Can the Biggest Loser Give You an Eating Disorder?

I came across this story (and part 2 here) the other day, where Biggest Loser Season 3 finalist Kai Hibbard gives the scoop on her experiences at the Biggest Loser.  Some of her interview sheds light on pretty obvious stuff – they worked the contestants out too much, too hard, didn’t care if they barfed.  That the show encourages the contestants to eat too little so they lose more weight.  That they dehydrate themselves to have a better weigh-in.

I can’t say I’m surprised about those claims – I mean I already knew that the show wasn’t realistic.  But she goes on.

In addition to what had happened at the ranch, once she got home she says she was constantly getting emails from producers asking if she was still losing weight, how much she’d worked out that day, etc.  There was a lot of pressure on her, and it was all about losing weight, not about being healthy.  She was barely eating and was working out a lot.  In her words:

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.’

Yeah, that doesn’t sound too healthy to me.

When she was told to relax her diet one day to push past a plateau, she found herself eating a meal consisting of a bag of cookies, a quart of milk, and a box of ex-lax. At that point, she realized she had a big problem.  Fortunately her family was there and has helped (and continues to help) her get back on track, although she still struggles with body image issues and her eating disorder.

I didn’t watch the show back in Season 3 so I can’t say if it’s different now, but a lot of her claims certainly sound reasonable.  I mean, I’m not a doctor but there’s no way you can lose THAT much weight without burning TONS more calories than you’re taking in.  And you either have to eat practically nothing, exercise like a maniac, or both.

As for the pressure, well, yeah, I can believe that too.  I mean it’s a game show where you want to win, and the results are entirely based on the scale.  I didn’t see any of the pressuring emails and don’t know how much specific pressure the producers gave her, but it is a game show and I could see them sending reminders thinking that they were helping.  And it is certainly not beyond believing that complaints about the process would be met with a “there are plenty of other people who want to do this, so don’t you waste it” response.

I can totally see how you’d leave the show messed up.  Maybe a little, maybe a lot.

All that said…I know I’ll still give the show another chance.  Yes, it’s unrealistic, yes, I know it can’t be too healthy to lose weight that quickly, but there is something exciting about the show (although the only full season I’ve seen was the last one, where it was more “friendly” and less cutthroat gameplay-wise than other seasons).  And of course it has my beloved Jillian (and Bob, who’s DVDs are on the way, woo hoo!).

What I DO wish, as I’ve said before, is that they’d follow the contestants home with a therapist and transition them back to real life.  Teach them that it isn’t all about the scale.  Teach them that major losses aren’t “normal” and that they need to eat normal food.  Teach them that 2-5 hours of exercise a day isn’t normal.

Teach them to be regular people again.

What do you think about the Biggest Loser?  Would you have a problem if you were on it?

19 comments for “Can the Biggest Loser Give You an Eating Disorder?

  1. June 18, 2010 at 7:35 am

    I’ve often wondered that, and I, too, am not surprised at all. When it comes to money, it makes sense.

    Also, the show really does NOT do a great job of dealing with the emotional side of eating. I know that Jillian’s new show has a bit of that, but I think there needs to be more.

    For so many people (if not all), it’s not just about the getting off their butt and working out and stopping putting food in their mouths. It’s SO much more. And by not really digging deep and addressing that, these folks are going to take their addictive personalities and use them for weight loss. This can, at first, be good, but it can get pretty bad.

  2. Reama
    June 18, 2010 at 7:49 am

    i think people are going into this eyes wide open, i am not a college grad, schooled in the art of fitness training, or even pretend to know half what i should about my body~~ but what i do know is this..ITS A FREAKIN TV SHOW…ummm..hello?i am sure nobody walks on that set thinkin the twinkies and ho hos are on the way? u KNOW they are gonna push you to the breaking point, u KNOW u are gonna barf sometime, and u sure KNOW only a large calorie deficit is going to give you a loss big enough to win. Now, i know we all have insecurity issues…but come on PEOPLE..use common sense. When its camera time, its you versus your body, when the cameras are off, its u versus your mind. YOU have got to know when is enough, i am sure ALL these contestants were schooled in this. I know Bob or Jillian wouldnt just say keep exercising 6 hours a day, stay at 1000 cals a day…how many times have we heard them say its all about balance.its all about keeping it in line…THATS RIGHT..hundreds or more. I have an addictable personality, i get on something and i cant stop..this includes exercise. But i got my mind right, got my sh*t together, and i still fight to keep it that way. I think some get their bodies right, but the mind is still weak. It starts with the mind…i am sure u have all heard strong mind, strong body…welllll.there ya go. its all up to YOU what you let control you..not some tv the end of the day..its all you baby!period..shred on..

  3. June 18, 2010 at 8:24 am

    I think we’ve all known how unrealistic the show is, but this is just confirmation. Sad really.

    I think when you’re at a heavier weight, like where many of the contestants start, it’s okay to lose the larger quantity weights – like 10, 13, 15 lbs… but once they begin to get loser to their goal weights (like Tara, Season 7) losing that much weight per week is where you get in trouble.

    Regardless of the fact that they may provide support to these contestants by means of doctors and counselors, there is still tremendous amounts of pressure. We’ve all seen how the *real world* has affected them in some way when they’ve left.

    Providing some of that support at home SHOULD be a cruical element of the show. Because right now, they’ve basically throwing these people back into shark infested waters. It’s not fair.

    • June 18, 2010 at 8:25 am

      “loser to their goal weights” is supposed to read: “closer to their goal weights”. Sigh.

  4. June 18, 2010 at 3:21 pm

    I always feel like the show leaves me wanting more. In the 2 hours per week (which is really only 1 1/2 hours of TV time or so), I know there is SOOO much we aren’t seeing. They rarely, if ever, talk about diet, calories in, calories out, protein, carbs, and so on. You never see what happens at home but for a few snippets here and there. There’s just so much that goes into healthy weight loss and life long healthy diet and exercise, do they get all that? I wonder what happens to many of the contestants we never see again.

    • June 18, 2010 at 3:51 pm

      I agree – there is so much more they could do with this show…including a “bonus” episode each week that talks about more realistic eating stuff rather than the challenges, and a followup series (in the main series offtime) that talks about where previous contestants are now, what challenges they’ve faced, etc. It’s nice that they brought a few back this last season, but I’d really like to see them all. It’s pure speculation, but I’m guessing the stats aren’t that positive or we’d be seeing how successful they all are.

      • T
        June 22, 2010 at 5:01 pm

        I know they have talked about the body bug. But only touch on the food stuff when they are promoting the advertisers. I would like to see more on the nutrition not just when they have challenges. That could be a great insight for some online footage to get ppl to come to the website. They could really build on the show!
        I do think in the last few seasons they really have been getting into the feeling and emotions that cause them to gain the weight.

  5. Katie
    June 21, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    Honestly, I question this. Yes, the show is very unrealistic, I totally acknowledge that. However…Kai has been bitter about the show and trying to give it bad press for years. She used to (I don’t know if she still does) have a myspace account completely dedicated to the defamation of the show.

    Also, I’m tired of people claiming that television shows “gave” them eating disorders. Eating Disorders are psychological disorders…not something that you can ‘catch’. Did she have some issues with eating because of the pressure of the show? Absolutely. But did she have an eating disorder? Eh. I don’t know about that.

    In my opinion, there are hundreds of people who come out of TBL and sing its praises, have their lives changed and are happier and healthier. There are maybe 2 or 3 people who come out saying they had a negative experience, and they are the ones who get attention.

    *stepping off soap box*

  6. T
    June 22, 2010 at 4:49 pm

    It is a TV show! I don’t find any of it shocking. They play tapes out of order, take comments out of context. It’s “reality” TV for goodness sake.
    I didn’t watch that season so like Bill I don’t know if the setup has changed. With that said, I don’t totally believe her. She’s not in it for the money but she’s out promoting a new diet product.
    If the show is handling the contests inappropriately, they should fix it! I want to believe in all the good that the show has done helped so many ppl. It’s bringing awareness to children, parents, communities…food banks are even getting helps now. You can find the good and bad in everything. I would hate to find out this was done just so she can make money.

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