In the wake of The Biggest Loser‘s controversial finale last Tuesday, on which winner Rachel Frederickson revealed she had lost a whopping 155 lbs. – including 45 lbs. in the past three months alone – questions have been raised about the NBC show’s approach to weight loss.
PEOPLE asked experts in health, fitness and public relations to weigh in on how The Biggest Loser can be improved for future contestants.
1. Set limits on how much contestants can lose.
Producers “should quickly put measures into place to ensure [excessive weight loss] doesn’t happen again,” says crisis public relations specialist Jesse Derris, CEO of Derris & Company. “And [NBC] should publicly announce those measures and commit to an education campaign that promotes balanced, healthy living.”
2. Slow down the weight loss.
“It’s impossible to lose more than 2 lbs. of fat per week, so then you’re losing muscle tissue,” says Laura Gideon, an L.A.-based exercise therapist and physiologist. For Frederickson, who’s 5’4″, to go from 150 lbs. to 105 lbs. in three-and-a-half months “is very dangerous,” says Gideon. “She really could mess up her thyroid, her adrenals, her metabolism.”
Adds celebrity fitness trainer Harley Pasternak: “I think the show gives an obese person a false sense that they can lose that much weight that quickly, safely. Because you can’t.”
3. Scale down the intensity of the workouts.
“When you’re having 300-, 400-lb. people in the first several weeks [of training] running stadium stairs, that’s insane,” Gideon says of the show’s rigorous workouts. Instead she advises a slower, more gradual approach. “They have to understand how to strengthen their core, how to properly align their body so they don’t get hurt when they start to do more intense exercise. Your body needs to adjust to all of this new movement that you’re giving it so you don’t get hurt.”
Pasternak also worries about the take-home message the workouts sends to viewers. “It gives them a false sense of what you need to do to lose weight,” he says. “I don’t think you need to be flipping giant tractor tires and having obstacle courses. Weight loss is not a competitive thing.”
4. Provide long-term support to former contestants.
“Send them home and then what? How do they not gain all this weight back?” says Pasternak, noting that the contestants’ isolated time on the Biggest Loser ranch does not mirror real life.
Away from the show, “You need a village,” says Gideon. “Ninety percent of losing weight is changing behavior, getting to the root of the problem and understanding why the pounds got put on.”
• Reporting by MELODY CHIU, SHARON COTLIAR and RAHA LEWIS