I just wanted to look good in a bikini! Was that too much to ask?
Yes. I admit it, I’m vain. I’ve done fad diets, crash diets. I’m willing to endure moderate torture to look good.
So about a year ago I auditioned for something called a “fitness test group” for a popular workout DVD series. “Test group” is the technical term for “people in an infomercial”. For the audition, the goal was to show up and NOT look good in a bikini and pose for polaroids in front of a roomful of strangers. A few days later, I was thrilled to receive an email informing me that I was out of shape enough to be a part of the group that would last two months.
I, and approximately 30 other women, would be put through extreme workouts and calorie restricted diets to induce fast results for the workout DVD’s newest edition. No one was paid to participate, but we would be receiving FREE group training five days a week from a “real celebrity trainer” free food for the duration of the program, and a membership to a swanky gym that cost more than my monthly rent. The only obligations: to try our best, show up on time, produce results, not cheat on the diet, no drinking booze, (I’m sober so that wasn’t a problem), no coffee (hell no, I need my one vice, so I had to keep that around!) Yay! This was going to be fun!…well maybe.
Now keep this VERY important tidbit in mind!
When you see before and after pics during an infomercial you only see about 5 or 6 people featured. Those people are a fraction of the people that were a part of the process. Fitness test groups have anywhere between 30-60 subjects.
The group of women participating in my infomercial looked like a Benetton Ad. There were women of different races, types, ages and in different physical conditions. Some were mothers of four who hadn’t worked out in years. Others were models, who didn’t need to lose any weight I could see. The point of the test group was to get a variety of people with drastic results.
Getting even 10 television worthy success stories can be tricky. The bigger the group, the higher the possible success rates. You’ll almost ALWAYS see the infamous: “results not typical” in teeny tiny print at the bottom of the screen during these infomercials.
The first part of the process were measurements, weigh-ins, and the most embarrassing photo shoot ever for the “before” pictures.
Look at this photo of me, wearing something I’d never be caught dead in. I was told to pretend to be sad. I am not pretending like I’m sad…I’m really sad. There are half a dozen strangers in the studio watching me as I’m having this picture taken. “Let it all hang out!” someone yelled. I did.
No one likes being photographed while being told to stick out their gut in an unflattering swimsuit.
Each morning upon our arrival to the gym, we would receive a bag of food that would tide us over until the next day. Each week the diet would vary to help expedite the results. The first week we were on a lean low carb high protein “cleanse”-1,200 calories a day. Bland chicken, veggies, broth, plain egg white omelets. After the cleanse portion was over, our calories and meals were between 1,200-1,400 and varied upon the individual. These provided meals never seemed to be enough, a lot of the ladies in the locker room would talk about pairing a chicken breast with a slice of pizza, or replacing a meal with a bottle of wine, or eating candy in lieu of dinner. At first I was all about sticking to the diet.
“We will know if you stray off of this program! Your results will show us the truth!” chanted the two women were the liaisons/cheerleaders between us and trainer. They would give us pep talks and advice if we needed help.
The training sessions were Monday through Fridays, at 10:00am. I know it’s not that early, but I am NOT a morning person, so I was half asleep upon arrival. But I was determined!
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity ladies! People would kill to be in your position.” This became a mantra yelled at us during every workout.
For the next 2 months, each 45 minute workout was complete hell.
The celebrity trainer seemed constantly stressed out. She taught the classes herself. She pushed the group hard. She yelled as if she had just done a speedball.
Most workouts were similar to the DVD’s that would be mass produced and sold on late night television…the celebrity trainer would just add more weights and repetitions for quicker results. Some of them were completely different-hardcore cardio driven, and we were encouraged to do at least 30 minutes of cardio on our own every day before our class.
Over the course of the test group, things started getting a little weird. Some people would cry during the workouts. Others would vomit.
I found that if I pretended to cry, I could go chill out in the ladies locker room and relax for a good 10 minutes before someone came to look for me. Sometimes I’d just sneak out of the class 20 minutes early because I didn’t feel like putting up with it. I wanted to lose weight and do a good job, but the dynamic was getting weird. Women were clinging to each other in silence after the workouts and embracing as if it were some Lifetime movie about a concentration camp. “We can do this,” they whispered, “we can make it through.”
Everyone was losing weight, just as the trainer hoped for. A few women on the heavier side easily dropped 15-20 the first week, then tapered off to 2-3 pounds a week. I’d usually lose 1-2 pounds a week.
Unfortunately, by the time the end of month one rolled around, I was completely insane, and so were a lot of the other women. This was not turning out to be a fun experience. Once in a lifetime, maybe, but fun. Not so much. No one was being held against their will and could’ve walked out and quit at any minute, but it was almost as if we had been brainwashed to want to stay.
Sometimes we’d be given pep talks when the cheerleaders could tell the morale was down. “We believe in you. You can do this. Don’t give up.” Meanwhile, the trainer would sit in the corner texting angrily, hyped up on caffeine or whatnot. I assume their texts were about wanting to put us through physical hell.
We were constantly being reminded of how lucky we were to be in such a program. And we were being enticed with offers of possible cash prizes and a trip to an exotic location where we could frolic in bikinis and show off our new toned bodies. This was motivation to stick around.
I’m also fairly competitive, so the need to “win” made me even crazier. I lived and breathed the gym. I mean, I walked out 20 minutes early sometimes, but not all that often. And I did eat only the food they’d give me every day.
As a result, I was obsessed, sleep deprived, miserable, and taking it out on my poor fiancé who was convinced I had been brainwashed.
All I cared about was the infomercial. I wasn’t the only one. Other women in the class were having adverse reactions with the test group. An older woman would sob hysterically everyday in the lobby of the gym to one of the cheerleaders. She lost weight though, so the cheerleaders seemed fine with it.
Two other females in the group also had relationship issues with their significant others and almost broke up. One girl pulled her hamstring and could barely work-out. She still would show up to the classes in full workout gear frantically doing upper body exercises in a chair, pushing herself to the point of tears. Another woman hurt her knee and had to wear a brace. One girl got a fucking hernia. I was trying to impress this fitness guru, but for what and for WHY? Did it have something to do with being yelled at in high school gym class for not being able to run a mile fast enough? . Was it because I didn’t make the top ten when I competed in Miss Nebraska so many years before? Did I even really want to appear on an infomercial shown on late night television? Hell no!
I began to regain my sanity. I got very resentful towards Celeb Trainer. She wasn’t very nice, really. So I decided to rebel and cheat on the diet.
One day, I walked in with an iced latte and drank it during the class. Everyone there glared at me. If I happened to gain a pound, or if my weight stagnated, I said I had my period. I began saying I had my period every other week. I had already lost enough weight, and I wasn’t stressed out about losing anymore. I was simply coasting. Had the group and myself been experiencing Stockholm Syndrome? Why did we wanting so badly to impress the trainer and the cheerleaders? During a moment of clarity, when I did try to quit, they wouldn’t “let me”.
“Are you afraid of failure?” one asked me.
“Are you afraid of gaining weight back?”
“No. I lost enough weight.”
“What do you have to lose by staying? It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
“I’m just over it! I’m so tired” I said.
“Do this for me. Do this for you. Do it for the group. People look up to you. Don’t stop now.”
Once again, I was reeled in, and told to stick it out just a little longer. Besides, I still wanted to win some kind of magical prize.
So I stayed. I lost 10 pounds and nearly 20 inches, but I also lost my mind. Celeb Trainer would often verbally lash out at the class to work harder, tie our shoes, to NOT grab water to drink unless we were told. Her real personality was the complete opposite of her DVD one.
The prizes started to trickle in. Not in the capacity I had hoped though. I was awarded a size extra-small jog bra for being “enthusiastic”. It didn’t matter in the moment of winning that I was a size D and spilled out of the bra that clearly did not support my large breasts. I had won something. Another girl got a gift certificate to Victoria’s Secret for $50. I was pissed. That wasn’t fair.
We were told that the final prizes would be determined “later”, but later came and went…and nada! No prizes.
THERE WERE NO PRIZES.
That said, I was happier with my body in this photo. (That is not my bikini. I don’t own that. I don’t do prints.)
But it’s not really accurate. Keep in mind, the lighting is changed for the after photos. I do believe that they were untouched – but we were also told to suck our tummies in for dear life, arch our backs for a better rear view shot, and strike various uncomfortable poses that made us look slimmer.
Thankfully, the brain cells I had lost during this experience started rejuvenating. I realized that I didn’t want my horrific, sad-looking “before” photos appearing on a national commercial (even though now they are now here). I purposely drank coffee and red bull to appear bloated for my after photo shoot, and neglected to get a spray tan-(those make everyone look skinnier). My results were good, but not as great as others who had surpassed 30 pounds in weight loss.
Some women who lost dramatic amounts of weight struggled to keep it off after it was all over. The majority, gained it back. The faster you drop pounds, usually is a sign on how quickly they go back on. Similar to weight loss programs on television, all they care about is how fast you lose weight, but once it’s over, you’re on your own with no one to guide you, but you, and maybe a box set of DVD’s. Unless you can afford a trainer to maintain, which many cannot.
A year later I’m finally getting over my experience and so is my fiancé. I’ve kept in touch with a few of the other girls who were in the group. For some the experience was a Godsend and helped them reach fitness goals that they never imagined. Their experience was amazing, and for that I’m happy for them. For others, like myself, I was into the free food, idea of prizes, and to have an interesting experience.
“Yeah, I can’t believe we went through with that. It’s like we were addicted to that, that thing.” This was over coffee with my friend Shayna who I met through the group. Now we laugh about it, but shudder about how and why we actually put up with it.
I’m not as obsessive about the gym, now. I do have a regular fitness regime, and yes, my weight fluctuates, but you know what? Life is too short to worry about it. Diet Soda, no way! I go for real sugar. If I want pizza I’ll eat it. Living in fear of splurging isn’t a way to live.
Do these infomercial products work? ABSOLUTELY. If you actually want to take the time to do them. Just keep the small print “results not typical” in the back of your mind. In the test group, we were on an extremely low calorie diet, burning more calories than we were consuming. It was NOT a healthy way to lose long term weight. Just keep the small print and keep “results not typical”, in the back of your mind. And don’t do anything that makes you feel crazy.