An inspiration to over 1 million viewers per episode, TLC 's My 600-Lb. Life tells the story of individuals desperately trying to take control of their lives and eating habits. The docu-series stars Dr. Younan Nowzaradan (aka Dr. Now), a gastric bypass surgeon who performs procedures on the show which follows a year in the lives of patients battling with obesity.
Over its lifetime, the show's participants have experienced extreme medical complications, lost their marriages and even passed away post-surgery. But is that really surprising considering the fact Dr. Now takes on patients who are turned away by other doctors due to their weight?
Many of Dr. Now's patients would have never been given the opportunity to receive help, if not for the controversial show. But surprisingly, Doctor Now came to TLC with a questionable history before the show even began.
While that doesn't necessarily mean anything more than a willingness to operate on high-risk patients, the question is whether the end justifies the means. Is My 600-Lb. Life a shining example of triumph and inspiration or does it take too many risks for the sake of ratings?
We know TLC has a history of airing controversial reality TV shows such as Sister Wives. But when does "controversial" become questionable?
Here are 15 Dark Secrets About My 600-Lb. Life.
15 Doctor Now's First Show Documented The Loss Of A Patient
Renee Williams weighed 841 pounds when she found Dr. Now in 2007. She had reportedly met with several doctors who refused to help her, citing the dangers of operating on someone so morbidly obese.
The refusals came in spite of Renee's ardent pleas as she told doctors "I want to be able to care for my daughters and see them graduate high school." One can only imagine how happy she was when Doctor Now agreed to operate. Sadly, she passed away just 12 days after the surgery due to cardiac arrest.
Doctor Now's son, Jonathan Nowzardan, documented the woman's plight, using the footage to produce a documentary called Half Ton Mum which aired in the United Kingdom and led to other shows including Half Ton Teen. Johnathon was an executive producer for My 600-Lb. Life until 2016.
14 Susan Farmer Lost Feeling In Her Legs After Surgery
Susan Farmer's story is one of the most inspirational, yet scary stories from the show. Having weighed 600 pounds since high school, Susan was diagnosed with neuropathy and faced a possible lifetime of restricted mobility if she did not change her habits.
While Dr. Now often advises patients to lose 15-30 pounds prior to surgery, Susan was required to lose 100. Determined to lose the weight, and sticking to a low-calorie diet, she dropped from 607 to 507 lbs in just a few months.
But after the long awaited surgery, it became a struggle to walk as she began to lose feeling in her legs. Doctors feared she would face permanent paralysis. However, Susan didn't quit, stating "The surgery was my second chance at life, and I’m not going to let a setback like this take that from me. I’m going to fight. I’m going to do everything I possibly can to get better.”
After months of therapy she was back on her feet and has now lost over 400 pounds.
13 Many of The Show's Participants Ended Up Divorced
Christina Phillips lost over 500 pounds during and after the show, shedding 75% of her body mass along with a long-time husband and caretaker. Problems between husband, Zack and Christina began during the show and grew steadily as she lost weight. Christina believed her husband couldn't handle her newfound independence and realized the relationship was irreconcilable as it had been centered on Zack's need to enable her.
Zsalynn Whitworth met her husband on a site called "Shopping For A Fat Girl". Right after her bypass surgery, he took her straight to a fast food restaurant. They are now divorced.
This is only a partial sample of the show's divorcee list, which includes Dr. Now. However, people should consider the possibility that divorce isn't always a bad thing. The emotional, physical, and personal difficulties which accompany obesity and the people who suffer from it, don't automatically stop when the weight is gone.
12 Two 600-Lb. Lifers Have Appeared On Adult Websites
At least two My 600-Lb. Life participants had a taste of fame prior to the show. Season 1's Pauline Potter was selling fat fetish photos and videos well before her TLC days. In fact, she is still active as Paulee Bombshell on the SuperSizedBombshells website.
Zsalynn Whitworth's story was introduced in season 2 of the TLC docu-series. Soon after, media outlets began reporting stories about her selling lingerie photos on fetish sites. Zsalynn had often battled with depression due to her weight and as a last resort, she started selling photos online in order to pay for gastric bypass surgery.
The truth is we don't always realize how debilitating and restricting morbid obesity can become. If not for the TLC team, Zsalynn may not be where she is today.
11 The Show's Dehumanizing and Humiliating Bathroom Scenes
Practically every episode of the show includes a fully exposed scene with participants showering or bathing. The obvious reason for this is to show the difficulties obese people experience with the smallest of tasks, even cleaning themselves. Plus, there is no better way to drive home the true size of a person's body and their accumulated fat, than to have them bare it all.
By their own admissions, most 600-Lb. Lifers have endured years of stares and ridicule due to their weight. And as such, the scenes can easily be viewed as demoralizing, requiring participants to share humiliating moments with the world. Bear in mind, many of them had previously refused to go out in public even when fully dressed. The one saving grace here is the editors blur all "private parts" during post production.
While viewers may feel nudity provides a visual record of the contrast between a patient's starting weight and their goal, should we not be asking ourselves if bath scenes are really necessary?
10 Dr. Now's 3rd Show Was Inspired By A Murder Investigation
Mayra Rosales, dubbed as the "Half-Ton Killer", once weighed more than 1,000 pounds and was facing a murder charge after confessing to rolling over onto her nephew, crushing him to death. But she didn't do it. In a bizarre twist, an autopsy determined the two-year old boy had been beaten to death with a blunt object. Soon after, Mayra's sister confessed to murdering the boy, her own son.
Mayra's corrected statement corroborated the story, stating Jamie had come to her and begged her to take responsibility for the murder. Jamie was allegedly worried about her other kids losing their mother. As Mayra had been battling with depression, feeling her own life wasn't worth living, she agreed to take responsibility. But the possibility of facing a death sentence changed Mayra.
After the trial was over, she vowed to fix her life and found Dr. Now who helped her lose over 800 pounds while making the documentary which bears her media-given title.
9 Penny Saeger Received Surgery But Didn't Lose Weight
Penny may well be the most controversial patient to appear on My 600-Lb. Life both pre and post surgery. During a "Where Are They Now" episode, she even refused to step on a scale, claiming weight doesn't matter. Her melodramatic shenanigans seem almost reminiscent of Honey Boo Boo's mother, who starred on another popular TLC reality show. Fans have often accused Penny of being stubborn, uncooperative, and manipulative.
After it became apparent the surgery was not a success for her and she was not losing weight, Doctor Now told cameras that if Penny's delusional behavior did not stop, no one would be able to help her. He did tell Penny she could come back any time if she was willing to change. But she declined, opting to do things her way.
8 Dr. Now Allegedly Left A Tube Inside A Patient's Body
During a non-show related procedure, Dr. Now completed gastric bypass surgery on Michelle Park, sewed her up, and sent her on her way. Unfortunately, he may have left her a souvenir, and 24 months later that souvenir punctured her colon.
According to a lawsuit initiated by Park, she ended up losing part of her colon and underwent extreme mental anguish after learning a 6.69 inch tube had been working its way through her body for almost two years.
Park dismissed the lawsuit in 2013. But many people have speculated the dismissal was likely prompted by an out-of-court mediation. Such cases often come with a gag order binding the plaintiff from divulging details about the settlement. In May of 2017, Doctor Now responded to online reports stating the lawsuit was dismissed because he wasn't the surgeon who left the tube behind.
7 Multiple 600-Lb. Lifers Have Spoken Out Against The Process
Cynthia Wells appeared on My 600-Lb. Life earlier this year. After one post-operation visit to a therapist, she refused further sessions. She felt that aside from surgery, Doctor Now and the show had nothing to offer. Like Penny Saeger, she decided to do things her own way. And she went on to lose 156 pounds over the next year dropping fried foods from her diet.
Her total weight loss from 610 to 454 pounds equaled around 25% of her total body weight.
Post-show, Penny Saeger also had some choice words to say about her experiences on the docu-series. When asked to discuss her interaction with Doctor Now, she replied, “He only seen (sic) me on filming and did the surgery. I was handled entirely by an off-screen doctor and treated by him, and I left them and Texas over two years ago.”
6 Food addiction is a real addiction
We have all heard that alcohol and drug addiction are often a result of difficulties faced during a person's formative years. Psychologists have linked addictive behavior to childhood trauma, abuse and many other causes discussed in TLCs line up of hard-hitting reality tv shows. But few people stop to consider how such events and experiences can trigger a food addiction.
Unfortunately, the behavior can be equally self-destructive and just as real as any chemical dependency. No one can attest to that more than Ashley Bratcher, who turned to food after being assaulted in her youth. She was reportedly a very happy child until her parents divorced, forcing Penny to live with her drug-addicted mother. Penny once told cameras that she had spent most of her time with a babysitter whose husband repeatedly touched her. And she felt she had never learned to deal with those memories.
Even after surgery, real weight loss felt out of reach prior to therapy sessions, where she learned to put her past behind her.
5 Henry Foots Died One Year After Surgery
Henry Foots was a star the day his first episode aired. His can-do attitude and unwavering conviction were an inspiration to millions. When he came onto the show during season 1, his goal was simple. He wanted to lose weight before attending a high school reunion. And he did. He lost 275 pounds, nearly half of his body weight.
Henry experienced his first death on an operating table during a successive surgical procedure to remove excess skin, but doctors were able to revive him and he later told TLC, “There was the light to take me to Heaven. I wasn’t ready for it, because there’s so much here on earth I haven’t did (sic) yet.”
Unfortunately, he passed away a few months after that due to a reported, yet undefined "medical episode." The episode occurred shortly after Henry's involvement in a traffic accident. While there was an implied correlation between the incidents, medical reports clearly show there was no connection. Sadly, the cause of his death will likely remain a mystery.
4 Doctor Now Was Sued For Wrongful Death
While many people were first introduced to Dr. Younan Nowzaradan by TLC, he has been making similar documentaries since the early 2000s. In 2004, a patient's mother filed a wrongful death suit against Doctor Now after her daughter passed. Colleen Shepherd alleged that neither Doctor Now nor the hospital appropriately prepared her daughter for the impact of weight loss surgery or the risks to a woman of her size.
Tina Shepherd died of liver failure and blood poisoning about a year after surgery. Her symptoms have been attributed to the risks of gastric bypass surgery in other patients, but there are other causal factors which can cause similar conditions. While Tina's gastric bypass procedures were reportedly recorded on camera, Doctor Now has yet to show the footage publicly.
In response to the lawsuit, he stated he did not know Tina had died and that she had not showed up for scheduled visits after surgery.
3 Every Gastric Bypass Surgery Could Be Lethal
There is a long list of risks associated with gastric bypass surgery. The short term risks include lung and breathing problems, blood clots, excessive bleeding, and even death. For morbidly obese patients, those risks are heightened and include heart problems and cardiac arrest. In addition, many doctors feel if a patient is not willing or able to reach a manageable weight loss goal prior to surgery, the procedure is not likely to make a long term difference.
But how does one weigh the quality of life and potential life span of a morbidly obese person against the potentially fatal risk of surgery? Do doctors truly have a patient's best interests in mind when they refuse to perform procedures? Or are they simply worried about potential law suits?
Whatever the answers, Dr. Now and the TLC crew have started a revolution that will likely open the doors to more surgical rooms. Whether that is a good thing, remains to be seen.
2 One 600-Lb. Lifer Was Labeled The Heaviest Woman Alive
Pauline Potter, also known as Paulee Bombshell, is still listed as the heaviest woman alive on the Guinness Book Of World Records website. Weighing in at 643 pounds, Pauline first made the record in 2011 after she contacted the Guinness team. Her second weigh-in was performed in 2012. She also appeared on Dr. Phil and made the circuit through a few other shows and media outlets.
It is important to note that despite her standing Guinness record, Pauline has reportedly lost weight over the last year.
Many My 600-Lb. Life fans and news outlets consider Pauline to be a media-hound and disingenuous. In truth, there is really no way to know whether she was the heaviest woman alive when the report was made. As Dr. Now has said many times, most morbidly obese people don't know how much they weigh. They often refuse to get on a scale. And while Pauline is the heaviest woman reported by Guinness, there aren't many people who would volunteer to step on their scales.
1 Dominique Lanoise's deadly food addiction
Prior to the premiere of My 600-Lb. Life, TLC chronicled a year in the life of Dominique Lanoise, an overweight single mother of six. The 500+ pound woman first made headlines when she became stranded in Haiti after an earthquake and had to be airlifted back to Miami, FL. After returning to the U.S., her food addiction grew, and so did she.
Already bedridden when she met with TLC, she had soared to 627 pounds and was facing a life expectancy of one year. But due to health risks, doctors required her to lose 127 pounds before they would operate. It was a goal she would never reach.
TLC cameras captured the battle for her life as she struggled with weight fluctuations, finally giving into her addiction. At one point her doctor made a heartfelt plea stating "You're going to die in this bed, this bed is your coffin." But she couldn't control her addiction. Viewers watched in horror as her weight skyrocketed to 689 pounds and literally ate herself to death.
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