Last year, the world was abuzz talking about how ridiculous and wrong the concept behind NBC’s The Biggest Loser is. Why? Because Rachel Ferguson won the show and looked dangerously skinny (see article here). Even one of the show’s trainers, Jillian Michaels, looked shocked and concerned when Ferguson appeared.
Now, one of a the third season finalists, Kai Hibbard, is speaking out about the scary truth of what it is like to be on the weight loss reality show.
‘The whole f- -king show,” she told the New York Post, “is a fat-shaming disaster that I’m embarrassed to have participated in.”
Hibbard began by describing the process of what first happens when the 50 finalists are chosen. Contestants are made to sign contracts giving away rights to their own story lines and forbidding them to speak badly about the show. No big shock. But then they are essentially held prisoner in their hotel rooms except for when they are released to work out or eat. They don’t even have key cards to their rooms. One competitor reported that a light came on her laptop when she hadn’t checked in that felt like Big Brother watching. Since laptops and phones are taken away for the first day, it is possible they are bugged.
The sequestration lasts five days and then 14 of the finalists are taken to “the Ranch” while the rest go home to continue their weight loss journeys on their own (returning later). Hibbard described the grueling regime and horrific lifestyle of time spent on the Ranch.
Through the physically and emotionally demanding experience, contestants can not call home for fear of giving away show secrets. After six weeks, they are rewarded with one five-minute phone call. Geesh.
After a medical exam, the contestants begin working out for excruciatingly long amounts of time – between five to eight hours. We knew Ferguson did workouts like this on her own in order to get disgustingly thin and win, but now it’s officially that the show makes the “losers” do this while competing at the Ranch.
“There was no easing into it,” Hibbard said. “That doesn’t make for good TV. My feet were bleeding through my shoes for the first three weeks.”
At the start, Hibbard was over 300 pounds, typical for the show. It is, without question, highly dangerous for someone of that size who isn’t used to working out to work out for such extensive amounts of time – hard on both the body and psyche. At one point, she collapsed. “I thought I was going to die. I couldn’t take any more.”
Her trainer yelled, “Get up!” then made a comment about a sick and overweight relative.
Hibbard believes that the trainers took satisfaction in bringing their contestants to physical and mental collapse. “They’d get a sick pleasure out of it. They’d say, ‘It’s because you’re fat. Look at all the fat you have on you.’ And that was our fault, so this was our punishment.”
They told contestants “things like, ‘You’re going to die before your children grow up.’ ‘You’re going to die, just like your mother.’ ‘We’ve picked out your fat-person coffin’ — that was in a text message. One production assistant told a contestant to take up smoking because it would cut her appetite in half.”
Additionally, calorie intakes were severely restricted, with contestants ingesting far under 1,000 per day (the recommended daily intake for a person of average height and weight is 1,200 to 1,600 calories per day). Hibbard reports that most of the food on her season had little to no nutritional value but were eaten because of being provided by sponsors.
“Your grocery list is approved by your trainer,” she says. “My season had a lot of Franken-foods: I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter spray, Kraft fat-free cheese, Rockstar Energy Drinks, Jell-O.”
Hibbard said that she and other contestants sustained major physical damage.
“One contestant had a torn calf muscle and bursitis in her knees. The doctor told her, ‘You need to rest.’ She said, ‘Production told me I can’t rest.’ At one point after that, production ordered her to run, and she said, ‘I can’t.’ She was seriously injured. But they edited her to make her look lazy and bitchy and combative.”
Hibbard’s hair started to fall out, her period stopped, and she only slept three hours a night. To this day, her period is irregular, her hair still falls out, and her knees “sound like Saran Wrap” every time she goes up and down stairs. “My thyroid, which I never had problems with, is now crap.”
Another contestant, who wished to remain anonymous, told the New York Post, “One of the other ‘losers’ and I started taking showers together, because we couldn’t lift our arms over our heads,” says the other contestant. “We’d duck down so we could shampoo each other.”
The trainers reportedly were unmoved. “They’d say stuff like, ‘Pain is just weakness leaving the body,’ ” said the same contestant.
The contestants’ knees took the brunt of the action. The anonymous player said she and most of her castmates came away with bad knees. “There was one guy whose back was so bad he could only exercise in the swimming pool. By the end of the show, I was running on 400 calories and eight-to-nine hour workouts per day. Someone asked me where I was born, and I couldn’t remember. My short-term memory still sucks.” Awful. And you can bet they all had killer stress fractures. Have you ever had them in your shins? They suck. A lot.
“You’re brainwashed to believe that you’re super-lucky to be there,” Hibbard continued with the Post. One doctor told a contestant she was exhibiting signs of Stockholm syndrome, and Hibbard herself fell prey to it.
“I was thinking, ‘Dear God, don’t let anybody down. You will appear ungrateful if you don’t lose more weight before the season finale.’ ”
The other contestant responded similarly. Despite “the harassment and the bullying, I wanted to please them,” she says. After losing seven pounds one week, she felt apologetic! Why? Because she lost 12 pounds the week before.
The show’s most famous trainer, Jillian Michaels, quit The Biggest Loser for the third time in June 2014. People reported that Michaels was “deeply concerned” about the show’s “poor care of the contestants.” It may have been Rachel Ferguson who pushed her over the edge.
NBC said in a statement to the Post, “Our contestants are closely monitored and medically supervised. The consistent ‘Biggest Loser’ health transformations of over 300 contestants through 16 seasons of the program speak for themselves.” That was their complete response.
But medical experts don’t buy it. Especially since it is scientifically proven that most people who lose weight in such extreme ways gain back some, if not all, the weight.
In fact, the first-ever “Biggest Loser,” Ryan Benson, who went from 330 pounds to 208, later gained back all the weight and was disowned by the show. He was also one contestant to have been seriously injured, which is often not shown on camera. Benson was so malnourished he was urinating blood, a sign of kidney damage, and even kidney failure.
In 2009, two contestants were hospitalized — one via airlift. And speaking of gaining back weight, Ferguson, who admitted to working out four times a day, had gained back 20 pounds within only one month of the finale.
Hibbard herself lost 121 pounds to end up at a final weight of 144. She has put weight back on, but won’t say how much. But she felt she had a responsibility to speak out about her experience, as she was someone who once herself held the show up as false inspiration.
“If I’m going to walk around collecting accolades, I also have a responsibility [to tell the truth],” she says. “There’s a moral and ethical question here when you take people who are morbidly obese and work them out to the point where they vomit, all because it makes for good TV.”
The Biggest Loser weight loss process is insanity. No normal person with a life, someone who is not on a reality show, could do it. That makes it impossible to maintain and a terrible way to lose weight. It’s got to be hard on the players too when they realize they won’t stay as skinny as they were when they left that terrible “Ranch.” We knew it was unhealthy in so many ways but now an insider is finally speaking out, almost like a cult member who finally exposes the truth. Thanks Kai Hibbard for speaking out.
Special thanks to New York Post for the interview content.