“It’s my biggest nightmare,” one contestant recalled. “And it’s with me to this day.”
After a controversial study came out claiming to explain why almost all people featured on NBC’s “Biggest Loser” have regained the weight they lost on the show, a New York Post report revealed testimony from ex-Losers saying the show was a hellish experience and continues to negatively impact their lives years later.
Most shocking of the claims are that the show supplied contestants with illegal drugs, encouraged them to starve themselves, and instructed them to lie about how much weight they were losing.
The study published earlier this month said changing metabolic rates, hormone levels, and genetic predispositions are the cause of the post-show weight gain. The federally funded study was conducted by Dr. Kevin Hall at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Former contestants told the New York Post the study doesn’t examine what was really going on when the cameras were off. They said the show used brutal tactics and submitted them to questionable medical exams by the show’s doctor, Rob Huizenga, know as “Dr. H.”
Huizenga was a collaborator on the NIH’s study.
“People were passing out in Dr. H’s office at the finale weigh-in,” Season 2’s Suzanne Mendonca told the Post. “On my season, five people had to be rushed to the hospital. He knew exactly what we were doing and never tried to stop it.”
A source close to production said that contestants were given Adderall and “yellow jackets” — pills that contain ephedra extract, which was banned by the FDA in 2004 — by show trainer Bob Harper and his assistant.
“Bob Harper was my trainer,” Joelle Gwynn, a 2008 contestant, said. “He goes away and his assistant comes in. He’s got this brown paper bag that’s bundled up. He says, ‘Take this drug, it’ll really help you.’ It was yellow and black. I was like, ‘What the f- -k is this?'”
“People would take amphetamines, water pills, diuretics, and throw up in the bathroom,” Mendonca said. “They would take their spin bikes into the steam room to work up a sweat. I vomited every single day. Bob Harper tells people to throw up: ‘Good,’ he says. ‘You’ll lose more calories.'”
Gwynn also said Harper told her to lie in her daily log, to say that she was intaking 1,500 calories, but to actually consume 800 calories or less.
NBC denied the accusations in a statement to the Post.
“The safety and well-being of our contestants is, and always has been, paramount,” the statement said. “We prohibit the use of any illegal substances, in addition to the many other rules and procedures of the show that are designed to ensure safety.”
“That show is an atrocity,” said Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, who specializes in obesity at the University of Ottowa. “This approach is not endorsed by anyone in the medical community. NBC [has] made an awful lot of money off of damaging these individuals.”
Freedhoff said the show permanently damages people’s metabolic rates, although he doesn’t have a precise explanation why this happens. He said is so rare that an obese person loses half their body weight only through diet and exercise, and not through surgery, that this is no control group to test validity of the NIH’s study.
Freedhoff cites one reason the damage may be so severe and irreversible may be psychological stress, something that ever contestant who spoke to the New York Post said was a major factor in their weight gain.
“‘The Biggest Loser’ doesn’t save lives,” Mendonca said. “It ruins lives. Mentally, emotionally, financially — you come back a different person. Half the people from my season have gotten divorced. The ripple effect isn’t just weeks or months. It’s years.”