Fit vs. Fiction's Blog

What I learned from Biggest Loser contestant Kai Hibbard

Posted in Uncategorized by fitvsfiction on August 4, 2011

It’s no secret that I find our society’s obsession with weightloss, often at any cost, extremely frustrating. We can’t turn on our tvs without seeing countless commercials showing somebody trying to sell us something that will transform our bodies and our lives. These ads are filled with people talking at length about how some new magical pill or shake or fat burning gadget has transported them from the depths of misery to the kind of healthy,happy life they’d only dreamed about. Problem is, these are not randomaly chosen,satisfied customers, but actors who show up,tell us how they’ve lost 50lbs in 5 mins, pick up their paychecks and leave.

As annoying as these commercials are, they are simply tiny appetizers to what really gets my blood boiling; full length weightloss TV shows.

For the past 3 years I’ve been bringing my Fit vs Fiction body image program to schools and parent groups in an effort to break down the myths where beauty and fitness are concerned and to clarify the difference between actually being fit and just looking fit. It’s hard to talk about media manipulation without mentioning a “Reality” weightloss show or 2.

Recently, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to chat with the fabulous Kai Hibbard, who was a contestant on season 3 of NBC’s The Biggest Loser to get the “skinny” on what actually went on behind the scenes of the show and get some insight on weightloss TV from someone who lived through it.

Before speaking with Kai, I believed that “The Biggest Loser” was just the latest in reality TV humiliation, where contestants would agree to follow the diet and exercise rules set by overzealous, carbohydrate deficient, self-righteous fitness trainers who think that being overweight also means being hearing impaired as they bark their orders with the type of judgemental disdain you’d expect more from prison guards than fitness trainers hired to “motivate” the contestants to be the healthiest they can be.

After speaking with Kai…I discovered that I was right.

I’ve decided to share a few of the facts that were shared with me, since this is a clear case of Fiction over Fitness.

* Kai didn’t join the show out of desperation. She did not have body image or eating disorder issues. She had gained weight, but was confident she could lose it on her own. A friend told her about the show and suggested she give it a shot because it seemed like it could be fun. Always up for a challenge and willing to try anything once, she sent in her video audition and was chosen to participate. She had never seen the show before joining it.

*Contestants were immediately thrown into extreme and intense diet and workout regiments that put their health at severe risk and were forced to continue exercising even when injured. One woman had to demand to see a doctor several times for problems with her knees before the producers allowed it to happen. Once there, the doctor cautioned her and Kai about the damage they were doing to their bodies and clearly felt they should leave. They didn’t.

* Although there were doctors and dieticians on staff to monitor them and offer advice, the contestants were told to ignore this advice and to focus only on what the trainers were saying.

*While contestants lost weight, they also suffered illness and injury including: torn ligaments, pulled muscles, hair loss, severe bruising, insomnia and loss of menstruation, just to name a few.

* Kai’s family, friends and family doctors were so concerned about her health during filming that they begged her to leave the show, in a moment of clarity, she agreed but was basically told by the show’s producers to “Suck it up” and keep going.

*While she would eventually heal from the physical repercussions, the emotional and psychological damage may be lifelong. One of the show’s own doctors compared the experience to  “Stockholm Syndrome”. It was similar to being held captive by a group of people constantly feeding you the same extreme messages minute after minute, day after day until you start believing it to be true. She knew she felt sick physically and mentally, but was so caught up in the whole thing, couldn’t leave it.

* Contestants were constantly reminded of how lucky they were to be there and how there were hundreds of thousands of people wanting to be in their position and how selfish they would be to throw it away.

*There was so much pressure to succeed at the finale, that many contestants resorted to starvation, sauna sweat sessions lasting hours and pure dehydration in order to be as THIN as they could be. A former season 1 contestant admitted to punishing his body so badly in the last few weeks that he began urinating blood.

* Trainers were there to WIN, not motivate or educate.

* What you see is NOT what you get:

While the show would offer healthy tips to viewers, contestants were told to ignore them and follow a different set of rules. For example: In one episode viewers were told about the health benefits attached to milk while watching contestants drinking it in the background. What they didn’t see,however, were the trainers yelling at them to “SPIT IT OUT!” as soon as the cameras were turned off.

*contestants were taught how to lose weight quickly, not how to live in a healthy way. The more shocking the before and after pictures, the higher the ratings. The show cares more about healthy ratings than healthy contestants.

Once the money’s been awarded ,the set’s been cleared and contestants are back at home, they are left to fend for themselves,often reverting to old habits. Only now they feel worse about themselves because the millions of people who watched them lose weight are now watching them put it back on, which makes them feel like failures.

Where are their attentives trainers now,the ones who were so focused on their progress and success? They can be seen on TV, once a week, working with a whole new cast of characters.

*Many of contestants went home with more food issues than they came with. Kai was terrified of food by the time she left. All food. She survived on coffee and splenda until her family intervened. The thought of having to eat a “real” meal literally brought her to tears. She did lose weight, but sadly, also lost her self-esteem, healthy body image and the ability to see herself through non judgemental eyes. She didn’t start the show with an eating disorder, but ended up leaving with one. She is not the only one.

* Does the weightloss last? Maybe, if they are willing to continue to starve themselves and overtrain. Otherwise, simply drinking their first post-finale glass of water will restore the first of the waterweight they’ve lost. Of course, the fact that they’ve completely destroyed their metabolism won’t help them keep the pounds off either.

* Of course,If they need some help post-production, they can always contact the caring, hard working trainer who was so concerned with their well being, right? Not exactly. One trainer in particular has been known to change his cell phone number repeatedly, just to avoid getting calls from past contestants.

While producers talk about aftercare with available specialists, Kai has seen none of it.

* The contestants are treated less like people and more like a cast of characters chosen to hit their marks and follow the rules set out for them.

Kai has been off the show for years and is living a much healthier, more balanced life than she thought possible when she left the show, but the scars are still there and they’re deep. As a mom, she tries to model balance and moderation instead of restriction and obsession for her son, but knows that her own battle is far from over.

Speaking out about her experiences on The Biggest Loser has garnered her some enemies. She still receives hate mail from fans of the show and are angry at her for telling the truth. The fact that there are still people out there who think that reality tv has anything to do with reality is astonishing to me. I am incredibly grateful to Kai for being honest and courageous enough to do what she felt was right. Others may be okay with deception, but she was not. She obviously knows that doing the right thing isn’t always the popular thing. Kai’s success isn’t her weightloss, but the fact the she survived a hailstorm of craziness and found her way back to sanity.


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