The Biggest Loser is so bad for its contestants, the millions who watch the show, and the culture in general. A former contestant can attest to this better than anyone.
Season 3 Biggest Loser finalist Kai Hibbard and I spoke on the phone about her experiences on The Biggest Loser. From seeing her fellow contestants forced to workout with injuries against doctor's orders, to the extreme dehydration prior to weigh-ins, to the resultant eating disorder that Kai still is working to heal, the story she told was nothing like the fantasy that the Biggest Loser seeks to promote.
Kai on The Biggest Loser's diet and exercise program:
"Unfortunately, what they're telling you the contestants are doing and what they actually have the contestants doing are two different things, at least as far as my season goes. We were working out anywhere between 2 and 5 hours a day, and we were working out severely injured. There's absolutely no reason to work a 270 pound girl out so hard that she pukes the first time you bring in a gym. That was entirely for good tv.
"There was a registered dietician that was supposed to be helping [the contestants at the ranch] as well... But every time she tried to give us advice . . . the crew or production would step in and tell us that we were not to listen to anybody except our trainers. And my trainer's a nice person, but I have no idea what she had for a nutritional background at all."
On how the trainers and producers overrode the show's doctors:
"The doctor had taken our blood and tested us and sent us a solution, I don't know exactly what it was but it was salty, so I'm assuming that our electrolytes were off. And when the trainers found out we were taking it, they told us under no certain terms were we to be taking that, because it would make us retain water and gain weight on the scale and we'd have to go home. The doctors had ordered us to take it and the trainers were like, ‘throw it out, right now.' There was this interference between the people who were actually probably trying to get us healthy from the people who wanted a good television show."
On the show's low-calorie diet and her subsequent eating disorder:
"I think when I was on the actual ranch we were eating between 1,000 and 1,200 calories a day, I'm not certain. The thing is, it got worse when I got home... I would get e-mails constantly from the producers: ‘what have you done today?' ‘are you working out enough?' It was just always, always, always. At that point, [I had] all the pressure on me, and [I was] trying to do right by what I had been told is the best thing to ever happen to me. And they would tell you all the time, ‘200,000 other fat girls were in line right behind you. How dare you waste this experience? How dare you let anybody down?'
"So I got to a point where I was only eating about 1,000 calories a day and I was working out between 5 and 8 hours a day. . . . And my hair started to fall out. I was covered in bruises. I had dark circles under my eyes. Not to get too completely graphic, but my period stopped altogether and I was only sleeping 3 hours a night. I tried to tell the T.V. show about it and I was told, 'save it for the camera.'
"At that point, my boyfriend at the time, who's now my husband, and my best friend and my family stepped in and they said, ‘Hey, crazy, you're going to die if you keep this up.' At that point was doing really fun things like not eating at all. . . my major food groups were water, black coffee and splenda. I got to the point that when I was nervous or upset I was literally vomiting my food up. And at one point the scale stalled, I was stuck at 163, and my trainer and the producers all ordered me to take a free day. . . . They said, ‘oh, you're body needs to be shaken up.' And I was so afraid of food at that point I went in [to the store], I bought a bag of snicker doodle cookies, and a quart of milk, and a box of ex lax and I ate them all together. And I knew that I was in trouble. And it was at this point that I was like, ‘Hey, where are those doctors and that psychologist that are supposed to be following up and keeping an eye on me that I kept hearing about?'"
On how she started to recover:
"Thank God my family intervened. They got me semi-back-on-track all the way to the finale. My very first meal where I actually ate again, my husband sat with me and it was a bowl of oatmeal and an egg-white omelet with salsa, and it took me an hour and a half and I cried through the whole thing."
On how the show affected her body image:
"It gave me a really fun eating disorder that I battle every day, and it also messed up my mental body image because the lighter I got during that T.V. show, the more I hated my body. And I tell you what, at 144 and at 262 and at 280, I had never hated my body before that show.
"I do still struggle [with an eating disorder]. I do. My husband says I'm still afraid of food. . . . I'm still pretty messed up from the show. It doesn't help that when I go in public . . . the first thing they usually ask me is ‘what do you weigh now?'"
On why she's speaking out:
"I feel that I have a responsibility to counteract some of the harm that that show does. Because I took a piece of being that problem, I now own a piece of being the solution. . . . When I have people come to me crying, telling me how hard they work and how they log their food and how they've done everything they could and [they ask] ‘Why can't I lose 12 pounds in a week like you?' I feel a responsibility to get out there and go, ‘You know what? Sue me if you want to, NBC, but I'm telling these people, I didn't lose 12 pounds in a week. It didn't happen. It wasn't a week. And even when it looks like I lost 12 pounds in a week . . . I was so severely dehydrated that I was completely unhealthy."
On the mass of contracts and waivers that she signed to be on The Biggest Loser:
"I think at the time when you sign it . . . and it says things like, ‘you give yourself over to whatever doctor we have treat you and we don't attest to the credentials of the doctor', you think, ‘no one is going to treat another human being this poorly, why should I even worry about that?' You don't realize that there are people out there who would treat you that poorly. You also get reminded . . . over and over again that . . . this is a chance of a lifetime and there are 200,000 other fat people behind you and if you don't sign it they will. . . . I believe I signed away my life story and gave them the right to fictionalize it if they wanted to. I had an attorney look at it afterward and he was like, ‘you signed away things that really can't be signed away here, and the problem is they've got, like, 100 attorneys and you can't even afford me.' I'm terrified sometimes at the idea that I'm putting my family at risk to talk about it, but . . . my family's taught me that you can't go wrong with the truth. I'm just going to do what I've got to do."
This post originally ran on Body Love Wellness. Golda Poretsky, H.H.C. is a certified holistic health counselor who specializes in transforming your relationship with food and your body. Republished with permission.
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