Anyone who’s a participant of the Facebook page for BGG2WL knows that during The Biggest Loser’s most recent season, we hosted weekly chats discussing the ongoings of each episode. For me, this was my first season watching the show, and I didn’t even watch it from the start.

I’m not a big TV person. It’s just gotten lazy, to me. Everything is “unscripted reality,” which is really just code for “The network is too cheap to pay writers, so let’s just pay a few cameramen to take shifts following around really problem-prone people.”

Let’s not even talk about the “weight loss porn” that we keep seeing as of late. That’s right.. I said it – weight loss porn. It’s almost as if seeing people struggle with weight is being fetishized. Pornographic in nature, even.  Huge. Ruby (thanks, Felicia!). The Biggest Loser. Losing It. One Big Happy Family. Celebrity Fit Club. Whatever Crap Kirstie Alley Is Doing To Get Her Face On The TV Screen Again. For some reason, Americans love watching the overweight agonize over not being “one of the beautiful people,” and salivate at the thought of watching them sweat the pounds off to get there.

I’ve just never been that person. While I love to root for a good story just like anyone else… I’m just… always reminded that it’s TV – situations (and footage) are manipulated to present us what they want to present us.

Enter Kai Hibbard.

A contestant from the third season of The Biggest Loser (TBL), she recently appeared on practically every major venue speaking about the ills of the show that helped build her name.

(If you were advised to be wary of triggers, I would advise you to not read the following highlighted passages.)

Taken from her original interview with Golda Poretsky:

On the seclusion of the ranch:

“A lot of people don’t know that once we were actually on the ranch, it was 6 weeks before we were allowed to get mail from home and our mail was opened and censored.  And it was 8 weeks before we were allowed to speak to anybody on the phone and it was for 5 minutes at a time with a chaperone.”

On the meaning of a “week” on the Biggest Loser:

“It varied.  It went from 14 days and I believe that near the end we had one week that was 5 days.”

On being treated as “an expendable commodity”:

“We did one challenge in a stadium in California.  It was about 100 degrees that day and the challenge involved running up stairs and then doing the wave all the way around the stadium and then running down the stairs and back across the football field.  When we were done, we were obviously covered in sweat, we were all out of shape, and that was a really hard challenge in that heat. They brought us bottles of water that we had packed ourselves in the truck that had been sitting in the heat all day, and they broke out coolers for the trainers, the cameramen, the audio people, and for Caroline Rhea and they had cool water and we drank 90 degree water after we ran the challenge. . . . And actually one of the contestants, Eric, from New York (won my season) lost it at that point and screamed about how we weren’t animals and to please stop treating us like animals and they handled it the way they handled us always, [they] quieted him down, and reminded him how lucky we were to be there, that it was saving his life.

On the way contestants (and viewers) are brainwashed into believing that fat people are subhuman:

“I believe that  . . . most of the contestants, felt like it was okay to treat us like we were subhuman when we were there, that the ends justify the means.  If they were going to make us thin, then it was totally worth it to humiliate us and treat us poorly all the way along.  I just don’t feel that way.”

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 the contestants dehydrated themselves before weigh-ins:

I didn’t learn how to dehydrate until I got on the ranch. It was every week.  Every single week, this is what a weigh-in would look like: the real weigh-ins were at 10 o’clock in the morning and they were on a cattle scale at the ranch and they weren’t filmed. . . . Now, mind you, it was shot in Simi Valley, so it’s a desert, so it’s hot.  And on the morning of the weigh-in you would get up and you’d put on your underwear, your spandex shorts, and you’d put on sweatpants and then you’d put on a sports bra, a tank top, a long sleeve shirt, and your sweatshirt, a ball cap, and then you’d zip up your sweatshirt, you’d put your hood on and you’d go down to the gym.  [The gym] wasn’t a real gym, it was a temporary structure just for shooting and it didn’t have any air conditioning and you’d shut all the doors and all the windows in the gym.  Then you would work out for two, two and half hours (as long as you could stand it) without any water. (The boys would take water, rinse their mouth out, and spit it.  I couldn’t even do that — if I was going to put water in my mouth, I was going to drink it.)  Most, if not everybody, had cut their water about 24 hours beforehand, if not 24 hours then at least by 5 o’clock the afternoon before.  And then, you would drink coffee if you had anything the night before, because (a) it would clean your system out and (b) it would dehydrate you.

“So after you did the 2 hours of working out in full sweat, sweating off as much as you can, you would go back to the house, shower, blow dry your hair, and strip down to the lightest clothing you could find, which was usually spandex shorts and a sports bra.  Then you’d go downstairs and you’d weigh yourself in and the second you got off that scale you would chug water because you were so dehydrated.”

On her most painful weigh-in:

“The worst one I can remember is the very last one, before the final weigh-in, and it was down to five contestants left.  I remember being on the elliptical and being so exhausted and so ready to go home and so dehydrated that I burst into tears and I’m crying . . . and I’m still working out and it set off a chain reaction and every single person in the gym, all of the five contestants that were left, were crying.  And we were so brainwashed at that point that I remember saying out loud, ‘Well, at least we’re losing more water-weight by crying.’

On how the show is edited to make contestants look bad for refusing to work out with injuries:

“You really get brainwashed into thinking everything’s your fault, [that] you’re just not strong enough, you’re just not good enough. . . . For example, Heather, on my season, was told by the medical trainer, not one of the personal trainers, . . . ‘Here’s the deal, both your knees are messed up, and I believe you ripped your calf muscle.’  So he told the trainer that too but when you watch the show, Heather’s arguing with our trainer and saying, ‘Look, I can’t do it.’  And they made it look like it’s because she’s lazy and refuses to work out, when actually she’s been told by the doctors, ‘Do not run, do not do this, you cannot do this.’ And production and her personal trainer wanted her to do it anyway, just for the cameras.  And when she refused to do it for the cameras because it would have damaged her body even more (she ended up needing steroid shots in both knees while we were still there by the way) it was edited to make her look like she was lazy and disobedient, basically.  So then you’ve got the 22 million Americans that watch it thinking that you’re this horrible, lazy, ungrateful person.  And she literally got death threats on the NBC web site.  I just have people that tell me stuff like, I’m ugly when I cry, or I’m lazy.  She got death threats.

On the fantasy of being thin:

“They said that they were very surprised by me as a contestant because, if you watch from the beginning of the season to the end, my personality doesn’t change at all.  And my comment was, ‘Why would it?’  But I guess that 95% of the contestants start off one person and end up a different one at the end.  And it’s because they believe that being thin will make all my dreams come true. [But] your mortgage is the same if you weigh 144 or if you weigh 268.  You’re either happy with your life or you’re not.

I can recall an argument I got into with a friend of mine about shows like TBL.. with his argument going something like, “We need shows like this to show people what it looks like to work hard in the gym. You sweat, you grind, you burn, you get pissed, but you’re happy when you see the results.” Yeah, I hear you talkin’, but um… 17lbs in one “week?” What about ol’ dude that lost ~30lbs his first “week” there?

My complaint has always been that it sets an unrealistic expectation for what one can continue to expect throughout their weight loss journey. The average person – who probably (unfortunately) knows very little about how their body handles weight outside of what the commercials tell them – doesn’t recognize that “hard work cannot produce 11lb weekly weight loss” on a regular basis. What I can see happening (and admittedly, what has happened to me), is someone going to the gym, busting their tails, “only” losing 4lbs and thinking that “This is as hard as I can work, and I only lost 4lbs? Why can they lose 11lbs in a week, and I can’t? I can’t do this anymore!” and giving up. We all know that people will sometimes look for reasons to give up… and while it isn’t NBC’s responsibility to keep us motivated, a little integrity might be nice, here.

And since we’re talking about scales, I can fuss about the weigh-ins, as well. I just spent three months ramping up my weight lifting routine so that when I burn the rest of this fat, my skin will have an actual shape to cling to.. not just dangle and hang there. I know how many inches I’ve lost, and I know how much leaner my body has become. I also know that I actually gained weight during that time, too. If I were a scale freak, I might be bothered by this. TBL encourages weight lifting with the left hand, and breeds scale freaks with the right – your longevity on the show (and your chance at 250k) is wholly determined by what shows up on that scale. Replacing muscle with fat (replacing a pound of muscle with a pound of fat… is still replacing a pound with a pound)… means that you’re not losing. A scale freak’s nightmare.

I love the stories of people overcoming their struggles. I also love the fact that TBL shows people working as hard as they can, and the joy on their faces when they see how that hard work paid off. Despite how manipulated that footage or situation may be, the message that gets across is that “hard work produces results.” I can respect that. TBL has inspired countless “office competitions” where groups of co-workers host their own TBL competitions and support one another. We cannot deny the fact that one of the biggest examples of weight loss porn has done some good.

We also cannot deny the fact that TBL creates an environment where “normal” results are frowned upon, and now it seems like unhealthy methods of weight loss are being glorified on the low. The average American, approximately 20-30lbs overweight, is not going to lose 30lbs in one week without surgery. I’own care what you say. Two pounds in a week makes sense, but someone losing 2lbs on the ranch is ready to cry. The everyday TBL fan won’t always say to themselves, “Well, if I was on a ranch where all I did was workout and sleep, 2lbs would be a disappointment to me, too.” They’ll say, “2lbs? Gosh, he sucks.”

Nine times out of ten, if you lose a gang of weight quickly, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll keep it off. Why? Because you probably lost it by doing something you can’t maintain for the rest of your life. Living on a ranch where your only stress is losing weight – no bills to worry about, no kids to chase around, no boss to brown nose – is not a lifestyle change. It simply isn’t. And with as little as many of us know about our bodies and weight gain… we’re not focusing on that lifestyle part of this. We’re focusing on the “how can I lose 8lbs in a ‘week?'” part of this… as evidenced by the average supermarket magazine cover. Hibbard, herself, was quoted as saying the following:

“I actually put on about 31 pounds in two weeks. After my body had a chance to stabilize I spent all last year hovering between 159 and 175, I fight everyday to find some stability.”

In my mind, shows like this have some positive points… but they simply don’t outweigh the negative (no pun intended, I promise.) In an environment like the BGG2WL FB page, we can talk about the show without assigning those expectations of 8lbs in a “week” to ourselves. (Besides, there’s always someone ready and willing to jump in and announce how unrealistic the show is, anyhow.) Most of America doesn’t get to enjoy that kind of support system, online or not. Fetishizing unrealistic methods producing unrealistic results can only turn us into people who believe weight loss is unattainable… and that’s unfair to all of us.

All of this is to say, if you’re watching these kinds of shows for the occasional tidbit of information they share or the entertainment value (?), then by all means, enjoy yourself! But don’t hold these shows up to be some standard or model of success, because they simply don’t mirror our everyday lives in any capacity… and even if they did, there are anatomical (and, as outlined above, apparently ethical) reasons why the phrase “results may vary” rings true, here.

Look to yourself, your support system and your personal inspiration to guide you on your journey. Not a TV show that can be – and will be – manipulated for the sake of money. Your health deserves so much more than that.