Proud2Bme | Biggest Loser Contestant Kai Hibbard Speaks Out

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Biggest Loser Contestant Kai Hibbard Speaks Out

By Shirley Wang--Kai Hibbard competed on Season 3 of The Biggest Loser, but she ended up losing much more than weight.

Now a body acceptance activist, motivational speaker, and writer, Kai strives to expose the dangers behind this popular TV show and encourage people to embrace themselves and their bodies. She has been featured in Time, Good Morning America, ABC News, The Huffington Post, and People, among countless other magazines and newscasts. 

In a previous post on The Biggest Loser I wrote for Proud2BMe, I cited other interviews with Kai. Recently I had the opportunity to talk with Kai myself, and am once again truly impressed by her bravery, honesty, and positivity.

Shirley Wang: How did the trainers and producers relate your physical weight and shape to your self worth, and how did this make you feel?

Kai Hibbard: The best example I can think of is, in the house we were living in...they put giant black and white photos up of our bodies. And they took the parts of our bodies that we liked the least and magnified them and made them bigger than life size. There was one in particular of a contestant’s stomach. It was taller than me and wider them me, up on a wall – a huge black and white print with shading in the worst way possible – to try and magnify all your fears about this particular body part. When we asked questions about it, we were told it was to motivate us.

Just like the fact that the women weren’t allowed to have tank tops or shirts when we were weighing in – we needed to be able to see ourselves so we could be disgusted by it, and therefore work harder to not look that way anymore. The entire premise of this show was supposed to be based on health. You were supposed to go there and get healthy and then live your life, but in actuality, the entire goal of the show was to change how you look, not how you feel.

SW: This might be pretty self-explanatory, but how did all of that make you feel? Did other participants talk about how they felt seeing all of that, and hearing all of that?

KH: It was a difficult experience for me, because I had a background where I was very lucky that no matter my size, I wasn’t particularly cognizant of it. I was a cheerleader, I was an aerobics instructor. To dissect my body that way and look at my body that way was never a thing before. I really believe that the show is where I learned to do that. And that is a really, really hard habit to break after you pick it up…

Unfortunately, the show’s standards and media and society’s standards have a perfect idea of what a body should look like, and I’m never going to look like that! I’m not – and that’s okay, I’m going to look like me, and love me, and be comfortable with me! I want to be the me that can move my body for fun, and eat food because it’s good and nourishing, not because I’m punishing myself or depriving myself. There’s this whole mentality of punishment and self-flagellation being a badge of honor, and I picked that mentality up during the show. I think it’s because we were reduced to our physical appearance and body parts rather than being viewed as a holistic being.

SW: So after the initial shock of being thrown into the show with all the rules and extreme exercise and shaming passed, did you question the reality of what the trainers and producers were saying to you?

KH: I’m very strong minded…but I’m also a people pleaser…If you had asked me before I went to do this if I could ever be subjected to “brain washing” – which I know sounds dramatic, but when you’re surrounded by people telling you things that are unhealthy are healthy 24/7 for months on end – I would have told you beforehand that I was a badass and that I would be able to stand up to anything.

But I tell you what – I drank that Kool-Aid fast as can be…And that’s what happens when you have people around you 24/7 telling you “this is okay” and “this is safe” and I didn’t snap out of that mentality until I got home and my family and best friends and husband staged an intervention. They sat me down and said “We understand that you think this is okay and healthy, but you’re wrong, and we’re going to help you some help”.

SW: It sounds like you really internalized those messages you received as a participant on the show, and that they impacted your life even after the show. Do they still impact you now?

KH: Yes, yes they do. It’s funny, I’m not the only contestant, I’ve had conversations with other former contestants and there’s a lot of shared experiences with things like significant others having to hide our scales, because we would obsessively weigh ourselves. It affected me in my life after the show, even after getting dietary help, medical health, and psychological help for everything. I need to say also that I was never formally diagnosed with an eating disorder. I struggled with disordered eating habits…This continued on until three years ago.

The one relapse that really scared me was when I was pregnant with my son. I was put on bed rest for my whole pregnancy. I got on the scale and I’d gained weight…It was only a year and a half since I’d been on the show, and my weight was still a big thing in my head. So I decided to go for a run, and I ended up in the emergency room. And I put my son’s life at risk because of that. And my husband sat me down and he was like, “I love you, but you’re crazy. And if you ever put our kid’s life at risk for something as ridiculous as your weight ever again, we’re going to have a problem. You need to get this under control.” So I went back and got more help.

SW: How do you think other people watching the Biggest Loser might feel about themselves, and might internalize negative messages as well?

KH: That right there is why I came out about the show immediately…There is nothing more powerful than doing an appearance somewhere or a speaking engagement and having a woman (I mostly work with women) come up to you and tell you the damaging behaviors and the things they did to themselves because they tried to emulate your behavior on that television show when you know a couple things:

1. That you weren’t doing anything healthy

2. That the show is lying

That show, those damaging behaviors, that was the worst part about my participation in all of it. And even beyond my anecdotal evidence and my personal experience with talking to people, there is statistical and academic data out there showing that even watching that show for 40 minutes negatively impacts the self-esteem of viewers.

SW: Didn’t they put kids and teenagers on the show at some point?

KH: They did, it was so bad and I was so disgusted by it. Yes, they did, and I can’t even get into the psychological ramifications of the responses people have to that. And here’s the thing – any weight loss program has a huge recidivism for weight gain anyway… So if you can imagine an adult dealing with the repercussions of being glorified for basically starving themselves and getting to a certain appearance on national TV, and then three years later not looking like that anymore because they gained the weight back, please imagine that happening to a child...

Even then, even if you’re “inspiring” a thousand people to do something “healthier”, in my opinion, if there’s one person whose self-esteem you are damaging and they’ve turned to self-harming behaviors to emulate your lies on TV, then it isn’t worth the cost of inspiring a thousand other people! The cost is too high for me.

SW: I agree completely. Do you think that even a few other contestants feel the same way you do? Why do you think you’re the only one speaking out about this?

KH: I know that other people feel the same way as I do. I have a lot of really strong support from some past contestants…There are some that make their living based on their association with the show, so that’s why. The other good reason a lot of contestants don’t speak out against this is that I’ve been threatened to be sued about four or five times by NBC.

I signed a contract saying that I’m never ever allowed to talk about what happened to me on the show. I do it anyway. It’s been scary a couple of times getting the letters from the attorneys…Recently though, two other people have stepped forward so that’s been nice, since I’ve been doing this on my own for nine years now. But they came forward and were like, “No, she’s not lying! It’s really this horrible.” It was nice to have that support.

SW: So if there was one thing you could say to people considering being on the show, people considering watching the show, people who do watch the show, or anything in general – what would you say?

KH: For anyone considering going on the show, please, please, please do not go on the show. For a myriad of reasons, but mostly because I don’t know you, but I’m sure I’d like you, and you’re a fellow human being and I wouldn’t want to see that happen to another human being. And if someone you love wants to go on the show, because you love them, please stop them. Turn off your TV…reality is not on TV! It’s fake, and it’s so easy to get sucked into that.

If you honestly don’t support this show and you have a perspective like I do about it, stop buying the products associated with it. Money talks, so once they don’t have sponsors anymore, they can’t keep doing this. And there’s one thing that’s helped me in my journey through all of this and my relapses. I sit, and I tell myself that I am good enough right now. Right in this moment, as I am, I’m exactly where I should be. That helps me, and I hope it helps other people. It’s important to me that people love themselves. 

About this blogger: Shirley Wang is a Proud2BMe Ambassador. She has been working with NEDA/Proud for a few years. She is an undergraduate psychology major/statistics minor, and is planning to pursue a PhD in clinical psych. She is currently interning on an inpatient eating disorders unit, and is involved in research studying disordered eating, body image, and other clinical outcomes associated with rumination and mindfulness.

Photo courtesy of Biggest Loser Twitter

Also by Shirley: 

Losing More Than Weight: Humiliation, Extreme Dieting, & Unhealthy Exercise on the Biggest Loser

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