality tv to…. Well, reality!

  4. Hey Rebecca! Thanks for crunching these numbers – this is a VERY interesting perspective that I had never thought of. I couldn’t agree with you more.

  5. These are VERY interesting points you make. I actually fell asleep during the show and was shocked to find out the next morning on the Today Show that Helen had won! I thought Tara was a definite. But something struck me in Helen’s interview with Jillian by her side, on the Today Show. Al Roker asked how she managed at home and Jillian said something to the effect of how she had some “secret” weapons for dieting that Helen used. She then went on to talk about her book. That comment made me go to google Jillian’s book and her “hormone secrets.” I actually was going to go out and buy it based on the success Helen had with these “secrets.” Then I read the review of others who purchased it and decided against it.

    Regardless, I do wish th eBL would give more focus to the mindless, emotional eating people like me (and I’m quite certain many others) do. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at the fact that watching the BL has me reaching for the chips and cookies every time.

    Thanks for trying to keep things in perspective with your site.

  6. Excellent observations! A few mothers and I were talking about this very topic recently at my son’s baseball game. We were all quite shocked at Helen’s overall weight loss and several of us commented on how she was too thin. My concern is that people will feel like they need to take desperate measures to lose weight. I like what BL does for people but the “average” person needs to realize that the results are not typical – the contestants are put in an isolated space where they are able to work out for 6+ hours per day, that is just not realistic in the real world. I worry that the contestants will not be able to sustain such a serious regiment while at home.

  7. Agree 100% it is easy to “dismiss” the benefits of lifestyle change if “the average person” is pushed to think that results are unattainable… why bother. The message needs to be about long-term wellness.

    Evidently she was weighed in before the finale and she had already started gaining again.

    It was all about the money and I just don’t think it is worth risking your health doing something so dramatic. I can understand it is a competition so it is a tough call to judge her for playing a game she was asked to play.

    But perception is reality and a lot of people are put off by the dramatic and unsafe end result.

  8. BMI is not an accurate measure of someone’s “fitness”. BMI is nothing but a ratio. It takes nothing into account about a person’s build, their muscle mass, their percentage of body fat.

    If you measured the BMI of the worlds most fit professional athletes, about 75% of them would be considered obese.

    While I agree Helen did not deserve to win and she played dirty. They can’t judge the contestants on BMI. It just is not an accurate number. It’s merely a generic ratio meant to be used as a guide.

    There is really no other way to determine who wins on the show besides % of weight lost. BMI would penalize men as they have more muscle mass and muscle weighs more than fat. Percentage of body fat would penalize women as we have a higher percentage of body fat so naturally will have more and will be able to lose less.

    Maybe a change of rules is in order that the finalists all have to abide by the same conditions once home. No trainers. Getting piss tested for diet pills and testing to make sure they are staying normally hyrdrated. The other alternative is a seperate show for men v women but then that would just be no fun.

    • Valerie –

      thanks for your comment… I agree with everything!

      The point of showing BMI was not so much to suggest a show change, but rather to demonstrate the significance of her dramatic, excessive weight loss. She was obviously muscular AND a very low BMI, to the point where malnutrition and dehydration is a concern. I have clients who are at her BMI and weight and have lost their periods!

      Also compared to other contestants, her BMI was significantly lower.

      I think for the first time Helen’s changes were noticeable to the masses so I was offering another way of explaining things.

  9. BMI doesn’t work as a measure of success either. Arnold Schwarzenegger at his most fit would have an obese BMI. I think the best would be for NBC to assess the winner by the percentage of FAT lost and not by the percentage of BODY WEIGHT lost. that way folks with more muscle are not penalized (both mike and tara had more muscle than helen). basically, mike easily could have 5 more lbs of muscle than helen, probably more like 15+ more lbs, and if you just took the fat loss percentage i doubt helen would have won. this is not anti-helen, just anti-fat. i don’t care about body weight loss (because you can be the same weight but lose 10 lbs of fat and gain 10 lbs of muscle and that’s good), i want to know how much pure fat was lost.

    hopefully they’ll make it more fair for both genders and just focus on fat loss percentage. take the fat percentage at the beginning of the show and again at the end. heck, do it every week for those weigh-ins too. then we’ll see that when folks plateau on the body weight method, they’re probably losing fat and gaining muscle.

    the bottom line is fat, not body weight. BMI still focuses on that too which is why I think it’s not the best choice.

    • The only thing with percentage of fat lost is that if a man and a woman started the show with an equal percetnage of body fat… the man has the potential and ability to lose much more of that body fat than a woman does.

      A healthy percentage of body fat for a man is between 13-17%. For a woman it’s 20-27%. So if two contestants start out with 50% body fat which is extremely high. That man can surely lose more than 50% of that, while the woman can barely reach 50%. It’s slanting the game towards the men.

      I think it’s important for all of us to remember that this is just a TV show. It’s a game. I’m sure if you asked any of the losing contestants, they would all tell you that getting healthy was worth far more to them than winning the money. Sure the prize system is a bit flawed but the money is really just the icing on the cake.

      • Yeah I think the pros of the show outweigh the cons… I just found it interesting as a numbers person to look at BMI as well as give a response to people who were shocked at Helen saying she took it too far and looked like skeletor.

        If she was a client of mine with that weight history in 16 weeks and that close to underweight from BMI, I’d be screening for malnutrition and disordered eating.

        Here’s hoping she finds “normal” now that she won. She could have been such a good role model for women over 40 and I don’t think she is now.

        Rebecca

  10. I agree that Helen looked too thin, and I thought her movements and the way she would stand seemed, “off” to me. I wasn’t able to put my finger on it, however.

    Being a person who has lost over 100lbs on my own over the years and a HUGE Biggest Loser fan, I was VERY displeased with the outcome of this season. Tara and Mike are what I image as “The Biggest Loser.” Healthy, Strong. REAL!

    I think this issue needs to be addressed for next season, otherwise the show will lose credibility, at least in my eyes.

    -Bob

  11. So Helen was “almost underweight”? Is this like the proverbial “almost pregnant”? And hiring trainers for four weeks at home to emulate the experience of working with trainers for a couple months on the show was cheating? How? Because Tara or Mike “deserved” to win more?

    People, Helen played by the rules and won $250K, which now gives her all kinds of options for finding a healthy lifestyle that works for her post-TBL. Plus, she IS a role model and will have plenty of opportunities to inspire others… despite the fact that Tara won all the challenges and that Mike is still borderline overweight but looks like a happy and healthy teenager for the first time in his life. Those two have and will continue to inspire as well.

    I myself was obese nearly four years ago and went on a very strict and mercenary macrobiotic diet to support both my parents, who went on the diet to combat cancer. And though I was getting 1800 calories a day in bulk form and all the other nutrients I needed, I lost 45 lbs. in three months, including muscle weight because I didn’t do any additional exercise. When I went off the diet, I wasn’t exactly healthy, but I learned a valuable lesson: I didn’t want to be fat anymore. So I took up cycling in a big way and am now the very picture of health.

    Helen won $250K within the rules of the game, and was not underweight by the BMI definition — she just looked shockingly thin compared to what we all had seen the previous week. Her eating and exercise habits will surely change now to reflect reality.

    Don’t hate her because she won.

    • I was really pushing for Tara to win and I couldnt stand Helen but I agree with Howard that Helen won fair and square.

      As far as Helen hiring a trainer goes? Ummm.. I’m pretty sure all the contestants did that. I know for a fact that Tara hid out in South Carolina between the end of taping and the finale and yes she did work with a personal trainer. The trainer is more than happy to tell you all about it if you want to ask him.

      http://www.myspace.com/bodybydj

  12. I agree that Helen won fairly according to the rules, as Howard has said. But I do want to clarify the “almost underweight” — yes you can be borderline underweight so it is not like “almost pregnant”.

    I have had clients who lost their periods at her BMI and suffered other issues with muscle cramping and dehydration.

    I’m sure she doesn’t plan to maintain 6 hrs/day workouts and strict dieting… who would want to do that? Think of all the oxidation that exercise is creating.

    Just because a little is good, more is not better and that’s my point!

    The real world eventually catches up. It’s just important to remember that being healthy is about enjoying life, reducing stress, having fun with exercise and food, and finding balance in your well-being.

    Rebecca

  13. Helen did indeed look to thin, and yes she did win her fair share of the money. However, in hopes that malnutrition does not catch up to her in months or in her later years from now.

    Granted, I do admire her for her hard work and effort she put into all of this. WOW, she can definately be a role model to not only people of her age, but in all ages as well. WOW!

  14. I agree, she does indeed look a bit weak, but I mean… I have seen that BMI can be very hard to go after. My BMI is around 17, and that doesn’t mean that I am not healthy. My mom’s BMI is around 16, and if she’d been famous in some way, the magazines would LOVE to speculate around her anorexia or anything. But I guess we are a bit extreme aswell, and the dangers for Helen is that she has lost so much weight in a vey short time, maybe that can be bad for you. But her weight itself is not that bad I believe. Her body will just need time to get used to it, if she’s able to keep that weight.

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