With a Little Dehydration, Bloody Urine, and Starvation You Too Can Be a Biggest Loser
During each season of The Biggest Loser, the episodes tend to get longer (last season's finale was three hours) while the amount of time viewers see contestants sweating and grunting in the workout room slims down. Mainly, this is because NBC packs those 180 minutes with Subway advertisements, reminders to forget disposable plastic bottles, D.C. field trips and challenges ripped straight from the Make-A-Wish Foundation's playbook (A makeover by Tim Gunn? Toss a football with Jerry Rice?). But that doesn't mean that the lengths taken by the Biggest Loser to shrink some of its contestants by over 50% is any less extreme. In fact, a New York Times article published yesterday declared that instead of a weekly PSA for weight loss, the series is a ticking time bomb.
Published on the eve of The Biggest Loser: Where Are They Now?, the article includes accounts by several alumni who describe the competition dangers. (The disclosures themselves are risky, given that each contestant signs multiple waivers and contracts threatening a fine of $100,000 or $1 million, depending on when the interview is conducted.) Ryan C. Benson, the first season winner who lost 122 of his initial 330 pounds, attributed his weight loss to fasts and dehydrating himself until he urinated blood.
Dr. Charles Burant, a professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan, was not surprised:
"I'm waiting for the first person to have a heart attack. [...] I have had some patients who want to do the same thing, and I counsel them against it. I think the show is so exploitative. They are taking poor people who have severe weight problems whose real focus is trying to win the quarter-million dollars."
Even The Biggest Loser's medical consultant, Dr. Rob Huizenga, expressed some regrets over some of the show's decisions. About a one-mile race last season that sent several players into the hospital:
"If we had it to do over, we wouldn't do it. It was an unexpected complication and we're going to do better. [...] That challenge has changed a lot of the way we do things.
The show's producers still cannot monitor everything, especially what happens when the cameras shut off. Take for example, Kai Hibbard, the Season 3 runner-up who explained that after hours, she and other contestants drank as little water as possible and worked out wearing as many layers of clothing as they could find. In the two weeks after the show, Hibbard claimed to have gained 31 pounds, just by returning to regular consumption of water.
The Biggest Loser's drill sergeant trainer, Jillian Michaels, agreed that the contestants put themselves at risk when they "get a little crazy" about losing weight, but maintained that there was a much different explanation on how the show can straddle the line between health consciousness and health endangerment: "It's just part of the nature of reality TV."
· On 'The Biggest Loser,' Health Can Take Back Seat [New York Times]