There’s a lot of heavy, depressing news following the release of a study that looks at the regain of weight by most of the Biggest Loser contestants. As a dietitian who has worked in weight loss efforts with patients in my office, and who was the on-air dietitian for 3 reality shows including Shedding for the Wedding, I must weigh-in as the results – while not surprising – are mostly not being interpreted in a helpful or healthful way. Instead I’m hearing victim-speak such as “no wonder I can’t lose weight, I’ve got Biggest Loser metabolism issues.” Alright friends – let’s cut to the chase on what we can and should learn from this study.
Why This Study Is Not For You
You are NOT a biggest loser contestant. I repeat, you are not a BL contestant. You have not left your real life behind to head to a ranch where your sole purpose day in and day out is to exercise more, eat less, and be on TV competing for great sound bites, visuals, and results to enable an award-winning show to continue.
No disrespect to my colleagues on the show – but let’s be crystal clear about what is really the number one goal of the show. So unless you are following a 4+ hour a day highly intense exercise regime and monitored diet to the exclusion of anything else in your life, this one’s (study results) not for you.
Does The BL Diet Work?
Yes. The show has proven that with its results – that the BL diet and exercise program works at the ranch. But I point out again, what’s your address? If it’s not 1 Biggest Loser Dr, TV Town America 12345 then the answer to this question isn’t really helpful or healthful for you. The key takeaway from the show and the long-term results is this.
When removed from their real life, given coaches, dietitians and doctors, having only certain foods available, and working out like a pro athlete in training, anyone can lose weight on this diet (and likely any reasonable diet for that matter). This is why the key to success of a diet is NOT the right food, the right combo, the right amount of exercise or the right time to eat.
It’s figuring out how to do it in your REAL life which is not what this reality show demands of its contestants. I know because the busiest time for my email and schedule of calls on any reality show is when the contestants “go home” and try to stay on plan before returning back to the show.
In another show, we had much less success and even failures because we never removed contestants from their home – but the successes were the ones whose whole family and even community got together to embrace lifestyle change – including helping with food shopping and prep, and childcare, so the contestant could exercise. One family implemented a no TV watching during meals and they ate less but also learned more about each other’s days.
Lose Weight Fast And Furious
Slow and steady is so not sexy. I know, I’m consistently told that that message “won’t sell” so we need these dramatic approaches. But now we have a crystal ball, and it’s crystal clear – when the body loses too much weight too quickly, your metabolism suffers.
The question being asked is can it recover? What a dumb question, truly. Okay, sorry to be blunt, but if we know the likely results why do we still want to discuss the wrong thing. At the core of this question is a failure to understand that just because rapid, epic weight loss can happen does not mean it should.
Rapid Weight Loss, Metabolic Meltdown, And Recovery
I get it. You tried slow and steady and it didn’t work. Then you saw fast and furious and it looked, well, hot and hopeful – you could be half your size in half the time. So you tried it, and it worked but it’s not still working.
Are you in metabolic meltdown (aka Biggest Loser Syndrome)? Can you do anything? Should you admit defeat? Are you destined to be your higher weight – should you just accept that’s where the universe Set You? No!
Let’s go back to the ranch to understand what can happen and what should happen and why the difference is the metabolic challenge contestants now face.
Take a 400 pound sedentary person and put them through daily workouts that a fit person would find challenging, the body gets stressed. Add to it crazy schedules, all new foods/combos, and then the fun stuff of lights, camera, action and the sustained stress load on the body that easily diminishes its resources and reserves.
Remember too that fat cells are storage houses of toxins and that fat loss eliminates the fat but the detoxification system needs to be in optimal working order and get all the needed resources to eliminate all the toxins too – well, even this broccoli lover may not be able to consume enough broccoli to help the body identify, convert and eliminate 300 pounds worth of stored toxins.
The result – the body is as depleted as it looks and feels after the TV hair and makeup come off. Thus, to give the metabolism – which refers to overall cellular function and thus demands better health – a fighting chance means the body’s resources needs to be replenished.
From digestion to sleep to adrenal function to hydration and more – the body needs to recover from the stress of the rapid weight loss before it can think about performing at optimal levels. Thus, the advice to go home and try to continue with 9 hours a week of intense exercise and stay on your diet may not just be unrealistic without support, it’s likely not what the body (or mind) even need.
Biggest Loser Or Lifetime Winner?
For parents, try to implement better nutrition and fitness into your kids lives as early as possible. Keep your kids from drama and diets and their bodies will thank you.
For adults: Start with who you are right now
- Start where you are today (cleanse memories of prior diet failures) but DO note what and when had worked for you before, and before it got crazy, did eating fewer carbs or skipping dessert or emphasizing protein work for you? There are clues in those experiences.
- Keep a food journal for a week or three days (I don’t say one day because anyone can achieve their weight loss goals with having a day off each week) to include what you have and when, even add how you feel.
- Assess your food journal and see what’s working (keep doing that!) and where you are struggling.
- What do your labs say, what medications are you on? You do need a team – in-person or virtually.
- Get your body the resources it wants and needs. From food and supplements to replenish its stores AND tune up your digestion so that your body can do what you want it to do – work most efficiently.
- Never diet again but instead get better nutrition for better health which includes being at a healthy weight, more importantly a healthy body composition, and focus on adjusting all aspects of your life to support you in these efforts. Maybe you don’t need to exercise more but rather need to stock more organic produce in you freezer so a quick smoothie is an easier option after your workout.
You got this. You are not a Biggest Loser. You are a Lifelong Winner.