Kai Hibbard was a contestant on The Biggest Loser Season 3. If you don’t know her by now, she’s famous in my world for being the first and one of the only to ever speak out against the abusive and unhealthy practices which take place during the filming of the show which are then perpetuated by the airing and popularization of the show itself.
The Biggest Loser sensationalizes all the things we at Fit2point0 and the Body Positive Fitness Alliance work hard to combat- things like leaving a workout feeling more terrible than when you began it, trying to ignite change through shame and suffering and portraying overweight people as “less than” people who are thinner, among other things. You can read all about her experience via a first hand account Kai wrote here.
To summarize in her own words, "I was the person who, in the very first interview after I got off the show, said ‘Hey guys, this is the worst possible thing you can do to your body and mental health’.”
In 2007, it was kind of a radical idea to speak out against popular “fitness” practices, as damaging as the research proves they are. But now almost 10 years later, a huge shift has taken place and the world is becoming more ready for Fit2point0 by the day.
Michele: Alright, Kai. It's time for New Year's Resolutions. The Biggest Loser is infamous for providing "inspiration" to people who are desperate to be smaller. What can we tell people who find that show motivating? How can we stop the cycle before it begins?
Kai: This false paradigm of ‘health’ where you need to beat the hell out of yourself to make any progress is a myth made up by the diet industry to keep you buying into things. The more you fail, the more you have to start again and continue to buy their products.
Take a deep look at why we find this inspirational. Have we internalized something from society or our past that helps us find people being abused ‘motivating’?
Someone said to me once ‘If animals were treated the same way as humans are treated on that television show, the show would’ve been cancelled a long time ago’.
So I’d encourage them to look at why they feel people being treated that way is motivational.
Find some body positive role models to follow- they’re easy to find nowadays. Become a discerning consumer of everything.
M: I totally agree and I think that’s kind of how we got to here. In the 90’s we got the internet which became a flood of information for people really quickly. At that time, discerning if the information out there was right or true wasn’t really a concern just yet. That was the era of “If it’s on the internet it must be true”. Well, it only took about 10 years for people to realize that there’s good and bad information out there and now consumers are getting smarter.
You’re seeing brands step up and stop assuming everyone is stupid and acknowleding our intellectuality because we are smart enough to appreciate that.
People are realizing it’s up to us to determine what’s good information.
K: It’s super boring to hear about what it takes to be healthy on a day to day basis.
M: Exactly like ‘ok how do you sell this?’
K: Well it doesn’t help when you have trainers like Jillian Michaels who are worth millions and doing the exact opposite of what the evidence states that a reasonable professional should do.
I’m baffled that I’m still being vilified for saying the same thing in interviews. The knowledge is out there, it’s just about accepting it.
M: There are a lot of trainers who have been in the industry a long time and are smart people. There is evidence that says that shaming and belittling does not work to motivate someone to create long term change. These trainers are smart enough to take a stand and say “No. There is a better way and I’m willing to change for the better”.
K: One of the biggest things that happens in the fitness industry that is no longer being ignored is that people often dismiss mental and psychological health for physical health. Evidence shows that psychological health is just as important as physical health. Ignoring that has been determintal to peoples’ health overall. Getting that out into the world is going to make a huge difference.
M: Right, like you can herd a bunch of people and make them feel like animals- make them vomit and bleed during their workouts, so their body fat percentage goes down. But what happened to them psychologically and emotionally while they were in your care? Did they grow more healthy or did they become more damaged?
M: So what would you say to someone who feels ready to take the next step in bettering their health? What would you suggest they do?
K: Turn off your TV. You’re being innundated with unrealistic images that have the tendency to make you feel like where you are, because it is so far from where you want to be, is a bad place.
Deep down, most people know that they have the power and ability to choose what their life is going to look like. However, there’s a big feeling of powerlessness when we internalize messages we’re fed about our worth.
I think the first step is shutting out all of those outside messages and taking stock of what’s inside you. From there, move your body for pleasure and nourishment. Think of moving as a way of caring for yourself- not a way to punish yourself or get to your next goal.
The people who are the most successful at this are the ones who find something to do that they love.
While my son’s father is in love with Crossfit and finds his movement there, it’s not something I enjoy or can sustain. It makes me feel awkward and right now I’d rather lift and swim.
If it makes you feel good, you’re going to keep doing it. Don’t worry about if it’s hard enough or burns enough calories. Find something that’s FUN and go from there.
If you think about what you eat and how you move as a way to care for yourself instead of a way to restrict yourself you’re going to approach it in a much healthier manner that will help you sustain it for a long time.
Even with food- someone told me recently that ‘there are physical health foods and there are mental health foods’. I went four years without eating a potato- that didn’t make me feel good.
M: Same- if I never eat another butternut squash for the rest of my life I’ll be happy.
K: I can relate to that. This year I had a potato. Normally I would’ve been racked with guilt and stress because what I’ve been through has conditioned me to believe that there’s “good” and “bad” foods and “clean” and “dirty”. So I look at it like “This potato is a mental health food. Eating it makes me freaking happy”.
Just take some steps every day to look at your body as your friend.
M: Okay but what about all the messages we are inundated with that tell us change is quick and results should come fast? That if we can subscribe to something that’s extreme enough that we can “turn our lives” around in a very short period?
How can we help people realize that the process is long term and the journey is not always linear?
K: :The best way that I can personally demonstrate that is by being up front about where I am today, ten years after being on The Biggest Loser. There are people out there who are suffering mentally and physically as a consequence of putting the message out there that quick fixes are everything. There are former contestants who are in very bad shape as a result of participating in this show.
I was so sick and dehydrated at my season finale.
The truth is, whatever problems someone has at 265lbs, they’re still going to have at 125lbs. It’s hard to believe because society has conditioned us to think that being thin is the end all be all. A producer told me at the end of my finale that they understood I was totally beat to shit, but because I was thin, I should be grateful.
M: You’re so lucky you’re smart. There are so many people out there who have bad experiences and turn them around to be super helpful. Every single trainer in the BPFA space with me has been to hell and back. We’ve been over-training, undereating and thinking we were doing the right thing. We’ve all crashed and burned and now we’re here.
K: If I were smart, I probably wouldn’t have gone on a weight loss reality show in the first place.
M: Well yeah but you and I would’ve never gotten to here if we didn’t go through that.
K: Exactly. I don’t want my time spent there to be for nothing. I’m all about making something decent come of something that’s ridiculous.
M: Think about all the people we hear from daily who are able to change their lives without having to go through the shit because we already went through it first.
K: I love it, and I find that they come at the right moment too. Sometimes I feel discouraged and then I’ll get a message from someone who was trying to emulate the disorder on The Biggest Loser and then they found my facebook page. That’s totally worth it.
M: There are people who have tried the resolution thing year after year and feel like failures for not “getting it right”. What do you say to them to help set them up for success in 2016?
K: If you’re making resolutions, one of them should be to keep your list updated and refreshed throughout the year.
Realize that life changes and flows and the best resolution you can make is to allow for flexibility in your resolutions. Keep the list updated and be kind to yourself. Treat yourself like you would treat your best friend!
M: So basically, to summarize: don’t be arbitrary. Be intentional by being flexible in your goals in the way that life is flexible. Strive for progress over perfection and be kind to yourself.
M: I like it.
Do you have a goal of getting strong or even just starting to utilize your gym membership? I created an interactive manual called What Do I Do At The Gym? to help ANYONE walk in the gym a beginner and walk out a badass. Check it out.
.... or maybe you're a fitness trainer? Do you like what you've read here? Are you wondering how to get more involved in this side of the fitness industry? Join our facebook group of professionals and attend our Body Positive Fitness Alliance Affiliated Professionals Workshop. See you there!