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More Brutal Secrets From The Biggest Loser

by Erika Nicole Kendall

Years ago, former Biggest Loser castmember Kai Hibbard gave a scathing review to Golda of Body Love Wellness, sharing painfully triggering details of her experiences on the show, and a few common place details that appeared to be standard practice for the show’s production team.

Well, Kai is back. There are more details, and they are disgusting.

From the NY Post:

“You just think you’re so lucky to be there,” Hibbard says, “that you don’t think to question or complain about anything.”

Contestants are made to sign contracts giving away rights to their own story lines and forbidding them to speak badly about the show.

Once selected, Hibbard was flown to LA. When she got to her hotel, she was greeted by a production assistant, who checked her in and took away her key card. When not filming, she was to stay in her room at all times.

“The hotel will report to them if you leave your room,” Hibbard says. “They assume you’re going to talk to other contestants.”

Another competitor, who spoke to The Post on the condition of anonymity, says that when she first checked in, a production assistant also took her cellphone and laptop for 24 hours. She suspects her computer was bugged.

“The camera light on my MacBook would sometimes come on when I hadn’t checked in,” she says. “It was like Big Brother was always watching you.” The sequestration lasts five days.

I want to say this, and as you read the remainder of these excerpts, I want you to keep in mind that this is why I talk about not coming into your weight loss journey from a place of desperation. Oftentimes, we let our desperation compel us to compromise our mental and physical well being, because all we can see is that our ultimate goal now seems more possible. I once discussed this on Twitter, where another reader reminded me that, for many, desperation can lead to motivation. But my question remains: motivation to do what? To engage in things that carry great risk?

Make no mistake about it, the human body is resilient. But what does “resilience” mean when it comes to weight loss? More on that later.

After an initial winnowing process, 14 of 50 finalists are taken to “the ranch,” where they live, work out and suffer in seclusion. (The remaining 36 are sent home to lose weight on their own, and return later in the season.)

Those who remain, Hibbard says, are not allowed to call home. “You might give away show secrets,” she says. After six weeks, contestants get to make a five-minute call, monitored by production.

“I know that one of the contestants’ children became very ill and was in the ICU,” Hibbard says. “He was allowed to talk to his family — but he didn’t want to leave, because the show would have been done with him.”

Once at the ranch, contestants are given a medical exam, then start working out immediately, for dangerous lengths of time — from five to eight hours straight.

“There was no easing into it,” Hibbard says. “That doesn’t make for good TV. My feet were bleeding through my shoes for the first three weeks.”

“My first workout was four hours long,” says the other contestant. She came on to the show a few years ago at more than 300 pounds. On her first day, she was put through this regimen:

  • Rowing
  • Body-weight work
  • Kettle bells
  • Cool-down on treadmill
  • Interval training
  • Stairmaster
  • Outside work with tires

At one point, she collapsed. “I thought I was going to die,” she says. “I couldn’t take any more.”

Her trainer yelled, “Get up!” then made a comment about a sick and overweight relative.

People always talk to me about the kind of trainer I am, mainly because of this trend of barking-and-manipulating trainers that have grown thanks to shows like Biggest Loser.

I am not that kind of trainer and, although I could write an entirely separate blog post about this kind of nonsense, I’ll put it to you like this:

A good trainer doesn’t have to manipulate you into doing what they need you to do. A good trainer doesn’t have to shame you into doing what you already know is best for you. A good trainer should be able to ascertain the difference between when a client is struggling with the task at hand, and when they’re simply being lazy. And, if they’re lazy, you don’t use manipulation to convince them to work. Why? Because a good trainer also recognized their role in helping clients build will power, the very will power they will need to use when the trainer isn’t around.

But wait, there’s more:

“I got up,” she says. “You’re just in shock. Your body’s in shock. All the contestants would say to each other, ‘What the f- -k just happened?’ ”

The trainers, she says, took satisfaction in bringing their charges to physical and mental collapse. “They’d get a sick pleasure out of it,” she says. “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.”

Hibbard had the same experience. “They would say things to contestants like, ‘You’re going 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.”

Take up smoking so you can lose weight? So, basically, production doesn’t give a quarter-damn about your health. Their responsibility is to make good TV. Got it.

There is a reason why I call this weight loss porn. There are people in the world who believe that fat people deserve this kind of treatment, and enjoy seeing them get it. They enjoy the confirmation bias that comes from seeing them “eat less and move more,” seeing them dehumanized, and seeing them experience results from this kind of treatment. There are people in this world that believes that mistreating fat people is the best way to help them. To purposefully force them into an emotional rock bottom. I’ve known people like that in my life, and I’ve loved people like that.

I also remember hating them for making me feel so bad. What’s more, I especially remember the fact that I learned to love myself and that was the key to my motivation, my own personal weight loss success and maintaining that success. That whole self-compassion thing? Yeah — that’s not just platitudes. That’s legit.

Meanwhile, their calories were severely restricted. The recommended daily intake for a person of average height and weight is 1,200 to 1,600 calories per day. The contestants were ingesting far less than 1,000 per day.

Hibbard says the bulk of food on her season was provided by sponsors and had little to no nutritional value.

“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.”

At one point, Hibbard says, production did bloodwork on all the contestants, and the show’s doctor prescribed electrolyte drinks. “And the trainer said, ‘Don’t drink that — it’ll put weight on you. You’ll lose your last chance to save your life.’ ”

Err– electrolyte drinks? For someone who is working out 40 hours a week? That doesn’t “put weight on you.” They keep your internal systems functioning properly. Electrolyte drinks put fat on someone who drinks them and never actually works out, or drinks them outside of workouts.

Actually, wait – scratch that. No electrolyte drinks, but yes to Rockstar Energy Drinks? Oh.

Oh, and prescribing processed foods to people who likely have an addiction to the things most prevalent in processed foods? Seems smart.

Such extreme, daily workouts and calorie restriction result in steep weight losses — up to 30 pounds lost in one week.

I actually recall hearing about this, and I think people should understand the physiology behind it. A person who is 400+lbs who, out of nowhere, jumps up and starts working out, eating leaner, cutting the sugar, lowering the salt content, and consuming enough water? I not only expect some fat loss, I also expect their bowels to become more regular, I expect their body to start reducing its bloating naturally, and I’d expect their internal systems to function more optimally, meaning their metabolism to increase. And, since they have more metabolically active body weight, I’d expect them to lose fat quicker than the average person.

The more you weigh, the more you can safely lose. But 30lbs is highly likely to be out of the question.

In fact, contestants have been seriously injured, but it’s not often shown. The first-ever “Biggest Loser,” Ryan Benson, went from 330 pounds to 208 — but after the show, he said he was so malnourished he was urinating blood. “That’s a sign of kidney damage, if not failure,” Darby says. Benson later gained back all the weight and was disowned by the show.

So, let’s talk about what’s the most likely situation here:

Working out for 40hrs a week, doing grueling activity (which, on their own, the aforementioned activities aren’t particularly brutal, but even so much as walking can become grueling after enough hours of it), malnourished, no rest days, no breaks….your boy caught a case of rhabdomyolysis.

Rhabdomyolysis is a serious syndrome due to a direct or indirect muscle injury. It results from the death of muscle fibers and release of their contents into the bloodstream. This can lead to complications such as renal (kidney) failure. This occurs when the kidneys cannot remove waste and concentrated urine. In rare cases, rhabdomyolysis can even cause death. However, prompt treatment often brings a good outcome. Here’s what you need to know about rhabdomyolysis.

There are many causes of rhabdomyolysis. The most common causes include:

  • Extreme muscle strain, especially in someone who is an untrained athlete. This can happen in elite athletes too, however. And it can be more dangerous if there is more muscle mass to break down. [source]

Rhabdo causes you to pee blood, to put it bluntly. No rest days plus constant breakdown of muscle in your body results in this.

But back to the situation at hand.

In 2009, two contestants were hospitalized — one via airlift. And 2014’s Biggest Loser, Rachel Frederickson, became the first winner to generate concern that she had lost too much weight, dropping 155 pounds in months. She appeared on the cover of People with the headline “Too Thin, Too Fast?” Frederickson (5-foot-4, 105 pounds) admitted to working out four times a day, and within one month of the finale had gained back 20 pounds.

I wrote about Rachel. She did what she had to do to win that money, and then she put some of the weight back on. Again – what else do we expect?

Hibbard says she and other contestants sustained major physical damage.

“One contestant had a torn calf muscle and bursitis in her knees,” Hibbard says. “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 own health declined dramatically. “My hair was falling out,” she says. “My period stopped. I was only sleeping three hours a night.” Hibbard says that 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,” she says.

“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, she says, were unmoved. “They’d say stuff like, ‘Pain is just weakness leaving the body.’ ”

This is obscene. Hair loss comes from malnutrition. Lack of dietary fat.

Production “ordered” her to run? Not her trainer, not her doctor, but production?

Pain isn’t always “weakness leaving the body.” Sometimes, pain isn’t about “weakness” at all, but then again… a good trainer would recognize that. This show isn’t interested in good trainers, nor are these trainers interested in anything that isn’t good for TV. They’ve got to keep their jobs somehow, right?

I hate these shows. They’re all garbage. Burn all the weight loss porn…send it straight to the incinerator.

I resent the day NBC realized they could profit off of America’s hypocritical sense of simultaneous shame and hatred of fat people. Ugh.

What do you think?

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Jen Felder January 20, 2015 - 12:54 PM

Wow! And to think that I wanted to be on this show and almost had a chance with a cousin. But at the time, I couldn’t be away from my job for that length of time. Thank you for sharing!

Candace January 25, 2015 - 9:11 PM

Whycome (yes I said whycome) she’s the only one talking? Where are the rest of them? I don’t doubt what she says is true but where is everyone else? Furthermore why is she “back” to tell more “secrets”? She did this a few years ago and people oohed and ahhhed over this revelation. She made her point. Now she’s telling more secrets in another interview. It makes me a little suspicious. Just being honest.

Erika Nicole Kendall January 26, 2015 - 12:51 PM

Kai originally violated her contract and has [assumedly] already since suffered the consequences – that’s why the other contestants quoted in the original article only spoke under the guise of anonymity.

I’m one of the people who wrote about her original ‘expose,’ so I’m quite familiar with that. The inclusion of some additional pieces of the puzzle make this a bit different and worthy of discussion.

A little suspicion is always healthy, but if there are still takeaways from the melee, I’m all for hearing them.

Ariel L. January 26, 2015 - 1:06 AM

“The trainers, she says, took satisfaction in bringing their charges to physical and mental collapse. “They’d get a sick pleasure out of it,” she says. “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.””

It worries me a lot that there are any of these types of trainers out there, let alone that the number is INCREASING because of these idiotic shows. I think, since you say you could go on & on about the topic, a post on how to tell the good trainers from the bad might be a good idea. But, perhaps you’d have a more original idea on which you’d care to elaborate in a longer blog post? 😀

Another point I found really meaningful was the bit you wrote about motivation in this post. I may have posted it here – I find it just so meaningful that I end up posting it everywhere! – so I apologize if I’m repeating myself in your comment section. My therapist once told me something that I keep up on a white board by my bedroom door:

“‘Action’ doesn’t just come before ‘motivation’ in the dictionary.” I took that to heart. We can’t just sit around waiting for “motivation,” or “inspiration,” to come around & get us to go to the gym, or make a healthy meal, or walk around the block, or write down our memoirs, or whatever else we hope to one day do. We have to take that first step, which is usually removing the excuse of “I’m not motivated/inspired/feeling it/whatever” & just GO.

Keep up the great stuff!!!

Erika Nicole Kendall February 3, 2015 - 11:06 AM


Ariel L. January 26, 2015 - 9:42 PM

I’m not sure if my comment got eaten by the evil Internet monster (a plugin crashed when I hit “Post Comment”) or if it’s awaiting moderation. If it got eaten, please let me know so I can repost!! Thanks muchly!

Erika Nicole Kendall February 3, 2015 - 11:06 AM

Nope, I got it. 🙂

Ariel L. February 3, 2015 - 1:31 PM

Ah! Thank you. I thought, immediately after hitting “reply,” of course, that I shouldn’t be so pushy. My apologies.

Keep up the great work!!

Vee June 13, 2015 - 5:18 AM

Thank you for this. What an awful show. When I first started working out I watched this show for motivation. But I found the trainers rude and combative. Like Hells kitchen for fat people. I also couldn’t emulate their weight loss results. I lost 26 pounds last year. (I had kidney surgery and a cyst surgery) I didn’t workout too hard last year. I felt like a failure. I told my doctor I only lost 26 pounds and he looked like he wanted to smack me. I’m stronger. My blood pressure is amazing. He says my sugars are way better. I don’t have kidney pain. He reminded me that it took 11 years of pregnancy, B12 deficiency, and stress to create the fat me. I’m getting better. Just like recovering from surgery takes time. So does all of the body. The kidney doctor a year later still refers to me as “in recovery”. If it takes more than a year for just the kidneys to recover then my whole body is still in “recovery”. I think we forget to celebrate our own success because of these horrid shows. What no one sees when they see fat me is that I’m doing way better these days. I walked for 6 hours with the stroller on Thursday. I’m strong enough to walk for 6 hours!!!! That doesn’t even count the 45 mins we stopped at the park to play. I couldn’t do that last year. I lost a pound and a half in the last 2/3 weeks. That’s good for me. It makes for bad TV. I am going to remember that.

Ariel L. June 14, 2015 - 2:29 PM

WOW!! Go you! I see myself doing the same. exact. thing! “Ohhh, I’m not losing weight” but, at the same time, I’m doing full squats instead of the assisted squats (with a 2nd riser on top of a squat-high box, making it taller so mah behind doesn’t have to go down as far), I’m doing more step-ups onto the box, I’m not as exhausted after a high-intensity work out as I used to be, my bloodwork is coming back better, I don’t get winded walking as much…

I think it’s important to hold onto these “small” (they’re really not; they’re great!) victories even if the weight isn’t falling off us in extreme amounts that, ultimately, we prolly can’t sustain long-term.

It sounds like you’re doing GREAT & your doctors recognize that w/your improved bloodwork results & your increased endurance deserves to be commended.

We can’t worry about how we look to other people; it’s all about how we FEEL. <3

Tina Wilkins June 25, 2016 - 10:41 AM

Great article. Just watched Extreme Weight Loss for the first time and was so moved at the time. Now I know the truth. I remember thinking while watching that I could not possibly do some of those exercises without suffering injyry, but the contestant was 22 and I’m 51. They just BARELY touched on nutrition. TLC needs to take these fat porn shows off. Great blog, sign me up now!!!

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