Since the age of 14 she has pursued her love of fitness and spreading the word to converts: at school, the local gym, the YMCA, running a gym, presenting fitness segments on morning television.
But it was joining Season Two of The Biggest Loser that catapulted her to a national audience. From there she has built up brand Bridges, now estimated at anywhere between $5m – $20m worth. Her online 12-Week Body Transformation program is now 3 years old.
“We start together and finish together so it’s not a cookie-cutter cut and paste programme where you get copy after copy of content. It has a start date and finish date and we all move together as one big family. It’s probably one of my most proudest achievements because we’ve lost in excess of 500,000 kilos in the last 3 years we’ve been running. So it’s transformed lives, I’ve had women have babies, brought marriages back together!” she says.
“People would ask me ‘Can you be my trainer?’ but I can’t train everyone so that’s how the business started.”
Then there are the DVDs, books, newspaper columns, product endorsements, a lifestyle clothing line. She juggles it all with seemingly boundless energy.
Underpinning it all is her approach to exercise and a healthy lifestyle. Around six months of her year is given over to The Biggest Loser and six months to her own projects. But since the television show her empire has grown, now employing a staff of 40, just for the online training program.
“Biggest Loser came across 7 years ago and it was a great springboard for me to put out there the things that I had in place. I was well-known in the industry but certainly not outside of that,” she says.
This year’s series sees parents and (adult) children facing their obesity, and in some cases, their own mortality.
Bridges references a line from Obesity Australia: “Statistically, children of this generation could potentially have a shorter lifespan than their parents and that’s the first time that’s ever happened.
“If you’re born into an overweight family there’s an 80% chance of it occurring to you. And that makes sense because they are the foundations that you come from.
“So the idea of attacking what’s going on at home and making some changes around habits and lifestyle choices and having that person who is your #1 role model with you, is exciting. It also brings a whole bunch of challenges around things like communication within families.”
But can it all be so philanthropic in Reality TV? Surely in having parents and their offspring compete the show can play on the guilt of the parent in raising an unhealthy child? It needs drama after all?
“I would say Guilt is a wasted emotion,” Bridges defends.
“There’s no judgement. This is the situation we’re in, these are the cards we’ve been dealt, let’s see now if we can play them differently.”
Yet the show has also come in for its share of criticism, ranging from extreme exercising to stigmatising fat people. Does she really believe the show does not, at times, shame its participants if only to identify the hurdles they must overcome?
“People say that all the time. It’s easy to say ‘We’re totally judging you because of the way you’ve chosen to live your life.’ But what’s the point in that?” she asks.
“I need to get these people healthy. So what I need to understand is why they’ve gotten themselves into the position and then let’s move forward.
“The thing I’ve learned, without sounding cliché, is that the more breakdowns and breakthroughs you have, the more lessons you understand about who you are and who you no longer want to be, the more likely they are able to stick with it on the outside. So that’s why we ask people to open themselves to the process and not bottle it all up and keeping those brick walls up.
“Let’s find out what roadblocks you have and what games you’ve been playing with yourself and your loved ones.”
Sometimes the steps producers have taken have involved ‘hidden cameras,’ including scenes of trainers with shocked faces when watching contestants gorge on junk food in their own home. How much of this is genuine and how much is all for the cameras?
“It’s the reality of what’s going on and everybody’s allowed to be shocked or, I guess, have an opinion,” she insists.
“Of course they know about it.
“The contestants give permission for the cameras to go into their home but maybe they forget about it. Last year we had cameras in the kitchen and the dining room and they knew they were there.
“We just said ‘Go about your life as normal. Do what you normally would do.’”
So if they’ve given consent, then they’re not really ‘hidden’ cameras at all?
“It’s television, c’mon….” she shrugs.
“But once we get to the real truth about all the things that are going on behind closed doors with regards to food, then we can start moving forward.”
But there’s no denying the show has transformed lives for some. She references the Westren family from 2011’s Season Six.
“The son is now a personal trainer, mum and dad are the same weight they were at the finale and they’re out travelling the world.”
Bridges says the success rate for any weight loss program varies but The Biggest Loser has a good hit rate.
“We have a very good success rate and I would say it’s more than 50%. That said, I liken it to winning the lottery. You can invest in it wisely or you can blow it up against the wall. It just depends on the individual,” she says.
“Some of the past contestants you never hear from again and you wonder ‘Is that because they’ve fallen off the rails?’ or is because they’ve got their own life to lead now? But there are others you have a lot of contact with. Many of them have gone on to become personal trainers, believe it or not!”
This year contestants will again take off overseas to an undisclosed location for a series of challenges Bridges brands as her highlight.
“The biggest highlight for me is a Face Your Fears week. We take them away and do amazing things with them. You really see people grow after that week.
“I love the show. You don’t need to have a weight problem to know what it’s like to feel judged or bullied or self-loathing. Everyone at some point in their life has felt something like that. You don’t need to have a weight problem to associate yourself to those feelings.
“But what is exciting is that you then get to see these people re-empower themselves.
“There’s always someone who will criticise or have an opinion and that’s absolutely fine. But you can’t beat the numbers. The numbers will win every single time.”
The Biggest Loser airs 7:30pm Sunday – Tuesday on TEN.