Home Health On The Small Screen Former ‘Biggest Loser’ Contestants Tell the REAL Story Behind the Show

Former ‘Biggest Loser’ Contestants Tell the REAL Story Behind the Show

by Erika Nicole Kendall

This is exactly what I expected. I mean, exactly what I expected.

Following a controversial study that claims to explain why almost all “Biggest Loser” contestants regain massive amounts of weight, numerous ex-”Losers” reached out to the New York Post to dispute its findings — exclusively revealing that the show encouraged contestants to take street drugs while starving themselves and to lie about how much weight they were losing.

The federally funded study, conducted by Dr. Kevin Hall at the National Institutes of Health and published two weeks ago, says changing metabolic rates, hormone levels, and genetic predispositions explain post-show weight gain.

What’s missing, former “Losers” reportedly tell the Post, is any examination of the show’s secret tactics, which include providing illicit drugs to contestants and submitting them to questionable medical exams by the show’s resident doctor, Rob Huizenga, known as “Dr. H.”

Huizenga collaborated with Hall on the NIH’s study.

“People were passing out in Dr. H’s office at the finale weigh-in,” says Season 2’s Suzanne Mendonca. “On my season, five people had to be rushed to the hospital. He knew exactly what we were doing and never tried to stop it.” [source]

So, someone who was affiliated with the show collaborated on a study intended to make excuses for the fact that they never actually prepared the contestants for weight loss success? It’s metabolism, they said, but they didn’t explain that and the fact that the training practices of the Biggest Loser contributed to that. “It’s genetics,” they said, but they didn’t acknowledge the widely-known belief that “genetics only loads the gun, it doesn’t pull the trigger.” They completely dismissed the idea of food addiction, which unsurprisingly excuses the show from being called out for its unscrupulous partnerships with sugar-laden processed food brands. “It’s hormones,” they claimed, knowing damn well that didn’t have anywhere near the negative effects as what’s taking place here.

Basically, it’s like this man purposefully got involved with this study so he could use the scientific sphere to validate the show’s practices. The study amounted to “it’s not the show—the show is good! It’s these people! It’s their bodies! They’re the problem!” It’s almost as if a re-tooling of the show is coming down the pike, and this is an effort to protect the Biggest Loser brand.

But bruh….bruh. It gets better. And, by “better,” I mean “god-awful worse:”

Following a controversial study that claims to explain why almost all “Biggest Loser” contestants regain massive amounts of weight, numerous ex-Losers reached out to The Post to dispute its findings — exclusively revealing that the show encouraged contestants to take street drugs while starving themselves and to lie about how much weight they were losing.


This source confirms that show trainer Bob Harper and one of his assistants have supplied contestants with Adderall and “yellow jackets” — pills that contain ephedra extract. Ephedra is used to promote weight loss and boost energy, and was banned by the FDA in 2004.

“Bob Harper was my trainer,” says Joelle Gwynn, of 2008’s “Couples” season. “He goes away and his assistant comes in. He’s got this brown paper bag that’s bundled up. He says, ‘Take this drug, it’ll really help you.’ It was yellow and black. I was like, ‘What the f- -k is this?’ ”

Gwynn says she took the pill, once.

“I felt jittery and hyper,” she says. “I went and told the sports medicine guy. The next day, Dr. H gave us some lame explanation of why they got added to our regimen and that it was up to us to take them […]”


Harper, Gwynn says, told her off-camera to lie about how much she was eating and losing. In keeping her daily log, Gwynn says Harper told her, “Lie and say you were following the directive of intaking 1,500 calories — but I want you to do 800 calories or as little as you can.”

“People would take amphetamines, water pills, diuretics, and throw up in the bathroom,” Season 2’s Mendonca says. “They would take their spin bikes into the steam room to work up a sweat. I vomited every single day. Bob Harper tells people to throw up: ‘Good,’ he says. ‘You’ll lose more calories.’ ” [source]

I’m utterly speechless. As a trainer, and as a person who knows the struggle and the journey of losing weight intimately. This is unbelievable.

But wait! Wait wait wait!

“When I was going through the applicant process, they told me, ‘You’re not fat enough,’ ” Mendonca says. She was 5-foot-6 and says she weighed 229 pounds, morbidly obese by NIH standards.

“They said, ‘You need to gain 40 pounds. Keep eating.’ ” Mendonca entered the show at 255 pounds.

“They manipulate you,” says Lezlye Donahue. A single mom to one young son, Donahue was depressed, in debt and vulnerable when casting directors spotted her. She was given a free consult with Huizenga.

“He says to me, ‘If you don’t do something today, you are going to die.’ ” After Katrina, the 5-foot-5 Donahue had gone from 135 pounds to 250. “Then he made a fist and opened his hand very slightly and said, ‘This is your heart. It won’t open all the way, and the reason is: you’re fat.’ ” [source]

I have to tell you, that his little fist demonstration is very slippery. That’s not the kind of information you can determine from a mere consult; he was manipulating her in order to mentally prepare her to accept whatever they put her through as an act of desperation. Priming her to believe competing and suffering through the show was her last ditch effort to “save her life.”

Like all participants, Donahue was separated from family and friends, contact completely cut off. For her season, producers installed contestants in a former psychiatric hospital and put 12 obese contestants in one bedroom in the LA heat, with no air conditioning.

“It was hot as hell, and the smell was horrible,” Donahue says.

The contestants were forced to shower together with no curtains or barriers of any kind. There were also no working toilets during Donahue’s season, so producers made these severely overweight contestants squeeze into Port-a-Potties — a challenge even for thin people, and yet another humiliation.

Donahue’s daily food intake consisted of seven asparagus sticks and 3 ounces of turkey. Once eliminated, all contestants go home and are expected to keep losing weight, with no support from the show. They’re contractually obligated to weigh in on the show’s finale. [source]

Back to my point about desperation, right? Forced into tiny port-a-potties, all sharing one bedroom, forced to share a shower with no privacy and endure people staring at you and potentially judging your body?

These are all manipulative tactics to try to remind you of how much space you take up in the world, and how far away you are from your goal. The incentive is to force you to realize you need to endure what they’re putting you through. You need to accept this as a part of your struggle. You need us.

The unwritten part of that “you need us” is “you need us… to continue manipulating and exploiting you.”

Since the show, she’s gained all the weight back. She says she lost her job, suffers from depression, and has thousands of dollars in medical bills as a result of the trauma her body went through.

“I read that [NIH] study, and there’s so much more that people don’t know,” she says. “There are nurses sitting there [filling people] with IV packs. I took away an eating disorder. I have nightmares about it.” [source]

None of this surprises me. I’ve literally been talking about this for years.

In one of the more popular comment sections on the blog, there are numerous people defending their right to enjoy these kinds of shows—no one’s debating that—but numerous people mention that the show is “inspiring” to them. It’s “motivating.” At some point, we have to ask ourselves, “exactly what about this kind of arrangement is motivating to us?”

Is it merely seeing people moving, grinding, sweating, yelling to get through it all? Or is it seeing people do all that….and ultimately still experience weight loss in the end? Because that weight loss is not only marred by the reality that the contestant might gain back every single pound and then some, but now we know that chances are high it was achieved by fat burner pills—which are often just glorified caffeine pills—and prescription drug abuse.

Are you inspired by their ability to commit? To give it their all? Because it’s clear that the show’s production team is manipulating these people in every sense of the word, to force them to feel like they’d die the day they stepped off the ranch.

This is your motivation. It feeds into this “I’ve got to get hot at all costs” mentality that we have in this country. It does little more than feed into the cycle of yo-yo dieting that leaves so many people struggling today.

The New York Post reports that there are former contestants calling for the show’s cancellation. At this point, I have to agree. The show has manipulated the public’s general idea of what it means to lose weight healthily in a sustainable fashion that helps them maintain their goals just as much as it helps them achieve them in the first place. The show has allowed questionable sponsorships to guide its content and what the contestants are advised to eat. The show has encouraged people to engage in tactics that amount to passive eating disorders, and ultimately ruined the contestants’ relationships with both food and their bodies.

The show needs to go. It’s time. It. Is. Time.

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Sonali May 23, 2016 - 12:50 PM

I’m ashamed to say before I started reading your blog ie getting educated I too found this show “inspiring” I remember watching on a long haul flight between India and London, getting of the plane “totally motivated to stop being fat and disgusting once and for all” yes that is how I used to think about and talk to myself. Now it just makes me sad and angry, how can such a show even be legal?? It scares me just reading about what they have made people endure and is there no liability for the ensuring physical and mental health difficulties (unsurprisingly) contestants are left with? *shaking my head*

rv May 23, 2016 - 1:24 PM

I always had a hard time keeping up with these kinds of shows because I never saw myself in the contestants. Something about losing that much weight, that quickly always made me feel part inadequate and part “this is bullsh*t”. I think the latter won because I never really believed that they were losing all of that weight by simply eating better and exercising. Nothing about these kinds of weight loss shows inspired/motivated me because there was something always “fraud” about them. Now I know my instinct was right.

Janelle Cissell May 31, 2016 - 8:53 AM

When this show first aired, I would watch it and get “inspired”. I’d then step on the scale and see a two pound loss and get instantly depressed. In my mind, if such and such can lose 18 lbs a week and is the same height, size, etc. why can’t I? I had to stop watching because it was hindering my own goals. Well hells bells…no wonder their weight loss was so major week to week…they were killing themselves. Unfortunately, new shows pop up like this one every season. I don’t think it’s going anywhere until people stop watching.

Lisa June 3, 2016 - 2:13 AM

The competitiveness and politics drove me crazy. The challenges that would intentionally try to sway people to eat extra calories in order to gain advantages made no sense whatsoever and also seem to fly in the face of what they were supposed to be trying to accomplish. It seem like the contestants who did the least would band together and outwit the contestants who worked harder.

I finally became very disgusted with the show and walked away from it entirely.

Rebecca J Arms June 27, 2016 - 7:18 PM

I have always found this show to be fat shaming in the way they portray the contestants. It’s like a circus show where thin people get to gawk at overweight people. There is no reason for them to dress the contestants the way they do except for fat shaming them. Being motivated by shame only lasts so long. And THAT is not inspirational to me. YOU are inspirational to me because you have worked hard and give me hope that I can do it too and make being healthy a new lifestyle and do it with dignity, not shame. Thank you for that. Keep on Erika!! 🙂

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