Brutal and Unhealthy Secrets Behind The Biggest Loser

A reality show about weight loss, The Biggest Loser debuted in 2004. It came off as a glimmering source of inspiration, a show that encouraged viewers to adopt healthy lifestyles. We saw people drop more than half of their body weight in a matter of months. Incredible, right? Well, more like unhealthy.

The Biggest Loser Show / Rachel Frederickson / Ali Vincent / Jillian Michaels.
Source: YouTube

Like most reality shows, what went on behind the scenes of this show was terribly sketchy. For one, the contestants weren’t eating healthy food; they were simply eating low-calorie food (hello zero-sugar jello). This meant that their weight loss was unhealthy and far from sustainable. Time to dig up the truth.

Women and Men Were Equal on The Biggest Loser

Contestants on the show came from all walks of life: men and women, all starting out at different weights. Once the teams that formed at the start of the season broke up, it was every person for themselves, regardless of their gender.

A still from the show.
Source: YouTube

Even though the show tried to be “fair,” scientific research has a lot to say about gender and body weight; in particular, men and women’s metabolism is radically different. According to one study, men lose weight faster than women.

11 Men, Six Women

That same study, which was published in the journal Diabetes, Obesity, and Metabolism, examined over 2,000 men and women who followed a diet of around 800 calories for eight weeks. The results showed that men lost 16% more weight than women.

A still of the participants in a scene from the show.
Source: YouTube

Talk about unfair, right? This might explain why over so many seasons of the show and 17 winners, 11 of the weight-losing champs were men, and just six of them were women! We know that show tried to be fair… but come on.

After the Show, It’s Easy for Contestants of The Biggest Loser to Stay Trim

It takes a lot of sweat and tears to be successful on The Biggest Loser. Even though many contestants see significant weight loss during their run on the show, losing weight is far from easy. As a viewer, you may be tempted to think that once the show wraps up, the contestants stay thin.

A photo of the contestant before the weight loss / A picture after the weight loss.
Photo by Chris Haston

It’s easy to think that the contestants received sufficient knowledge on how to restrict their diets and how to commit to a proper exercise regimen. Well, not exactly. Most of the contestants on the show gained all the weight back.

What Happened?

Alas, the overwhelming majority of the people who appeared on The Biggest Loser ended up re-gaining some (if not all) of the weight they shed on the show, according to a paper in The New York Times. One example is Season Eight’s winner, Danny Cahill.

A still from the show.
Source: YouTube

Danny dropped from 430 pounds to 191 pounds (a total weight loss of 239 pounds). Since the finale, he has regained 100 pounds. Another example is Dina Mercado, who went from 248 to 173 pounds. She now weighs around 206 pounds.

It’s Safe to Lose the Amount of Weight Contestants Do on The Biggest Loser

If you watched The Biggest Loser during its heyday, then you probably believed it was safe to shed such a drastic amount of weight like the contestants did on the show. After all, The Biggest Loser has a medical staff, right?

A still of the contestants during sport during a scene from the show.
Source: YouTube

Also, NBC wouldn’t dare broadcast a show that promotes unhealthy behavior, right? As it turns out, such drastic weight loss in a short amount of time isn’t good for you at all. “If you reduce your calories to less than 800 to 1,000 a day, your metabolism will shut down,” Lynn Darby, a professor of exercise science told The New York Post.

The Contestants Are Given Adequate Nutritional Counseling on The Biggest Loser

It seems likely that if you were to sign up for a reality show centered on losing weight, you would get proper nutritional counseling, right? Maybe you would meet with a dietician who would give you advice on how to develop a healthier lifestyle.

A photo of the contestants in a still from the show.
Source: YouTube

In reality, though, no. None of the contestants were taught what or how to shop at a grocery store. None of them were educated about the right type of food groups, appropriate amounts, and other healthy lifestyle tips.

A Good for Nothing Nutritionist

Unfortunately, that’s not really how it went down on the show. According to contestant Nicole Michalik from Season Four, the majority of her lifestyle and nutritional counseling came through her trainer, not the show’s dietician.

An image from the show.
Source: YouTube

“In the beginning, the trainers decided what they wanted in the fridge and the freezer,” Nicole recalled. “And we were like, ‘That’s good,’ or ‘That’s gross.’ Eventually, we figured out what we liked and what we didn’t. And they would buy us that.” She also mentioned that she had no clue how much the food she was eating cost.

The Diets Presented on The Biggest Loser Are Healthy

When a person decides to go on a diet, that can be done healthily or in a detrimental way. In order to do it the healthy way, it’s recommended that you eat plenty of vegetables and fruits, that you get adequate protein, and stay within a reasonable caloric intake appropriate for your body.

A still of the contestants with their nutritional counselors.
Source: YouTube

But the diets that the folks on The Biggest Loser consumed were far from healthy. Instead of being served an abundant and colorful plate of hearty veggies or healthy grains, they were given egg whites and a few spears of asparagus.

They Were Constantly Starving

Exhibit A – Season Eight’s winner, Danny Cahill’s diet was ridiculous. He had one egg, half of a grapefruit, and one piece of sprouted toast for breakfast. Then, for lunch, he had one piece of chicken breast, a cup of broccoli, and a few spears of asparagus. Dinner looked more or less the same.

A still from the contestants during training.
Source: YouTube

Season Three’s Kai Hibbard revealed to The New York Post that the food their trainers chose for them was low in calories but not healthy. Foods like fat-free cheese, sugar-free Jell-O, and zero-sugar energy drinks.

The Exercise Regimens on The Biggest Loser Are Sustainable and Healthy

There are a ton of scenes showing the show’s contestants breaking a sweat at the gym. You can find them riding bikes, running on treadmills, squatting, lunging, jumping, stretching, you name it. One would assume that their exercise regimen was being supervised, right?

A video still of the resident doctor at The Biggest Loser.
Dr. Rob Huizenga. Source: YouTube

Nope. Their exercise routines were neither sustainable nor healthy. Los Angeles fitness trainer Harley Pasternak, the first trainer hired for the show, decided to pull out before cameras started rolling. His reasons were ethical.

They Wanted Him to Yell at Contestants

Harley Pasternak refused to appear on the show because the network wanted him to employ sketchy tactics, like “screaming and yelling” at the poor contestants. While these entertaining bits make for great TV, “it’s not for someone who is concerned with making people healthy,” he told The Guardian.

A photo of Harley Pasternak.
Harley Pasternak. Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images

Pushing people to the point of vomiting surely isn’t healthy either, yet that was a pretty common scene in the gym. In addition, contestants of the show were forced to exercise eight hours a day, a completely unsustainable regime for any person with a full-time job.

Contestants Were Weighed Weekly on the Dot

The most dramatic moment on the show was the weekly weigh-in, when the contestants would eagerly step on the scale to find out how much progress they had made over the past week after exercising for a million hours and starving.

A still from the show.
Source: YouTube

The weigh-in became more dramatic at the end of the show, as viewers would discover who would be moving on into the final rounds. There would also be several weeks in which contestants dropped staggering amounts of weight in just seven days.

They Weren’t Weighed Every Week

As it turns out, the weekly weigh-ins didn’t really take place every seven days. In fact, far from it! According to Season Three’s contestant Kai Hibbard, “Nobody on the show lost 20 pounds in a week,” she told The Guardian.

A still of the contestants during training.
Source: YouTube

“Once, ‘a week’ was actually three weeks because of the shooting schedule.” This statement was confirmed by another contestant named Andrew Costello, who told the public that the longest stretch between weigh-ins was around three and a half weeks.

The Biggest Loser Provided a Safe Space for Working Out

With all the professional trainers and medical staff hired to participate on The Biggest Loser, you would assume that the contestants were being taken care of so that no one was at risk of injury.

Contestants workout in a scene from the show.
Source: YouTube

As you can already tell by this list, the answer is no. According to contestant Kai Hibbard, they were subjected to extremely intense workouts right off the bat. “There was no easing into it,” she told The New York Post. “That doesn’t make for good TV. My feet were bleeding through my shoes for the first three weeks.”

Torn Calves and Icky Knees

On the same season as Kai Hibbard, Season Three, another e contestant, Kai’s co-competitor, was forced to bust her butt in the gym despite having bursitis in both her knees and a torn calf. She suffered in silence for the sake of the show.

A picture of Kai Hibbard after the show.
Kai Hibbard. Source: Pinterest

In addition, Season One’s winner, Ryan Benson, was so undernourished that by the end of the season he was urinating blood, an alarming sign of kidney damage. Also, in 2009, two contestants were taken to the hospital. One even had to be airlifted! Yikes.

The Contestants Don’t Use Drugs on the Show

According to Dr. Rob Huizenga, the show’s doctor, the contestants weren’t allowed to take illicit drugs to help them progress in their weight loss journey. “Contestants are told at the start of the show that there is zero-tolerance for any weight-loss drugs,” he explained.

A scene during training in The Biggest Loser.
Source: YouTube

He insisted that “urine drug screens and the evaluation of serial weights are repeatedly used to flush out possible illicit use.” Sounds pretty legit, doesn’t it? As you might have already guessed, this claim was wrong.

Drug Use

Many contestants on The Biggest Loser ended up admitting that not only had they taken, but they had been given the drugs. They were handed substances like Adderall to help them shed weight by reducing their hunger.

A portrait of Joelle Gwynn.
Joelle Gwynn. Source: Facebook

Contestant Joelle Gwynn said that she had been given black and yellow pills that caused her to feel “jittery and hyper.” Suzanne Mendonca, a contestant from Season Two revealed: “People would take amphetamines, water pills, diuretics, and throw up in the bathroom.”

Some Contestants Were Just Lazy

Fans of the show have noted that there were some contestants who genuinely couldn’t roll with the show. They sat down when told to get up and walked when they were supposed to be running. The show was edited in a way that made it seem like they were lazy.

An image of Kai Hibbard at home.
Kai Hibbard. Source: Facebook

However, according to Kai Hibbard, there was one occasion where they were forced to run on a horse track, and she refused to do so because she felt like the act was dehumanizing.

She Refused to Walk the Course

“To protest, I simply walked the course,” Kai explained, “I refused to run until they asked me to at the end, hopefully ruining the competitive spirit of the challenge.” But instead of listening to what she had to say, and maybe coming up with a different challenge, they manipulated the footage.

A scene from the show.
Source: YouTube

The editors made it seem like she was being downright lazy. “I felt like maybe I’d be able to preserve a little dignity by not running,” Kai noted, “but, in retaliation, they acted like I was just too fat and exhausted to finish.”

Their Metabolism Slowed Down

Can being on the show have a long-term impact on your metabolism? Indeed. Even though the contestants lost weight, the way in which they did so harmed their metabolism. It slowed down the natural process of their bodies and threw it all out of whack.

A portrait of one of the trainers.
Trainer Jillian Michaels. Source: NBC

Unfortunately, losing weight in that manner can influence your thyroid, which can make keeping the weight off a whole lot harder. Contestants’ thyroid levels were examined and were said to have lowered significantly.

They Never Returned to Their Regular Metabolic Rate

It’s a known fact that going on a diet can slow down your metabolism. Therefore, it was expected that the people who went on the show would see some slowdown after the show wrapped up. But did it recover?

A photo of Dr. Kevin Hall.
Dr. Kevin Hall. Source: Facebook

Shockingly, many contestants never returned to their normal metabolic rates after being on the show. Their metabolism was permanently altered, which came as a total surprise to everyone. “It is frightening and amazing,” Dr. Kevin Hall, a metabolism expert, told the press, “I am just blown away.”

Contestants Who Regained Their Weight Just Weren’t Working Hard Enough

The Biggest Loser’s contestants went through another bodily change that made them hungry nearly every minute of the day. Their leptin levels plummeted dramatically. Leptin is known as the satiety hormone, which messages your brain that you’re full.

Host Alison Sweeney, trainers Bob Harper, and Jillian Michaels speak onstage.
Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

The result is, you feel fuller when leptin is working well. However, without enough leptin, you may feel like you’re constantly starving, even if you’ve had enough to eat. This explains why many of them gained the weight back.

The Trainers on The Biggest Loser Are the Best in the Business

It seems reasonable that the producers would hire only the best and most competent trainers on the show. So, one would assume they likely had certifications from the best programs, or degrees from the best schools, right?

Trainer Jillian Michaels attends a live show.
Photo by Paul Archuleta/Getty Images

Harley Pasternak, the trainer who quit the show before it began, revealed that this wasn’t the case at all. “The last straw was when they cast an actress opposite me,” Pasternak said of Jillian Michaels. Pasternak, who has a master’s degree in exercise science, felt that Jillian wasn’t her equal. “I was going up against a TV trainer, not a real one,” he noted.

Let’s See Where They Are Today – Ryan Benson

Now that you know many of the show’s dark secrets, it’s time to see the repercussions. Let’s see what lack of proper counseling, lack of normal-paced exercise, and lack of discussions about healthy living have led to. Let’s see where the winners of the show are today.

Ryan Benson attends an event.
Photo by J. Shearer/WireImage for The Recording Academy/Getty Images

Ryan was the first winner of the show. He managed to win a staggering 122 pounds. Sadly, the first season’s champ gained back the pounds he lost and then some. He told Time magazine that as soon as the show was over, he gained “32 pounds in five days simply by drinking water.”

Where Is Matt Hoover Today?

Matt’s transformation on The Biggest Loser was insane. He came onto the show weighing 339 pounds, and after weeks of intensive training, managed to shed his image and hit 182 pounds. This made him the second season’s winner back in 2005.

Matt Hoover poses for the press.
Photo by Chris Polk/FilmMagic/Getty Images

For Matt, the one good thing that came out of the show was meeting runner-up Suzy Preston Hoover, with whom he fell in love. The two eventually married and are now raising two children together. Matt later revealed that he had gained more than 15 pounds the week after he won.

Where Is Erik Chopin Today?

Erik had what is considered to be one of the most dramatic weight loss on the series. Chopin started the show weighing a dangerous 407 pounds, and by the end of the third season, he dropped down to 193 pounds, winning Season Three by a longshot.

Erik Chopin takes a picture of himself in front of a mirror.
Erik Chopin. Source: Facebook

Even though he hasn’t gone back to his former weight, Erik still put on some of the pounds he had lost. The third season’s champ put on 22 pounds in less than a year after his win. Nowadays, he lives in North Babylon, New York. According to Time magazine, Erik keeps a photo of himself on his fridge, snapped when he weighed 185.

Where Is Bill Germanakos Today?

Bill Germanakos joined the show with his twin brother, Jim, whom he competed against. He ended up beating his twin and the rest of the contestants in Season Four back in 2007. He started at 334 pounds and finished at 170 pounds.

A photo of Bill after weight loss / A picture of Bill today.
Bill Germanakos. Source: Facebook

After the season wrapped up, Bill began teaching spin classes in his spare time. Still, he put on some of the weight. Nowadays, he works as a motivational speaker. According to Bill, The Biggest Loser experience changed his life.

Where Is Ali Vincent Today?

In the fifth season back in 2008, Ali Vincent made history. She was the first woman to win the show after losing 112 pounds! “Nearly half of me had vanished,” she mentioned in a paper for The Weigh We Were.

Ali Vincent cries during an interview.
Source: YouTube

Unfortunately, she ended up regaining the weight she had shed. “I swore I would never be there again, be here again,” Ali posted on her Facebook page. “I couldn’t imagine a day again that I would weigh over 200 lbs. I feel ashamed. I feel embarrassed. I feel overwhelmed. I feel like a failure.”

Where Is Michelle Aguilar Today?

Michelle Aguilar came onto the show weighing 242 pounds. After weeks of busting her butt at the gym, she slimmed down to 132 pounds. That was well enough to help her take the prize in Season Six of The Biggest Loser.

A photo of Michelle Aguilar today.
Michelle Aguilar. Source: YouTube

In 2019, the former winner posted an Instagram collage covering her successful weight loss journey. “Dec 16, 2008, was the finale for one chapter and the start of another!!! #11YearsLater life is good!” From the looks of her social media accounts, Michelle has managed to keep off the weight.

Where Is Helen Phillips Today?

Helen Phillips won The Biggest Loser title in the show’s seventh season after she slimmed down from an unhealthy 257 pounds to 117. “It’s been a tremendous change,” she gloated after winning the title.

A photo of Helen Phillips.
Helen Phillips. Source: YouTube

The seventh season’s winner has kept to herself these past few years. She really hasn’t said much about her weight after the season wrapped up. However, in 2017, Helen starred in a promotional video clip for the portable elliptical Street Strider.

Where Is Danny Cahill Today?

Danny Cahill shed a whopping 239 pounds after working hard for seven months. It was enough of a change to make him the winner of the eighth season. “I’ve got my life back,” he said after winning. “I mean, I feel like a million bucks.”

Danny Cahill speaks during an interview.
Danny Cahill. Source: ABC

Danny managed to stay healthy for a few years after the show. However, he eventually spiraled back to old habits and ended up gaining back over 100 pounds. “I was working out two hours a day and riding my bike all over town to go where I was going,” Danny told ABC. “Once that stopped, the weight started creeping back on.”

Where Is Michael Ventrella Today?

When Michael Ventrella first started on the show, he was 526 pounds heavy —the series’ largest contestant ever. Incredibly, he ended the show at 262 pounds and won the title of The Biggest Loser in Season Nine.

A photo of Michael Ventrella.
Michael Ventrella. Source: Facebook

Michael Ventrella served as an inspiration for many. After the show, he became a fitness trainer and a motivational speaker. He also mentioned in an interview that he was “basically broke” right after doing the show.

Where Is Patrick House Today?

Patrick House, Season Ten’s winner, lost a staggering 181 pounds! A fan favorite, Patrick worked hard for the title, losing around 45 percent of his body weight. Good news – he’s one of the few contestants who managed to keep their weight off.

A photo of Patrick before the weight loss / A picture of Patrick after the weight loss.
Patrick House. Source: Facebook

“If you’re eating good, clean, healthy food and not overeating, you can’t gain weight,” he explained in an interview with People Magazine. “Your body doesn’t manufacture calories—you have to be putting them in.” Since winning, he has run and won multiple races.

Where Is Olivia Ward Today?

Olivia Ward had one of the most dramatic transformations the show has ever seen. She started the season weighing 261 pounds. Scared for her life, she worked terribly hard, week after week, until she reached an impressive 129 pounds.

Olivia Ward then / Olivia Ward today.
Olivia Ward. Source: Facebook

Ward’s life changed after the show wrapped up. She now works as a master instructor at SoulCycle in Atlanta. She regularly posts on her social media accounts photos and captions about living a healthy lifestyle.

Where Is John Rhode Today?

John Rhode was the show’s 12th winner. He won the title due to his incredible transformation. Beginning at a heavy and dangerous weight of 445 pounds, John managed to run enough miles and sweat enough tears to reach 225 pounds.

A current picture of John Rhode.
John Rhode. Source: Facebook

Nowadays, not much is known about John. But what we do know, is that he started doing CrossFit after the season wrapped up. He also starred in a promotional video for CrossFit in which he stated: “I’m more energetic, I’m more optimistic. My entire countenance on life has changed.”

Where Is Jeremy Britt Today?

Jeremy Britt wasn’t fooling around in Season Thirteen of the show. He came focused and ready to drop some weight. In the end, he lost 199 pounds and won the title of The Biggest Loser. At just 23, he was the youngest person to ever win the show.

A photo of Jeremy and Conda Britt at the gym.
Photo by Cory Smith

Jeremy Britt later said that he and his sister Conda, who also came to the show, were determined to remain as healthy as possible afterward. “Keeping up with all the stuff we learned throughout the show, there’s not an end goal anymore,” he said. “We have to stay focused on our health because that is the end goal—being healthy for the rest of our lives.”

Where Is Danni Allen Today?

Danni Allen first appeared on the show tired, lethargic, and sick of living in an unhealthy body. She started the season at 258 pounds and after a lot of effort, managed to shed 121 pounds! An impressive feat, which granted her the crown as the 14th winner of the show.

A photo of Danni Allen at Planet Fitness.
Source: Planet Fitness

After the season wrapped up, she became the marketing director for a Chicago-area Planet Fitness company. Nowadays, she says she is at a “healthy, happy weight.” She doesn’t go crazy at the gym or deprive herself of things. Still, she works out regularly and makes sure to eat healthy (most of the time).

Where Is Rachel Frederickson Today?

Rachel Frederickson, the winner of Season Fifteen, had one of the most startling transformations ever. She went from 260 pounds to a tiny 105 pounds. Everything from her legs to her arms to her face slimmed down to the point where some people felt concerned.

A picture of Rachel after the weight loss / A photo of Rachel today.
Rachel Frederickson. Source: Facebook

She later admitted that the comments about her weight loss were tough to stomach. After the win, she put on about 20 pounds. She told Today Magazine that she is in a happy and healthy place, both physically and mentally. “I found strength in this struggle,” Rachel said.

Where Is Toma Dobrosavljevic Today?

After winning the show’s 16th season in 2015, Toma told reporters from Today that, “I feel incredible.” He managed to lose over 200 pounds in one year, rightfully earning him the title of The Biggest Loser! But did he manage to keep the pounds off?

Toma after the weight loss / A photo of Toma today.
Source: Instagram @tomadobrosavljevic

A year after the season wrapped up, Toma shared in a Facebook post that he suffered a calf injury, and during his recovery, the weight gradually crept back. Since then, he hasn’t spoken much about his weight.

Where Is Roberto Hernandez Today?

When the 17th season kicked off, Roberto Hernandez weighed an unhealthy 348 pounds. By the end of the season, he weighed 188. Hernandez was the final winner from The Biggest Loser’s original run.

A still of Roberto Hernandez during an interview.
Roberto Hernandez. Source: YouTube

In 2018, Roberto Hernandez posted an update on Instagram: “It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve managed to keep most of the weight off!!! But I know I still need to keep working hard and get healthier! Not just for me or my family but for the people that supported me and accompanied me on my BL journey!”

Where Is Jim DiBattista Today?

Jim DiBattista began his weight loss journey at around 385 pounds, and by the end of the show, he was whopping 144 pounds lighter. The football coach was crowned the winner of Season Eighteen, a reboot version of the original show. Jim’s weight loss had his wife in tears! “We literally hugged in my kitchen for five minutes and then both of us started crying,” Jim told US Weekly.

A photo of Jim DiBattista at home.
Jim DiBattista. Source: Facebook

DiBattista has managed to keep the weight off since his 2020 win. However, he admitted that it has been hard to do so without the rigorous routine he was used to following. Still, his weekly schedule helps him stay active. Jim told US Weekly: “The idle times are bad. The busier I am, the happier I am. Now I replace what used to be watching TV and DVR with exercising and food prep.”