Biggest scam? Earlier this month, a new study explained that most Biggest Loser contestants regain a significant amount of weight after the show due to slowed metabolisms and permanently low levels of leptin, a hormone that controls hunger. Now, several contestants are speaking out about the dark side of the NBC reality show — and the real reason why they believe they packed on pounds after the competition ended. Multiple participants alleged to the New York Post that staffers on The Biggest Loser encouraged them to take weight-loss drugs and starve themselves, and they tried to manipulate weigh-ins by having less interesting contestants eat baking soda to retain water weight.
“Bob Harper was my trainer,” Joelle Gwynn of 2008’s “Couples” season told the New York Post. “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.” Gwynn said she took the pill once, and “the next day, [the show’s resident doctor, Rob Huizenga] gave us some lame explanation of why they got added to our regimen.”
A source told the Post that Harper and one of his assistants allegedly supplied contestants with these “yellow jacket” weight-loss pills containing ephedra extract, which was banned by the FDA in 2004. The source said the duo reportedly gave prescription drug Adderall to contestants as well.
Huizenga denied the allegations to the Us Weekly. “[This] could not be further from the truth,” his statement read. “I educate contestants that proper caloric intake is essential to fat loss both over the short and long term. Contestants are told at the start of the show that there is zero tolerance for any weight loss drugs. Urine drug screens, urine electrolytes, and the evaluation of serial weights are repeatedly used to flush out possible illicit use.”
Furthermore, Gwynn alleged in the story that Harper told her behind closed doors to lie on-camera about how much she was eating. Gwynn said the trainer supposedly told her to say she was following the show’s plan for a 1,500 calories per-day intake, but to actually eat 800 calories or less.
Season 2 participant Suzanne Mendonca backed up the claims of weight-loss pill use during filming. “People would take amphetamines, water pills, diuretics, and throw up in the bathroom,” she told the Post. “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.’ ”
Huizenga countered in a statement to Us Weekly that Biggest Loser participants “rarely” get to the point of dizziness or fainting. “Throughout the show, I stress the vital importance of adequate hydration,” he said in an email. "I am extremely gratified by the safety record of the 17 seasons of the show."
Harper also released a statement to Us, which read, “These allegations are absolutely false and are also in direct conflict with my lifelong devotion to health and fitness. Safety is paramount in my training regimen and, while demanding, my approach has always focused on the overall well-being of contestants as they lose significant weight and educate themselves, for the first time, on living a healthy lifestyle."
Besides drug use and starvation, Mendonca claimed staffers on the show attempted to manipulate the weigh-ins so that boring contestants wouldn’t advance to the next week. Huizenga allegedly once told her and several others to take one to two tablespoons of baking soda to combat dehydration. Mendonca asserted that it was just a ploy to make them hold onto water weight, thereby eliminating them to make way for “more exciting” contestants, the Post reports.
“‘The Biggest Loser’ doesn’t save lives. It ruins lives. Mentally, emotionally, financially — you come back a different person,” Mendonca, who left her stable job as a police officer for the show, told the Post. “Half the people from my season have gotten divorced. The ripple effect isn’t just weeks or months. It’s years.”
Her fellow season 2 contestant Jen Watts also felt that the weight loss show changed her life for the worse. “You don’t know how messed up you are until it becomes incredibly obvious,” she said. " [After the show] I thought, ‘I can’t work eight hours a day because I have to train eight hours a day.’ I started taking Zoloft and Xanax for the anxiety and depression. My marriage — that only took a couple of years to disintegrate.”
While a few contestants have been critical of the show, several contestants, including season 11 winner Olivia Ward, have jumped to the defense of Harper and shared their positive experiences on social media. “I have known Bob Harper for five years…I can 100% say that I probably know him better than ANY contestant to ever walk on that ranch & he’s never been about a pill or a quick fix…EVER. He is about integrity and follow through,” she wrote on her Facebook page on Monday, May 23.
Season 17 participant Jacky Kmet also slammed the allegations made by former contestants. “I was NEVER asked to take any weight loss drugs. My weight loss has come from … hard work, dedication,” she posted on Facebook on Sunday, May 22. "I have made positive food choices and love to exercise. Weight loss is a struggle, it is a challenge every day. I feel blessed that I was a contestant on season 17 of the Biggest Loser!"
It has not yet been confirmed whether NBC will renew the competition for season 18. However, the Biggest Loser producers spoke out about the new allegations in a statement to Us Weekly, saying, “The safety and well-being of our contestants is, and has always been, paramount. Contestants are told at the start of the show that there is zero tolerance for any weight loss drugs. 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.”
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