As a young non-union actor starting out in a big city, sometimes you have to do shameful things in back alleys or run around naked for no pay in order to work your way up in the business. I did neither. I did something far worse, and of my own volition. I lied, I abused my body, and I psychologically abused thousands of others. That's right: I was in a weight loss infomercial.
This is my story.
#5. The Before/After Models Don't Follow the Same Plan as You
If you've ever been drunk at four in the morning with an empty bag of potato chips, you've probably run into an infomercial like this:
But wait, there's more!
The Firm Express
Those last two ads might actually be using the same girl. There's no way to tell, because both of them are demographically sound, milquetoast Caucasian/Photoshop hybrids. On paper, all of these plans sound like a lazy fat person's dream: "Pop these pills and lose weight!" "Drink three cayenne pepper shakes a day!" "Do this special 20-minute fat-blasting workout three times a week!" There are two things all of them have in common: They sound really easy, and they don't even sort of work. My plan focused on short bursts of high-intensity exercise to supercharge very short workout sessions. I don't know much more about it, because none of us were allowed to follow the actual DVDs we were selling. The very first time I watched any of the exercise DVDs was six hours before the final "after" interview with our producer.
The real plan was for us to work out three to six hours per day for a month. They also put us on a strict diet (the DVD emphasized that you didn't have to diet at all, but this is the real world), locking us down to 1,000 calories a day, which you may recognize as the caloric value of the smell of a Big Mac.
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Two girls dropped out after developing blowing disorders.
Even a small person needs at least 1,250 calories to be healthy, but when you eat that little and exercise constantly, you bet you'll lose weight. All of it save for the bones, if you're not careful. Because ...
#4. The (Secret) Plan the Models Follow Is Wildly Unhealthy
They told us to take water retention pills. A lot of the girls took laxatives. I started drinking this yogi tea that makes you poop more. We would have happily defaulted on a loan with Shylock just to be rid of that unsightly extra pound of flesh. And it's not like any of us were overweight from the start; we had maybe 15 or 20 pounds to lose. When you're that close to your goal weight, it's harder to cut pounds. But their goal was for us to lose a pound a day for a month, because that looks awesome on a banner ad. And since losing a pound a day for a month is just all kinds of unhealthy, they plied us with, uh, "diet aids." I have no idea what they were -- they told us they were vitamins -- but it sure sounds like a polite pseudonym for "shady Chinese amphetamines."
We agreed not to drink any water for hours before the weigh-ins, because those few seconds under lights on the scale were all that mattered. During weigh-in, we'd all pump our arms in the air and cheer and high-five -- shit no one actually does to congratulate friends outside of an '80s teen comedy. But when you celebrate like that, even when it's forced, you start to buy into it. They give so much positive reinforcement for the weight loss, and you're sort of isolated with all these hungry, tired people. It's like a recipe for breaking down a person's psychological barriers. This is how they get people to turn state's evidence. Or join Scientology.
#3. The Pressure Will Break You
The woman who led our group had been fat when she was younger, and she knew exactly how to prey on our fears. One girl got cast as Jan in Grease, and this woman used that as a teachable moment to point out that if we lost more weight, we wouldn't get cast as fat characters.
Grease is the word ... carbohydrates, too.
Under that kind of pressure, one girl ended up losing 11 pounds in four days, which, besides being spectacularly dangerous, earned her a $500 prize. She was overjoyed, because who the hell doesn't need $500? Not people who star in informational weight loss ads, that's who. The rest of us got angry at her mild increase in wealth and status. We started to resent her -- and really, I think that was all part of the plan. They wanted us competitive. They wanted a fat-based Lord of the Flies.
"Uh, you know that the guys who killed Piggy were the assholes, right?"
The producers freaked out halfway through the process when many of us were gone and those of us who were left weren't meeting their goals. Unlike the people who'd be buying this "program" at home, we had actual trainers and wranglers to ensure that we were always on the brink of starvation, exercising like Conan the Barbarian at his slave wheel, and pooping like a family of four. And the results still weren't impressive enough.