In the NBC TV show, The Biggest Loser, we watch as obese contestants compete for the highest percentage of weight loss. Results are dramatic. Emotions are high. Despite the huge popularity, the show has elicited criticism for depicting a poor, inaccurate, and potentially dangerous approach to weight loss.
This week, Gina Kolata, health reporter at the New York Times, offers a detailed report on the results of a study about why contestants gained weight back: After ‘The Biggest Loser,’ Their Bodies Fought to Regain Weight
She reports on the experiences of several of the contestants from Season 8, all but one of whom regained weight and, in some cases, returned to their former weight. Kolata notes that the contestants’ experiences presented an opportunity for researchers to learn more about the physiology of obesity and the struggle to keep weight off.
“Researchers knew that just about anyone who deliberately loses weight — even if they start at a normal weight or even underweight — will have a slower metabolism when the diet ends. So they were not surprised to see that “The Biggest Loser” contestants had slow metabolisms when the show ended.
What shocked the researchers was what happened next: As the years went by and the numbers on the scale climbed, the contestants’ metabolisms did not recover. They became even slower, and the pounds kept piling on. It was as if their bodies were intensifying their effort to pull the contestants back to their original weight.
Mr. Cahill was one of the worst off. As he regained more than 100 pounds, his metabolism slowed so much that, just to maintain his current weight of 295 pounds, he now has to eat 800 calories a day less than a typical man his size. Anything more turns to fat.”
See the full study here: Persistent metabolic adaptation 6 years after “The Biggest Loser” competition, as well as an NPR All Things Considered story, “Biggest Loser” Lessons: Why the Body Makes It Hard To Keep Pounds Off
ConscienHealth blog talks about the study in the post Biggest Lie of the Biggest Loser, noting that “The biggest lie of the Biggest Loser is that it’s a reality show. The show has little to do with the reality of obesity and weight management.” The post also says:
“And if you look closely at Fothergill’s data, you can see that these people have done remarkably well, despite the metabolic changes weighing them down. On average they maintained a 12% weight loss and 57% maintained at least a 10% weight loss. “
When it comes to weight loss, we believe the best approach is slow and steady, incorporating small, incremental changes that are adapted into daily life as routine. Quick fixes and fad diets don’t work. We hope that this study will continue yielding insight into obesity, but there will be no magic pills. Whatever biological cards we’ve been dealt, we should all commit to a lifelong quest to be the healthiest person we can be.
If you are a Member of ESI TotalCare Wellness and you want to lose weight, we encourage you to contact a Wellness Coach so that we can help you develop a plan to meet your goals.