More than six years after he appeared on The Biggest Loser, contestant Garry Guerreiro still gets asked how he lost so much weight – up to 8.4kg – each week.
The answer? He didn’t.
Like many reality television shows, contestants claim The Biggest Loser is a construct – a myth. Participants over the course of the show’s eight years on air have revealed that the weekly weigh-ins are not weekly – in fact ranging from 10-26 days. They used drastic tactics to lose weight, while on air it was portrayed as exercise and diet.
The show has also come under fire internationally after a US contestant Rachel Frederickson went from 117kg to 47 kgs, losing more than 60 per cent of her weight and appearing close to, if not, anorexic at the final weigh in.
The most recent person to ‘out’ the Australian show was South Australian television presenter Andrew ‘Cosi’ Costello.
“Have you ever wondered how the contestants manage to lose a staggering 12 kilos in a single week? We don’t,” Costello told news.com.au.
“The criticism is that it was unrealistic in regard that, like all reality television, the producers adjust it to make a good result better than it was,” Guerreiro told The New Daily.
Guerreiro was 206.2 kilograms when he started on the third season of The Biggest Loser – he got down to 140.1 kg. Health industry experts have criticised the show for portraying unhealthy levels of weight loss and exercise – warning that far from double figures, a safe rate to lose weight is about 0.5 kilograms per week.
“Even though it’s now been six years, people approach me and ask the question, ‘I train, I eat, but I only lose three to four kilos, how do I lose more?’, but that’s a good [amount to lose,” he says.
“I was only losing three to five kilo per calendar week in the show, but on television you see me losing seven to eight kilos.”
Guerreiro’s team mate on the 2008 show Nicola Coyle, who lost 31 kg only to regain it after the show, said the show was all about losing weight and did not teach any long term strategies – though she said it appeared to have improved in recent series.
“We’d do crazy things like wear jumpers and dehydrate ourselves days before the weigh in,” Coyle said.
“One week we had a girl that wanted to leave so we all water-loaded so we were heavier and then dehydrated the following weigh in so we had a bigger loss and we could win.”
The weight issue
While it is a competition to lose weight, experts, including Exercise and Sports Science Australia executive officer Anita Hobson-Powell, say contestants losing up to 17 kg a “week” is unrealistic and potentially dangerous.
“The Biggest Loser is falsely advertising what is happening [with weekly weigh-ins] and how many hours they are exercising a day it is unrealistic for people to be doing two-three hours a day,” Ms Hobson-Powell said.
ESSA recommends weight loss of about 0.5 kg a week to be safe and healthy saying high intensity exercise can be dangerous.
Hobson-Powell, said, while she hoped people knew The Biggest Loser was entertainment, it “set people up to fail”.
“It is not achievable without going into such a place and having that time and dedication to give up everything else and exercise and have all those professionals around you,” she explains.
“I think people need to look at it as you are not seeing the full story.”
But the producers of the popular show say the program provides inspiration to others to lose weight.
“The Biggest Loser has a long history of helping people – both contestants and viewers – address their weight issues and helps them to lead healthier lives,” a Shine spokesman says.
Network Ten and Shine Australia (the producer of The Biggest Loser: Challenge Australia) said the duty of care towards all contestants was taken very seriously working with nutritionists, psychologists and trainers.
Is it safe?
The Biggest Loser has been criticised as being unrealistic and dangerous in a complaint to the Australian Communications and Media Authority by Adelaide University professor Gary Wittert.
In January, Professor Wittert complained for the second time about the program to the authority, saying there is no evidence to support the program’s assertions it is breaking the obesity cycle. The first complaint was not investigated.
“This does not do anything on a public health basis, the only thing it does is negative,” he says.
“They cannot use that argument unless they are prepared to supply all the follow up data on their participants including details of weight before and at various points after and health and psychological.”
Life after The Biggest Loser
There is a secret Facebook group for former contestants on The Biggest Loser. It acts as a support group for people who understand both the experience and the battle to keep off weight.
Garry Guerreiro, who works in finance, says most contestants regain the weight they lost on the show.
“The success rate is not the best, especially if contestants have kids or have injuries,” he says.
“It’s a mixed bag, half the people liked it and others hated it – or they liked the benefits like fame, being pushed in a new direction, but didn’t like the experience.”
Guerreiro had a knee injury and put back on the weight he’d lost on the show. He’s since lost it, “slowly, one kilo at a time” and says it’s partly based on the concepts he learnt during the show.
“The trainers are great, I’m forever grateful, Michelle Bridges is on another planet.”
Guerreiro had one surprise benefit from the show. He met his now fiancee Carrianne Rees who has followed a similar journey with injury and weight loss. He’s also kept in close contact with several of the other contestants from his year.
Nicola Coyle lost 31 kg on the show, then gained 40 kgs after she left. She had gastric band surgery a year after she was on the program.
“I went straight back, so I didn’t learn much and then ended up having lap band surgery the year after, so I lost that weight again.” she says.
“But even with the surgery I don’t think I’ve gotten down to the root issues and foods I choose for my body, but I have found a happy medium through restricting the amount of food I eat.”
Both are glad of the experience on the show. It was life changing, but not instantaneous.