The Biggest Loser: A Lesson in How NOT to Lose Weight?

Biggest Loser/NBC

Rachel Frederickson on Biggest Loser/NBC

It’s no secret that The Biggest Loser is home to some questionable weight-loss tactics. About a year ago, we posted a piece questioning a slew of techniques employed by the show, from the insanely harsh training schedules to the encouragement of radical weight-loss each and every week, to the nutritionally poor foods it promotes.

Shortly thereafter, the show weathered another round of criticism when winner Rachel Frederickson went from 260 pounds to a very-tiny 105 pounds in just a matter of months. Hordes of viewers and weight-loss professionals chimed in, arguing there was no way such dramatic weight loss could have been achieved in a healthy way.

And now a different contestant, Kai Hibbard, who competed on season three of the show, is saying it might be worse than we all suspected: According to her claims, the contestants’ physical and mental health are often sacrificed on the altar of ratings and sponsorships.

About the show’s harsh workout schedule, Hibbard, who says she left The Biggest Loser with shin splints so bad her doctor wondered how she was walking, tells the New York Post, “There was no easing into it. That doesn’t make for good TV. My feet were bleeding through my shoes for the first three weeks.”

And when contestants were having trouble keeping up—you know, because they were extremely overweight, hadn’t worked out in years and their feet were bleeding through their shoes—trainers would say stuff like, “You’re going to die before your children grow up,” “You’re going to die, just like your mother,” and “We’ve picked out your fat-person coffin.”

When it comes to nutrition, an obviously important factor in weight loss, the news isn’t much better. The show relies heavily on sponsors, which is why you see so many Subway sandwiches. And in order to bring in the radical weekly weight-loss numbers, Hibbard claims the contestants were ingesting significantly less than 1,000 calories a day, mostly from heavily processed foods provided by sponsors: Stuff like Kraft fat-free cheese, Rockstar Energy Drinks and Jell-O. If that doesn’t already have you thinking, “Wait—what?” listen to this: Hibbard tells the Post a production assistant even encouraged a contestant to take up smoking to reduce her appetite.

At the end of her season, Hibbard had lost a whopping 121 pounds, but don’t get it twisted: All that weight loss doesn’t necessarily mean she was healthy. Hibbard claims her hair was falling out, her period had stopped and, now, her knees “sound like Saran wrap” every time she takes the stairs. Yikes.

Another unnamed contestant told the Post, “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.”

It is worth noting that Hibbard was on season three of The Biggest Loser, and the show is now in its 16th season—so maybe they’ve cleaned up their act some. But if not, considering the show rakes in millions of viewers each week and influences a big chunk of the country’s perception of what weight loss looks like, all of these claims are pretty darn scary.

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