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

600-lbs-james-king
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.

Susan Farmer Lost Feeling In Her Legs After The Surgery

Picture of Susan Farmer
TLC
TLC

Susan Farmer weighed around 600 pounds since she was in high school and later in life was diagnosed with neuropathy, which posed a serious risk to her health. Although it was only recommended that she lose 15-30 pounds before the surgery, she set a goal to shed 100, which she did in months.

Yet, after the surgery, she had a hard time walking, as she had lost the feeling in her legs. However, she persevered, got back on her feet, and lost more than 400 pounds!

Many Participants’ Marriages End Up In Divorce

Picture of Christina
TLC
TLC

When a major life change happens to one partner and not another, it’s not surprising when a couple gets divorced. This is no different for the cast of My 600-Pound Life. For example, when Christina Phillips lost more than 500 pounds, problems between her and her husband Zack quickly began to worsen, as Zack had been her enabler.

Furthermore, Zsalynn Whitworth met her husband on the website “Shopping For A Fat Girl.” He took her to a fast-food restaurant after her surgery, and the two eventually became divorced.

Penny Sager Had The Surgery But Never Lost Weight

Picture of Penny Sager
TLC
TLC

In the “Where Are They Now Episode,” former participant Penny Sager refused to step on the scale, claiming that her weight didn’t matter. At this point, it was clear that even with the surgery, Penny hadn’t lost any of her weight, with Dr. Now warning her that if she didn’t change her attitude, nobody would be able to help her.

Dr. Now even promised her she could come back any time when she was ready, but she preferred to continue living as she was.

Dr. Now Doesn’t Get Rich From The Show

Picture of Dr. Now
TLC
TLC

For many viewers, Dr. Now is one of the greatest draws to the show with his ability to be firm with his patients regarding their health. Although he has proven himself to be a successful weight-loss surgeon, he has also shown that he doesn’t do it for the money.

Supposedly, he doesn’t even make very much money from the operations that he performs on the show. He told Houstonia magazine, “We don’t need to be rich. We do make a living, but we don’t need to worry about making a living out of every patient we see.”

The Cast Isn’t Paid Very Much Either

Picture of contestants
TLC
TLC

While it may only seem like some people would subject themselves to be the target of such hate and criticism if there was money involved, that’s not necessarily the case for the show’s participants.

According to Starcasm, the individuals are only paid $1,500 as a talent fee plus $2,500 for a relocation stipend if necessary. After the show, many of their money problems don’t disappear either, as former participants have shared their financial grievances on various social media platforms.

Charity Pierce Is Helping Her Daughter Set Weight-Loss Goals

Charity Pierce

During her episode on My 600-lb Life, Charity Pierce weighed in at almost 800 pounds. Thanks to Dr. Nowzaradan, Pierce was able to begin her long journey to a healthy lifestyle. After her weight-loss surgery, Pierce lost a whopping 400 pounds, setting her on a great path to a stable weight.

Today, Pierce is no longer alone on her journey. Since the end of her episode, she has been helping her daughter, Charly, conquer milestones, as she struggles with her weight, too. Together, the mother and daughter duo are making it their mission to keep the weight off with healthy eating and exercise.

Milla Clark Dropped The 600-Lbs From My 600-Lb Life

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TLC; Milla Shawn Clark/Facebook
TLC; Milla Shawn Clark/Facebook

When viewers first met Milla Clark, she weighed in at a whopping 751 pounds. She was so unhealthy and out of shape that she was confined to her bed and needed her children to help her with basic daily hygiene. But after surgery, a double knee replacement, and mental perseverance, Clark set a record for the series, dropping 600 pounds!

Today, Clark is up, moving around, and fully embracing her role as a face for weight-loss success stories. She is very active on social media, updating her pages with her life and various workout routines– you go, girl!

Amber Rachdi Is An Internet Sensation

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TLC; amberrachdi/Instagram
TLC; amberrachdi/Instagram

At the young age of 23, Amber Rachdi weighed 657.6 pounds. To put it mildly, she had a long weight-loss journey ahead of her. But it wasn’t just the weight that was making a dent in her life, Rachdi also suffered from anxiety, something that caused her to binge-eat.

But the young woman was determined to overcome those obstacles. Today, she is a social media superstar, showing off her fantastic figure, makeup skills, and ridiculously cute hairstyles. With her newfound fame, the My 600-lb Life alumn is continuing to take care of herself and work out regularly.

Cillas Givens’ Story Ended On A Rather High Note

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TLC; Cillas Givens/Facebook
TLC; Cillas Givens/Facebook

Growing up lonely and depressed is what led Cillas Givens to find comfort in food. Unfortunately, for the young man, that comfort led him to weigh a total of 729 pounds. But with support from Dr. Nowzaradan as well as his girlfriend Jessica and her children, Givens was ready to make a lifestyle change.

By the end of his time on My 600-lb Life, Givens lost a staggering 388 pounds, an incredible feat. And, by the looks of his social media accounts and a GoFundMe page, he is continuing to make fantastic strides in his weightloss journey.

Paula Jones Has Become The Queen Of Selfies

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Paula “Sunshine” Jones/Facebook
Paula “Sunshine” Jones/Facebook

Starting at 533 pounds, Paula Jones had a long way to go, both physically and mentally, to achieve her goals. If you’re familiar with her story, then you know Jones had a very emotional episode in the second season of the series. Thankfully, her weight-loss journey has given her newfound confidence to overcome her inner demons.

Today, the mom of four is loving life and becoming a certified selfie queen. She isn’t afraid to show off her hard work, especially if it helps motivate other morbidly obese individuals. In a social media post, Jones said, “[obesity] is so senseless since it is preventable. It just isn’t easy.”

Chay Guillory Is Finally Living In Her Own Skin

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TLC; oheychay/Instagram
TLC; oheychay/Instagram

Chay Guillory had arguably one of the most intense transformations of anyone who has appeared on My 600-lb Life and for more than one reason. Starting at over 600 pounds, Guillory was determined to lose the extra weight and keep it off. But, ironically, losing over 500 pounds wasn’t her most dramatic lifestyle change.

During her follow-up episode, Guillory revealed that she’s transgender and has been living life as a woman! In 2020, she married her boyfriend Patrick and is trying her hardest to get to her goal weight of 180 pounds so that she can qualify for gender confirmation surgery. Congrats!

Ashley Dunn Bratcher Is The Mother And Wife Her Family Deserves

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TLC; Ashley Dunn Bratcher/Facebook
TLC; Ashley Dunn Bratcher/Facebook

Ashley Dunn Bratcher weighed in at 725 pounds during her time on My 600-lb Life. When viewers first met the mom of one, they saw someone who needed her son to help with simple chores around the house because of her limited mobility. Now, people see her as a happy mother who couldn’t be more thrilled that she took the plunge to better her life.

Today, Bratcher can care for her son like she’s always wanted to. And, unlike a lot of TLC alumni, Bratcher’s husband couldn’t be more supportive or proud of his wife. According to Bratcher’s Facebook, the two celebrated their tenth anniversary in 2019!

David Bolton Is Engaged To His Longtime Girlfriend

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TLC; dabolt7786/Instagram
TLC; dabolt7786/Instagram

David Bolton weighed in at 747 pounds during his time on My 600-lb Life. Unfortunately, for Bolton, he was so out of shape at the peak of his weight that he was unable to do a lot of things for himself, including holding a job.

But he decided to turn it all around. He dropped a staggering 420 pounds by the end of his time on the show. Today, he is continuing to improve his health, slimming down even more, according to a family member. Bolton also proposed to his longtime girlfriend, Carrie!

Laura Perez Enrolled In Beauty School

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TLC; Laura Perez/Facebook
TLC; Laura Perez/Facebook

When Laura Perez was on My 600-lb Life, her peak weight was 594 pounds. She was so obese in adulthood that she stopped being able to care for herself, needed an oxygen tank, was wheelchair-bound, and required assistance from her then-husband Joey for everyday tasks. According to Dr. Nowzaradan, Perez was in one of the worst shapes she has ever seen.

Since the end of the show, Perez is down to 182 pounds. But with every milestone she conquered, more strain was placed on her relationship. Thankfully, Perez knows her worth, and decided independence, and following her beauty school dreams were more important than someone who wasn’t willing to support her journey.

Bettie Jo Elmore Welcomed A Baby Boy

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TLC; Bettiejonjosh/Facebook
TLC; Bettiejonjosh/Facebook

When viewers first met Bettie Jo Elmore, she weighed 654 pounds. It was apparent she was vastly out of shape and needed to commit to a life-changing weight-loss journey. With a whole lot of mental strength and perseverance, Elmore was able to shed the weight, but not without obstacles.

During her journey, she found out she had a mass growing at the base of her spine. Elmore could have undergone surgery, but she was pregnant, and the operation could harm the baby. So, she decided to face the consequences of not undergoing surgery. Thankfully, both mommy and baby are healthy and well! And Elmore was able to continue her weight-loss journey.

Melissa Morris Was Finally Able To Have Children

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TLC; Melissa D Morris/Instagram
TLC; Melissa D Morris/Instagram

Melissa Morris was the first person to ever be on My 600-lb Life, and she had quite the story. If you’re familiar with Morris’ tale, then you know that because of her weight, she had about a two percent chance of ever becoming pregnant, according to an interview she had with TLC.

Amazingly, after her time on the show and getting rid of a few hundred pounds of extra baggage, Morris became a mom! On May 1, 2010, Morris gave birth to her daughter, Allona. Since then, she has had two more children!

Nikki Webster Went Pants Shopping For The First Time In Ten Years

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TLC; Nikki Webster/Facebook
TLC; Nikki Webster/Facebook

It was hard not to smile along with Nikki Webster during her segment of My 600-lb Life: Where Are They Now? Since being on the lifechanging show and having an intervention with the infamous Dr. Nowzaradan, Webster has dropped 450 pounds, a huge accomplishment!

Now, she’s nothing less than ecstatic about life. For the first time in ten years, the newly transformed woman went pants shopping, something she never thought was going to be possible. Even better, Webster tied the knot with the love of her life back in 2017. In a social media post, Webster wrote, “I’ve been able to experience a happiness I never thought possible.”

Joe Wexler Finally Got His Fairytale Ending

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TLC; Joe Wexler/Facebook
TLC; Joe Wexler/Facebook

Weighing in at 800 pounds during the third season of My 600-lb Life was Joe Wexler. It took some time, but with the help of Dr. Nowzaradan, exercise, diet, and a whole lot of mental strength, Wexler was able to drop 500 pounds — an amazing milestone if there ever was one.

Now, he’s living a fairytale with the woman of his dreams. In My 600-lb Life: Where Are They Now? Wexler revealed he met someone, a lady named Sarah, who just so happened to have a daughter. Things became serious, and the two married in 2016! Pretty much, Wexler got a family and a fairytale to highlight his journey.

Zsalynn Whitworth Is Now A Confident Woman

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TLC; Zsalynn/Facebook
TLC; Zsalynn/Facebook

When Zsalynn Whitworth was on My 600-lb Life, she confessed to having multiple emotional issues. Mainly, she was struggling with depression and loneliness after her divorce from her unsupportive husband. But she was over letting her mental state dictate her life. Whitworth was ready to make a lifestyle change, starting with skin removal surgery.

From there, it was all uphill. Whitworth has a newfound confidence, most likely due to the promise she made to herself to be more active and to put herself out there. Now, if you look at Whitworth’s social media accounts, you can see her with what looks like a new beau.

Brittani Fulfer Is GoingTo Concerts And Having Adventures

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TLC; Brittani Fulfer/Facebook
TLC; Brittani Fulfer/Facebook

Since her episode of My 600-lb Life, Brittani Fulfer has dropped more than half her peak weight of 605 pounds. If you’re familiar with the TLC alum’s story, then you know that Fulfer has battled with mental health issues, namely depression.

But after dropping the weight, going on adventures, and even seeing her favorite band in concert, Third Eye Blind, it’s safe to say Fulfer is living her life to the absolute fullest. And with the addition of a baby boy to her small family, her mental health is getting better every day.