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After a recent study suggested participating in The Biggest Loser may have permanently lowered contestants’ metabolisms, one woman is threatening a class action lawsuit — but entertainment attorneys say it’s a long shot at best.
In a video interview posted Monday, season two contestant Suzanne Mendonca tells TMZ she gained back 150 pounds after her time on the show, and during taping she was dehydrated, vomiting and limited to eating 800 calories a day.
“The reason why I gained my weight back is 100 percent The Biggest Loser,” she says. “There’s a research that just came out that it just disturbed and ruined our metabolic rate. They ruined us.”
Mendonca is talking about this study by the National Institutes of Health, which assessed more than a dozen Biggest Loser participants at the end of the 30-week competition and again six years later. The results showed that the rapid weight loss lowered contestants resting metabolic rate, which makes continued weight management more difficult.
It also showed that while all but one of their test subjects regained weight following the show, 57 percent maintained at least 10 percent weight loss, which is better than other regimens.
“We found that The Biggest Loser participants regained a substantial amount of their lost weight in the 6 years since the competition but overall were quite successful at long-term weight loss compared with other lifestyle interventions,” states the report.
Mendonca, however, says doing the show was the biggest mistake of her life and she intends to take legal action. “We’re in the process of filing a civil class action against them,” she tells TMZ. “They deserve to be responsible.”
Industry attorneys say the legal odds weigh in favor of The Biggest Loser, not the contestants.
Entertainment dealmaker Barry Haldeman says reality series contestants are often so anxious to be on television that “they’ll throw caution out the window and sign anything.”
“When you sign up to be on a reality show, you sign waivers up the wazoo,” says Haldeman. “Those releases are so one-sided, but they’re the price of admission. I’m sure they have a very, very well written release that says not only can we use your name and likeness but you waive any claims if you’re injured on this show or have any negative medical effects.”
NBC declined to comment on whether The Biggest Loser contracts contain any waivers or arbitration clauses.
Litigator Jeremiah Reynolds agrees it’s likely a waiver ensured contestants would assume all the risk. “She went into it knowing that what they did was an extreme form of dieting,” he says.
But even if Mendonca didn’t waive her rights to sue, Reynolds says the statute of limitations would likely bar her claim. Her stint on the show happened more than a decade ago.
“She would likely say ‘until this study came out I didn’t realize this was harmful to me,’ but that is contradicted by her own life experience,” Reynolds says. “She’s known for a long time that whatever happened on the show didn’t work.”
Assuming Mendonca were to be able to get past contractual and timeliness hurdles, convincing a judge to certify a class would be no easy task — especially since lifestyle and preexisting conditions would factor into how each person’s body reacts to activity during the show and to life afterward.
“There are just too many variables, everything from stress to what they’re eating to how hard they’re working out,” says litigator Glen Rothstein. “That’s the antithesis of a class action where you’re treating everybody as one big plaintiff.”
Reynolds puts it bluntly: “This lawsuit has no chance of ever succeeding.”
Rothstein cautions that, while talking about the situation in terms of scientific research and legal viability is interesting, it’s important to make sure body shaming isn’t part of the conversation.
“People should be proud of themselves whether they’re large or they’re small or they’re anywhere in between,” he says.
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