Why are the Biggest Losers gaining weight?
A 2016 study of NBC’s the Biggest Loser contestants showed that most of them regained their weight, and at least one is heavier than when they came on the show.
The numbers are scary: 13 of the 14 contestants who took part in the study gained weight, two weighed more than when they started, only one kept the weight off.
The season’s winner did well at first. After Danny Cahill’s win, he went on a tour as a motivational speaker, but after he returned to his old job, he gained over 100 pounds.
It’s because his body actually needs 800 calories a day less than would be expected for a man his size.
The answer is the extreme caloric restriction actually changed their metabolism making it easier than ever to gain weight.
The caloric restriction model of weight loss pushed by Jillian Michaels and diets such as Weight Watchers creates a permanent metabolic slow down so people need few and fewer calories and require more exercise just to keep their weight constant.
In short, the contestants are in worse shape now than they were in when they started the show.
Dr. David Hall of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases studied the contestants from Season Eight for six years, and he was blown away at how hard the body fought back against the weight loss.
His theory is that the caloric restrictions changed the contestants resting metabolic rate. Resting metabolism determines how many calories a person burns when at rest.
One of the problems with people who believe that they can lose weight through exercise alone is that we actually burn most of our calories just going through our day.
Hard exercise may increase your metabolism for a little while, but diet still is 80% of weight loss success.
Even still the official Biggest Loser doctor recommended nine hours or more of exercise per week for the former contestants.
From the New York Times:
“The show’s doctor, Robert Huizenga, says he expected the contestants’ metabolic rates to fall just after the show, but was hoping for a smaller drop. He questioned, though, whether the measurements six years later were accurate. But maintaining weight loss is difficult, he said, which is why he tells contestants that they should exercise at least nine hours a week and monitor their diets to keep the weight off.
“Unfortunately, many contestants are unable to find or afford adequate ongoing support with exercise doctors, psychologists, sleep specialists, and trainers — and that’s something we all need to work hard to change,” he said in an email.”
This is something they do not tell anyone before they go on the show.
Dr. David Ludwig MD said on his web site that simply cutting calories was not the answer.
“There are no doubt exceptional individuals who can ignore primal biological signals and maintain weight loss for the long term by restricting calories,” he said.
“For most people, the combination of incessant hunger and slowing metabolism is a recipe for weight regain — explaining why so few individuals can maintain weight loss for more than a few months.”
The article in the journal Obesity did not give show contestants much hope to control their weight long term.
Their slow metabolism is going to possibly haunt these people the rest of their lives, even if they weigh as much as they did when they started the show.
In other words, they will remain feeling hungry even if they gain all their weight back.
Part of the reason for this is a hormone called Leptin. With weight loss, leptin levels fall and people become hungry. The idea is to trick the brains of people who have lost weight so they do not become ravenous for lack of leptin.
The only contestant who kept the weight off was Erinn Egbert, a full-time caregiver for her mother in Versailles, Ky.
She struggles mightily to keep the pounds off because her metabolism burns 552 fewer calories a day than would be expected for someone her size.
Sean Algaier, 36, a pastor from Charlotte, N.C., feels cheated. He went from 444 pounds to 289 as a contestant on the show. Now his weight is up to 450 again, and he is burning 458 fewer calories a day than would be expected for a man his size.
“It’s kind of like hearing you have a life sentence,” he said.