February 10th, 2014
11:03 AM ET

'The Biggest Loser': A Warning From Someone Who's Been There

This year, on the 15th season of NBC's weight-loss show "The Biggest Loser," Rachel Frederickson did exactly what the show producers, the celebrity trainers and the audience asked her to: She lost the most weight.

She lost so much weight, in fact, that many have decided she is now unhealthily thin. Jaws dropped at her final weigh-in. Social media exploded. At 5-foot-4 and 105 pounds, her body mass index is below what the National Institutes of Health considers healthy.

I won't speculate on her health. That's for a doctor to determine, and hopefully she's regularly seeing one. She says she's "never felt this great."

I think I know exactly how Rachel is feeling right now. In a word: intoxicated. And as I also know from experience, that intoxication can be deadly dangerous.

Growing up as a student of classical ballet, I floated in and out of all kinds of unhealthy eating disorders. I experimented with bulimia, starvation, laxatives and diet pills. Dancers knew plenty of terrible tricks. We'd eat carrots and use the bright orange to mark when to stop throwing up before all the nutrients and energy we needed to dance were expended. We ate tissue paper to feel full. We were caffeine addicts –some even snorted it. Many smoked cigarettes and a few did drugs.

Our unhealthy habits at Boston Ballet even led to a "Dateline" investigation in 1997, when a friend and fellow dancer died suddenly at 22. She weighed 93 pounds.

Not only did all of this make for very bad habits, but as an impressionable, insecure and developmentally immature adolescent girl, body issues were ingrained at the worst possible time, and when I was least equipped to deal with them.

My teen years were spent, irrationally, consumed with being too fat. There was depression. There were suicidal thoughts. There was therapy.

When I finally left ballet, I found relief in the normalcy of college. That relief turned to excitement when I found friends - and boyfriends - who thought I was pretty great, even without starving myself. And that excitement turned to empowerment when I found a career in writing that turned me on and didn't care what I looked like. I left body issues behind. I knew who I was.

Ironically, all that self-esteem spurred unexpected weight loss. I suddenly dropped 10, 15, 20 pounds without trying. I was eating healthily, working out occasionally, and enjoying my 20s. I'd never been happier. And then it happened.

The compliments, the attention, the looks on friends' faces who hadn't seen me in a few months - it was all euphoric. Watching the numbers on the scale tick backward, clothing sizes drop - I'd chased that feeling for so long as a teenager, and it was finally happening. And as the compliments turned to concern I grew even more determined to hold on to that euphoria, to keep the weight off and maybe drop a few more pounds.

If someone didn't mention my weight loss, I was despondent. What was once occasional exercise became compulsive working out. Eating healthy turned into not eating. Instead of going out with friends I preferred to stay in, so I could not eat in private.

I hadn't been trying to lose weight, didn't even think I needed to. But when it happened inadvertently the euphoria was so addicting, I didn't want it to stop.

The good news is, older, wiser and having beat body issues before, I knew I didn't want to get sucked back in to a dark and compulsive life controlled completely by my weight.

I made a decision to never return to those addictions, no matter how good they felt. I stopped the feverish workouts. I returned to normal eating. I saw my friends again.

Years later, I make daily decisions to strike a balance between being healthy and being obsessive. And if the choice is between being 10 pounds overweight and 10 pounds underweight, I choose over.

It hasn't been easy. I have a job on television now and the pressure to look good and stay thin is immense. I simply don't pay attention to it.

I was recently a bride, and unlike many women preparing to walk down the aisle, I refused to embark on some crazy crash diet to look my thinnest in a corset, though the temptation was there.

And I am sure that when I have children, I'll worry about losing baby weight like every other new mother does. But I will do all I can to obsess over my baby and not those stubborn remaining pounds.

I'll bet that Rachel Frederickson can relate to much of my story. I bet that when she was at her heaviest she was unhappy, and maybe even depressed. I bet she never thought she could look the way she wanted. I bet she fantasized about what it would be like to be thin.

And now I bet she is intoxicated by the attention she's gotten for losing so much weight, intoxicated by the rush of losing another pound, by the boost in energy she has from working out. And I bet she has vowed to herself never to gain the weight back, never to return to the previous her.

I just hope that in addition to weight loss and workout techniques, the trainers and doctors on the show have equipped her to deal with the addictive behaviors that can result from successfully getting in shape. I hope they've warned her about a mental anguish that can be just as dark as the one she felt as a heavier woman, and maybe even more dangerous. And I hope they've told her that despite the thrill of losing the most weight, she will not become a "loser" if she gains some back.

I'm proud of Rachel for getting healthy. And I hope she loves who she is. But the next year will be an important and potentially dangerous one for her, with addictive behaviors lurking around every corner. I just hope she's strong enough to avoid them.

Posted by
Filed under: News • Videos
February 10th, 2014
10:54 AM ET

Kenneth Bae Worried About His Health in North Korean Camp

Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American being held in North Korea, says he is worried about his health after authorities moved him back into a labor camp following a stay in a hospital.

"I know if I continue for the next several months here, I will probably be sent back to the hospital again," Bae says in a video of a conversation with a Swedish diplomat recorded Friday.

Footage of the conversation in the labor camp was released by Choson Sinbo, a pro-North Korean newspaper based in Japan that has been given access to Bae in the past.

Wearing a gray jacket with the prisoner number "103" marked on it, Bae tells the Swedish diplomat, Cecilia Anderberg, that he thinks he's already lost as much as 10 pounds in weight since he was transferred back to the camp a few weeks ago.

He expresses hope that North Korea will allow a U.S. envoy to visit for talks about his case.

But those hopes appeared to have been dashed over the weekend.

A State Department official said Sunday that North Korea had rescinded its invitation to the envoy, Ambassador Robert King, without giving a reason.

Hours later, the North's state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Donald Gregg had arrived in Pyongyang.

The brief KCNA report Monday didn't state the purpose of the visit by Gregg, the chairman of the Pacific Century Institute, a U.S. nonprofit group that aims to promote education, dialogue and research in the Pacific region.

Bae, of Lynwood, Washington, was arrested in November 2012 in Rason, along North Korea's northeastern coast. Pyongyang sentenced him last year to 15 years of hard labor, accusing him of planning to bring down the government through religious activities.

He is widely reported to have been carrying out Christian missionary work in North Korea.

Bae, 45, operated a China-based company specializing in tours of North Korea, according to his family, who have described him as a devout Christian.

He was transferred to a hospital last year after his health deteriorated. But last week the United States said he had been moved back to a labor camp, a development his family described as "devastating."

In the video, Bae asks the Swedish diplomat to tell his family that "I have not lost hope and have not given up anything."

But says he is concerned that if his situation isn't resolved soon, it could "drag on" for months longer. He notes that annual U.S.-South Korean military drills due to start later this month may deepen tensions in the region, as they did last year.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki on Sunday expressed disappointment that Ambassador Robert King's visit was called off and noted North Korea had said it wouldn't use Bae as a "political bargaining trip." It is the second time North Korea has canceled a planned visit by King.

Psaki said that the joint military exercises are "in no way linked to Mr. Bae's case."

North Korea has been urging the South not to take part in the drills - a call that Seoul and Washington have rejected.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, the U.S. civil rights leader, has offered, at the request of Bae's family, to "travel to Pyongyang on a humanitarian mission focused on Bae's release," Psaki said.

Posted by
Filed under: News • Videos • World News
February 10th, 2014
10:49 AM ET

Castaway Begins His Journey Home From Marshall Islands

When islanders first got a glimpse of Jose Salvador Alvarenga, they saw an extremely weak man wearing only tattered underwear.

On his battered boat, a live bird was tethered by its foot - narrowly missing becoming his next meal.

And as he recounted his story, faster than his rescuers could comprehend, Alvarenga ate like he hadn't had a full meal in months.

As crazy as it sounds, his tale just might be true after all.

New details from the day Alvarenga mysteriously turned up in the Marshall Islands appear to lend weight to his story of drifting across the Pacific Ocean for 13 months.

It was a rainy, windy day on Ebon, the atoll where Alvarenga was found January 30.

Mayor Ione deBrum was first alerted to the mysterious visitor when a boy biked to her office from the other side of the island. The boy had been dispatched by Amy Libokmeto and Russell Laikedrik - the islanders who first spotted Alvarenga, yelling and waving a knife from one island over.

Libokmeto motioned for him to drop the knife, and then the pair sprang into action, sending word to the mayor and providing Alvarenga with food, water and clean clothes, deBrum told CNN.

Alvarenga inhaled pancake after pancake as he and his rescuers communicated with each other using a mix of charades and hand-drawn pictures. DeBrum's son even helped translate the Salvadoran's story, using Spanish skills learned entirely from the animated children's series "Dora the Explorer."

The story was beyond belief for many.

Alvarenga said he set off in late 2012 from Mexico on what was supposed to be a one-day fishing expedition. But he and a teenage companion were blown off-course by northerly winds and then caught in a storm, eventually losing the use of their engines. They had no radio signal to report their plight, he said.

Alvarenga said that four weeks into their drift, his companion died of starvation because he refused to eat raw birds and turtles. Eventually, he threw the body overboard.

Alvarenga's claims have garnered widespread skepticism about how he could survive the more than 6,000-mile trek across the open ocean. But officials in the Marshall Islands have said repeatedly they have no reason to doubt the story.

After more than a week on the island, Alvarenga began his journey home Monday.

Plans for his repatriation to El Salvador were postponed last week after his health took a turn for the worse. But Marshall Islands Foreign Minister Phillip Muller said Monday that the castaway was in good health and ready to travel.

Alvarenga later boarded a flight that took off for Hawaii.

The flight from Amata Kabua International Airport is expected to arrive in Honolulu at 7.55 a.m. ET.

On Tuesday, Alvarenga is expected to eventually arrive in El Salvador.

February 10th, 2014
10:47 AM ET

Are Virginia Murders Related?

This morning, the town of Alexandria, Virginia, is mourning the death of a school teacher gunned down in her own home. Police say she answered a knock at her front door and was shot. It's not the first shooting death in this neighborhood and police haven't ruled out the possibility that other killings may be connected. CNN's Deborah Feyerick reports.

Posted by
Filed under: News • Videos
« older posts
newer posts »