Kai Hibbard, a former contestant on season 3 of The Biggest Loser, is speaking out against what she says are dangerous practices by the show that force contestants to lose weight quickly and make it look to viewers like it’s both possible and healthy. Hibbard says that while she’s grateful to the show she knew she had to speak out to help people know that it’s not normal to lose weight like that. She said she hasn’t been compensated for any interviews, that she’s speaking out at great financial risk to her family, and that she’s heard from at least six other former contestants who “have had experiences at least as bad as mine.” Hibbard went from 262 to 144 pounds on the show, but it wasn’t exactly in just 12 weeks, because as she explained “a week is not a week on TV.” She also said she developed an eating disorder as a result of the show and that her family staged an intervention to help her eat more healthy. She’s since gained back 70 of the pounds she lost.
“The Biggest Loser” has been a big ratings winner since its debut in 2004, and when you add best-selling cookbooks and workout DVD’s, the show brought in an estimated $100 million last year.
But now there are disturbing allegations about the program’s truthfulness, and its treatment of contestants.
Kai Hibbard thought she was a changed woman at the end of season three of “The Biggest Loser,” the reality show that rewards $250,000 to the contestant who sheds the most pounds.
Hibbard said at the show’s conclusion, “I’m not the same person I was when I got here, and that’s a miracle. It’s an amazing amazing thing.”
But Hibbard says reality hit her after the show.
While she lost 118 pounds on the show, she ended up gaining more than 70 of it back.
Molly Carmel, director of Greenlight at Wilkins Center in Greenwich, Conn., said, “It’s in no way normal to lose 118 pounds in a 12 week amount of time. Even with surgery, that would be a lot of weight to lose.”
Hibbard claims that contestants on the show were pressured to exercise even when severely injured, and to diet by dehydration. She says they were also told to ignore the advice of nutritionists and listen to the show’s trainers.
In addition, Hibbard said on “The Early Show” Friday she didn’t lose weight at the rate seen on the show.
She explained, “I have people that come up to me and talk to me and ask me why they can’t lose 12 pound in a week when I did. When I didn’t. It didn’t happen. It’s TV. So, if I’m going to be grateful and be an inspiration, at the same time I need to take blame and responsibility for the fact that I helped perpetuate a myth that’s dangerous.”
When pressed about the rate at which she did lose weight, Hibbard said, “A week is not a week on TV. … I’m saying that it would be most times longer than a week. And I believe once in my season it was less than a week. Not always a week.”
Hibbard continued, “The weight loss for that show is for ratings. People have to remember that ‘The Biggest Loser” isn’t a weight loss camp that happens to be filmed for TV. It’s a TV show that’s made to look like a weight loss camp. So, there was pressure from production and everybody involved in the show to make sure you had as big numbers as possible every week. And I could tell you that before I went on the show I never learned how to dehydrate to manipulate a scale. And I left knowing how to do it better than some fitness competitors that I know.”
Hibbard said she also left the show with severe issues about her weight.
“I left with a very poor mental body image,” she told “Early Show” co-anchor Erica Hill. “I found myself loathing what I looked like the more weight I dropped because of the pressure on me. And I found myself doing things like considering coffee a meal. And because of the mentality that I was surrounded with, and the pressure that was given at that show, it was considered acceptable to behave that way. I take full responsibility for everything that I’ve done. But you can’t understand it unless you understand the pressure that was there.”
Hibbard’s husband, Jake Zwierstra, who met Hibbard during the show’s filming, also saw a change in her that went beyond her weight.
“I saw a transformation in her,” he said. “Every time she flew out, she looked different. She was just always so very busy and going to the gym. Really all she would eat was coffee. Coffee, splenda, no cream, because that wasn’t healthy. So, she never slept. Just always fretted about, you know — special ordered everything, no cheese, no — nothing that a normal person would do.”
Hibbard’s said her condition worsened to the point where her family and friends, some of whom are health professionals, staged an intervention.
“She came back with her hair falling out, Zwierstra said. “We finally all sat down and was like, ‘This isn’t healthy for you.’ We talked to a trainer. They kind of reeled her in and made her eat healthy.”
At the end of her interview, Hibbard quipped “I’m gonna get lots of hate mail, so when you send it, make sure you spellcheck it – famewhore is spelled with a ‘w’.” She added that “I participated in something that I feel is harmful to so many people, so I own responsibility to make it better.”
Biggest Loser trainer Jillian Michaels has also made some comments about how the show is staged for ratings and could be dangerous to contestants. It’s much more compelling to hear a story from a former contestant who starved herself so thin that her hair was falling out.
This isn’t Kai’s first time talking to the press negatively about the Biggest Loser. Star Magazine ran an interview with her in January in which she said she gained back 30 pounds in 3 weeks from drinking water and that “her immune system was shot. She was covered in bruises and losing her hair.” Fellow contestant Ryan Benson also claims to have gained 32 pounds in five days after he went off the show, primarily from drinking water.
Kai has given positive interviews about Biggest Loser in the past, and told Women’s World in 2007 “I think my results speak for themselves!”