When I was a teenager, one of my all-time favorite activities was grabbing a big bowl of popcorn and catching up on the latest episode of “The Biggest Loser.” As a thin-bodied youth battling a secret eating disorder and diet pill addiction, I’d get totally fired up watching a bunch of fat people transform into skinny versions of themselves. To me, these folks were reaching their full potential, and I was totally on board with it.
Week after week, the contestants would push themselves to the point of vomiting, break down into tears on the regular, and exercise like they were being chased by Godzilla. My all-time favorite “tough love” trainer Jillian Michaels would rage-scream at the participants until her eyeballs practically popped out of her head. The whole damn time, I sat in awe of everyone’s determination, got a temporary high off of seeing them put the pedal to the metal, and celebrated with them when all of those nasty pounds on their previously large bodies bit the fucking dust.
Now that the show is about to have an unexpected reboot, I need to step in and speak up. Because all those years ago while I was naively idolizing “The Biggest Loser” for seemingly championing weight loss, I had no fucking clue that the contestants were enduring heinous abuses behind the scenes.
Since going suspiciously off the air amid some majorly bad press in 2016, a bunch of previous “Biggest Loser” contestants have gone on record to speak out about the dangerous practices that were thrust upon them during their time on the show. Former participant Suzanne Mendonca even threatened the program with a class-action lawsuit, claiming that she and others were pressured to gain weight before they began the show, were banned from drinking water while they competed, and were forced to obsessively exercise past exhaustion. On occasion, Mendonca claimed she was encouraged by the “Biggest Loser” team to eat baking soda as a way of retaining water for more dramatic weight loss results the following week.
“‘The Biggest Loser’ doesn’t save lives,” Mendonca said in a 2016 New York Post interview. “It ruins lives. Mentally, emotionally, financially — you come back a different person.”
In addition to verbally abusing contestants on “The Biggest Loser” and recently going on record as a fat-shaming bully, former trainer (and Lizzo body-hater) Jillian Michaels has been sued a whopping four times for selling her own brand of weight loss pills that contain potentially lethal ingredients and – big surprise! – don’t actually work.
Oddly enough, the manufacturer that makes and markets her supplements is a company called – and I kid you not – ThinCare International.
But of all the allegations made by former “Biggest Loser” contestants, the most heartbreaking one is that of single-mother Lezlye Donahue. Depressed and swimming in debt, Donahue was allegedly approached by casting directors and offered a free consult with Dr. Huizenga. After she agreed to go onto the show, she was allegedly thrown into deplorable conditions and cut off from being able to contact a single loved one.
She reported that her daily food intake usually consisted of seven asparagus sticks and three ounces of turkey. And since there were no working toilets on the set, Donahue and her castmates were allegedly given a single, humiliating option – daily trips to a Port-A-Potty.
Living in the ongoing atmosphere of starvation and abuse mentally shattered the mom.
“There are nurses sitting there [filling people] with IV packs,” she explained to the New York Post. “I took away an eating disorder. I have nightmares about it.”
National Institutes of Health scientist Kevin Hall added even more fuel to the controversy fire when he conducted a study that followed the metabolic rates of former contestants for six years after they appeared on “Biggest Loser.” Hall was initially trying to determine the impact extreme weight loss can have on a person’s metabolism. He concluded that not only did the methods used on the show overwhelmingly slow down each contestant’s metabolic rate, but it also damaged their metabolism beyond repair.
“It is frightening and amazing,” said Hall in a 2016 New York Times interview. “I am just blown away.
I could literally go on and on, providing an abundance of other highly publicized allegations that make “The Biggest Loser” worth boycotting this year. But I think it’s time to get really fucking personal.
I’ve spent the better part of my life believing a bunch of stupid lies. I’ve put my full faith into a broken and inappropriately-used BMI system to measure my health. I’ve bought into the myth that a thin body makes you instantly lovable. I’ve hustled hard to achieve my physical goals in order to earn my worth in this world. I’ve religiously joined weight loss programs, dieted out my ass, hiked up high mountains to punish my body, and believed that all of my efforts were in the name of “health.” And finally, I’ve allowed myself to feel repulsed and disappointed at the sight of fat people around me, because I’ve genuinely believed that they clearly decided to give up on life and it showed.
Life has a funny way of catching up to all of us. After three decades living in praise-worthy but life-damaging thinness, I am now existing in a body that doctors have deemed “medically obese.” I am now at a size that would make me an excellent candidate for “The Biggest Loser.” Except now, I give zero fucks about that catastrophic shitshow of a television program.
Now that I know what I know, I refuse to support a show that is a breeding ground for eating disorders, abuse, and constant fat-shaming. I cannot get behind a show that made famous a verbally abusive trainer like Jillian Michaels, a woman who thinks it’s totally cool to talk about contestants potentially dying while they’re exercising right in front of her or publicly revel in the enjoyment of watching those contestants suffer. And even though Bob Harper claims this show takes a more “holistic” approach, I’m not holding my breath.
Living at times as both thin and fat has afforded me a shit ton of perspective. The most eye-opening truth I’ve learned is that everything I believed about larger-bodied people was wrong. Now that I take up more space than I ever have before in my life, I realize how dangerous and destructive my early conditioning was.
The fact is, I’ve been living a long ass time with a heaping abundance of thin privilege I didn’t even know I had until I became fat. I’ve been taught by shows like “The Biggest Loser” to demonize, ridicule, and disrespect larger bodies. I’ve been encouraged since I was a child to always keep losing weight, no matter how dangerous the methods to achieve ultimate weight loss may be. I’ve been praised so many goddamn times in my previously skinny body that the mere thought of ever living in a fat body one day paralyzed me with fear.
Gaining weight was precisely the action I needed to take in order to completely heal from my eating disorder. Much like the contestants on “The Biggest Loser,” I was abusing myself from the inside out to achieve and maintain an unbearably thin body. It took breaking up with diet culture and embracing a fat body for me get my life back.
I will never again allow a reality program like “The Biggest Loser” to convince me I’m wrong for feeling healthy, happy, and whole in my current physical state. This appalling show really is the biggest loser in my book, and I will never be on board with it again.
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