The Gritty Reality Behind My 600-Lb Life

Airing on TLC since 2012, My 600-lb Pound Life is a reality television series that chronicles the lives of individuals over 600 pounds whose obesity has had a drastic impact on their life. Participants try to lose some of their weight with the help of surgeon Younan Nowzaradan, otherwise known as “Dr. Now.” Nowzaradan puts them on a strict diet and exercise regimen and, depending on the patient’s progress, sometimes weight loss surgery. Look behind the scenes of the series that reveals the reality of what it is like to be morbidly obese.

Many Of The Stars Have Deep-Rooted Childhood Trauma

Picture of Ashley Reyes
TLC
TLC

Childhood trauma is one of the leading causes of any addiction, whether it be substances or in this case, food. Unfortunately, in the case of some of the series’ stars, they were exposed to some devastating abuse in their youth.

In the case of Ashley Reyes, she explained that after her trauma, she “didn’t know what to do […] I didn’t know how to feel safe. So I would eat to gain back whatever little happiness I could.” Furthermore, emotions surrounding their abuse tend to come to the surface once they start to lose weight.

Participants Aren’t Usually Aware Of Their Own Weight

Picture of Dr. Now and patient
TLC
TLC

Before coming on the show, many of the participants actually don’t know the exact amount they weigh until they visit with the doctor. How is this possible?

This is because most bathroom scales only measure up to 300 pounds, with even regular doctors’ scales not reaching high enough for the participants to get an exact number. Yet, their weight is revealed in Dr. Now’s office, where there is a specialized scale that goes up to 900 pounds.

Many Of The Stars Are In Relationships

Man pushing woman
TLC
TLC

It’s easy to assume that being so obese would have an adverse effect on one’s love life. Yet, the show proves otherwise. Many of the participants actually have spouses, significant others, or caretakers with whom they share a deep relationship. In one case, Tanisha Cleveland’s husband left her during the show, and she still managed to find a new lover while stuck in bed.

Nevertheless, the show and the transformation impact these relationships, especially after the weight loss surgery. Some of the partners don’t want their loved ones to change, whether it’s because they are overweight themselves or they like to feel needed.

The Production Company Has Come Under Fire From Some Of The Stars

Picture of man and woman
TLC
TLC

The show completely changed many participants’ lives, and they are publicly open about its benefits. However, that’s not the case for everybody. The production company that puts on the show, Meglomedia, has received some harsh feedback from its stars.

By 2010, ten of the cast had filed lawsuits against the company for several reasons. One claim that several of the stars have made was that the show promised to pay for their surgery costs, only to go back on their promise. Frighteningly, some cast members even claimed the company threatened to not pay for their surgery if they didn’t get the footage they wanted.

It Shows The Harsh Reality Of The Cast Members’ Hygenic Practices

Nicole
TLC
TLC

When you’re over 600 pounds, everything tends to be more difficult compared to an average-sized individual, particularly when it comes to hygiene. For many of the participants, just even going to the bathroom is an ordeal.

On top of that, the show pays them more money to show at least one body washing scene, which is usually done by using a sponge bath. Nicole Lewis wasn’t so lucky. Since she was unable to fit in the shower, the show aired a scene where she had to be washed by her partner on the porch!

Weight Loss Surgery Isn’t Always The Only Medical Procedure Patients Need

Picture of Ashley B
TLC
TLC

At its core, the premise of the show is for participants to lose enough weight through lifestyle change in order to qualify for weight loss surgery. Yet, sometimes, weight loss surgery isn’t the only medical procedure that needs to be done because the cast members have other life-threatening medical issues.

There was a lot of this in Season 4, with Ashley Dunn Bratcher having her gallbladder removed and another cast member getting skin removed from parts of her body that were limiting her mobility. In the case of gender transformations, Dr. Now refers them to a specialist.

Not Everyone’s Story Is Inspiring

Picture of James
TLC
TLC

The show can be truly inspiring and has had life-altering effects on many of the participants, proving that hard work, dedication, and sometimes surgery are the answers for these people to achieve the life they want. However, not everyone on the show is always motivated.

For example, James King manipulated his family, friends, and girlfriend on film. He even gained more than 150 pounds, leading Dr. Now to eliminate him from the program. Steven Assanti wasn’t a saint either and was kicked out of a hospital for ordering a pizza and supposedly being abusive to the nurses.

Enablers Are One Of The Biggest Problems

Picture of couple
TLC
TLC

Any form of addiction usually includes an enabler who either doesn’t prevent those who are addicted from harming themselves or supports them in some other detrimental way. For those on My 600-lb Life, this usually means someone who caters to their every need, brings them the unhealthy food they want, or doesn’t promote a lifestyle change.

There are various enablers on the show that include those who put up with the participants’ emotional abuse, partners that don’t want to have to change their lives either, or those who are afraid they will no longer be loved if their loved one changes.

Some Of The Participants Have Jobs

Woman working
TLC
TLC

Something many people wonder is how some of the show’s participants can afford to live the way that they do. Some of the cast members are supported by loved ones or are on disability, while others actually have jobs. For example, Penny Saeger makes jewelry that she sells and she also helps with her friend’s business.

On the other hand, some participants make money in less traditional ways, such as modeling for adult websites. That’s even how Zsalynn Whitworth met her ex-husband!

Some Of The Living Conditions Are Less Than Desirable

Man in house
TLC
TLC

According to several crew members who work on the show, some of the participants’ living conditions are far from clean. One cameraman opened up on his worst experience, claiming that when filming a family moving out of their house, they discovered that they just put plants on top of their dog’s messes.

Furthermore, they had an older woman living with them, and when they moved her bed, they discovered that it was infested with cockroaches and other insects.

Some Cast Members Take Advantage Of Their Celebrity

Picture of Potter
TLC
TLC

Besides being a star on the show, some of the cast members have gone out of their way to receive more media coverage. This was the case for Steven Assanti, who took it upon himself to make some bizarre YouTube videos while also appearing under the name “John Assanti” on Dr. Phil’s “House of Hate” episode.

Pauline Potter was also on Dr. Phil before being on the show. Also, she proclaimed herself as the Guinness Book of World Records’ “Heaviest woman-living,” despite the fact that the heaviest woman was actually 1,000 pounds.

Weight Loss Surgery Isn’t Always A Magical Solution

Picture of man eating
TLC
TLC

Weight loss surgery certainly has its pros and cons. While some individuals see it as a method of cheating for weight loss, many cast members believe the procedure is a simple fix and the answer to all their problems.

Of course, it’s much more complicated than that, and the patient must still put in plenty of personal work to achieve their desired results. Dr. Now has noted that bariatric surgery can shrink the stomach’s size, although that doesn’t necessarily result in weight loss. Exercise and diet are then the crucial next step.

Filming The Show Isn’t A Breeze For The Cast

Man in a scooter
TLC
TLC

As if being 600 pounds wasn’t enough work, the cast members’ lives are only made more difficult by a film crew that follows them around and films virtually everything.

Steven Assanti commented on the process. It’s “so exhausting to the point that there are days that I don’t even want to film,” he said. “And I try to avoid being filmed, but the camera crew — especially one of them in particular — is so persistent that he will continue to knock on the door, and knock on the door.” It’s just like any other reality show.

The Program Shows Surgeries That Other Doctors Consider Too Dangerous

Picture of Dr. Now
TLC
TLC

Typically, Dr. Now operates on patients with a BMI of 50 or more, and on the show, he operates on those with a BMI of 100 or more. If an individual is too obese, some doctors won’t operate on them due to the high risk. Furthermore, many doctors don’t even have the equipment necessary to help such patients, although Dr. Now does.

Many of the show participants come to Dr. Now because they have nowhere else to go. of course, Dr. Now doesn’t just operate on anybody, and many individuals are required to lose some weight before he is willing to operate.

Dr. Now’s Son Is Credited With Establishing The Show

Picture of Jonathan
The Donna Drake Show Live It Up/YouTube
The Donna Drake Show Live It Up/YouTube

TLC isn’t actually responsible for coming up with the idea for the show. That credit goes to television producer and Megalomedia employee Jonathan Nowzaradan, the son of Dr. Now. The show’s premise comes from a 2007 documentary Megalomedia produced about Renee Williams, a woman who weighed over 800 pounds, leading Dr. Now to perform weight loss surgery on her.

For several years, Megalomedia filmed a number of bariatric surgery patients. The footage was edited to create the first season of My 600-Lb Life and was picked up by TLC. Since then, the show has made some adjustments, but the premise remains the same.

Weight Isn’t The Only Thing Participants Have To Worry About

tracey
TLC
TLC

Being uncomfortable isn’t the only result of obesity. It can also lead to life-threatening illnesses such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and a significant increase in the chance of stroke and heart attack. Aside from these common problems, the show also demonstrates conditions such as sleep apnea, lymphedema, and mental health issues.

In 2017, cast member Tracey Matthews had the most severe cases of Lymphedema and cellulitis ever on the program, with 400 of the 605 pounds being located in her lower body. Dr. Oz was unable to operate until Matthews was able to lose 100 pounds on her own, which she did!

The Show Continued Filming In 2020 Despite The Pandemic

Picture of woman eating
TLC
TLC

In 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States, the CDC released recommended guidelines to protect the public, which resulted in the shutting down of countless media productions. But not for My 600-lb Life!

Disregarding the CDC’s recommendations, the show continued to film up until March 26, 2020, even though all of the series participants are considered to be extremely high-risk individuals. One source reported, “It’s super dangerous, and none of us wants to be the person who gives it to the castmember,” although they kept working for fear of losing their jobs.

There Are Ethical Issues Surrounding The Show

Picture of Justin
TLC
TLC

Although the show is considered inspirational by some viewers, there are, of course, those who watch for the shock factor and a form of more insidious entertainment. It is also argued that the show promotes fat-shaming and makes its money off of the exploitation of people with serious health issues.

Furthermore, cast members are ruthlessly harassed on social media, with Justin McSwain commenting that “I went from no one knowing I existed to being harassed all day on social media, my business, and phone calls. I wouldn’t do it again.”

Therapy Is A Key Component Of The Show

Therapists office
TLC
TLC

While diet, exercise, and (potentially) surgery are used to help the participants lose weight, the program also emphasizes emotional therapy in later seasons. Kristen Perez suffered extreme trauma as a teenager, so she struggled to lose weight, even after the intervention of gastric bypass surgery.

After going to see a therapist and confronting her emotions and the damage from her past, she was able to find it in herself to lose weight. By the time the show was over, Perez had lost a whopping 170 pounds!

Dr. Now Has Personally Been Sued

Picture of Dr. Now
TLC
TLC

Prior to the inception of My 600-lb Life, Dr. Now was featured on a number of weight loss surgery documentaries. In 2004, Colleen Shepherd, one of his patient’s mothers, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the doctor following her daughter Tina’s passing.

Tina died of blood poisoning and liver failure after the surgery, with Colleen claiming that neither Dr. Now or the hospital prepared her for what was to come after her surgery. On another occasion, he was sued by a cast member when he was accused of leaving a medical tube inside her after operating.