Proud2Bme | Losing More than Weight: Humiliation, Extreme Dieting & Unhealthy Exercise on The Biggest Loser

Losing More than Weight: Humiliation, Extreme Dieting & Unhealthy Exercise on The Biggest Loser

By Shirley Wang--Have you heard of “The Biggest Loser”? Odds are, you have. It’s a wildly popular show, featuring Jillian Michaels leading teams of adults on a challenging journey to lose weight.

A yellow flag goes up in my head when I think of a dramatic change to one’s lifestyle, weekly weigh-ins, and competing against others on national television to lose weight. This yellow flag suddenly turns into a bright, crimson red when I delve deeper into what really goes on behind the scenes of “The Biggest Loser."

I recently found an article including an interview with Kai Hibbard, a former contest on this show. To save you some time, let me summarize what Ms. Hibbard told writer Golda Poretsky.

From the very first day at The Biggest Loser ranch, contestants are stripped of all privileges - even simple ones such as leaving a hotel room to buy groceries or receiving mail or phone calls from friends and family. Blown-up, exaggerated, poorly shot photos at each contestant’s highest weight are plastered around the rooms. Though their “feet were bleeding...covered in bruises…[and] beat up” from excessive exercise, “throughout the whole process, people [whose] job is basically to keep the ‘fat people’ in line keep telling you, over, and over, how lucky [you] are to be there.”

Ms. Hibbard reveals that contestants are given a dangerously low amount of calories for the amount of energy they are exerting. "[W]e were working out anywhere between two and five hours a day, and we were working out severely injured...” At her worst point, Ms. Hibbard says that her “hair started to fall out...I was covered in bruises. I had dark circles under my period stopped altogether and I was only sleeping 3 hours a night. I tried to tell the TV show about it and I was told, ‘save it for the camera.’”

Now my bright red flag has been replaced with a big, bold “ALERT! IMMEDIATE DANGER” sign. And sadly, my terror has grounds in the fact that Jillian Michaels and her team of ‘professionals’ did not lead Ms. Kai Hibbard down a healthy path at all. No, waiting for Ms. Hibbard at the end of such an extreme diet and exercise regime was a disease with the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses: an eating disorder.

Weight loss can be a path to better health for some people. There's nothing wrong with that. But it should be done with the guidance of a doctor and a certified dietitian. However, “The Biggest Loser” does not fit into these guidelines. There is a dietitian “on board”, but according to Ms. Hibbard, “every time [the dietitian] 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.”

30 million men and women will suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some point on their lives. This number seems high enough for me. Aside from promoting disordered eating, body dissatisfaction, and ultimately eating disorders, I see no benefit that “The Biggest Loser” can give to it’s contestants. “The Biggest Loser” is not an inspirational show following Jillian Michaels and her teams of men and women on their quest to lose weight and gain health. No, it is yelling, hurling “fat” insults, and demanding that participants exercise to the point of vomiting. Does that sound familiar to you? Because it sure sounds familiar to me. It sounds like ED, that sneaky little voice inside my head, the voice that tells me I weigh too much, eat too much, and will be happier when I lose weight--all of which are false, of course.

I am mastering the ability to fight ED’s voice. I know that my worth is not determined by the number of the scale and my happiness cannot be measured in pounds lost. With the help of my treatment team, I am recovering. But who is helping the contestants on “The Biggest Loser”? Who is going to be there to reassure them that they are still inherently good people no matter how much they weigh? Who will be able to save them from falling into the grasps of an eating disorder?

Sadly, no one is helping them. At this moment, in the Biggest Loser ranch, dozens of men and women are being shamed for being overweight, being told that they are lazy, fat, and incompetent, and being forced to exercise with injuries and restrict their intake to starvation levels.

However horrific and sickening this show is, the worst has just begun: this season, on “The Biggest Loser,” there are children. According to NBC’s website, “‘The Biggest Loser’ is committed to fight this epidemic by featuring children this season to serve as ambassadors of change who can inspire kids all over the country to get healthy.” Given what we now know about this horrendous television show, letting underage girls and boys participate in these weight-loss focused challenges is possibly the worst idea of the century.

But there is still hope. Tweet about this article and share your thoughts with the hashtag #stopbiggestloser. No human being deserves to be treated in the way that contestants on “The Biggest Loser” are kicked around. This show must not go on, and with your support, we may save hundreds of lives.

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