Is The Biggest Loser actually making people gain weight?
At the end of every season of The Biggest Loser,
there is belief that people live better and healthier lives. Every season features sixteen contestants who have made impressive progress in transforming their bodies, often losing hundreds of pounds and building a new physique in the process.
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On the show's ranch, diet and exercise are fundamental - but what happens when they re-enter the real world, with personal and professional obligations, more responsibilities, and distractions? A new study published on Monday in the journal of Obesity
indicates that these contestants face much more than mental challenges in their effort to maintain their weight loss.
A group of researchers, led by Dr. Kevin Hall, a metabolism expert at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, studied what happened to the bodies of Season 8 contestants six years after the show ended. The research found that after such an intense period of diet and exercise, contestants' bodies fought hard to regain
the lost weight.
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“It’s frightening and amazing,” said Hall in an interview
with the New York Times
. “I am just blown away.”
So why did this happen? Well, it's two factors and it's pretty incredible. The decrease of a hormone called leptin, which controls hunger and a damaged resting metabolism affect contestants after The Biggest Loser
. When contestants began the show, their resting metabolism was normal. While any dieting regimen will result in a decreased metabolism, the contestants changes were so dramatic that it was basically impossible to eat so little
that the body could maintain its current weight. Even more surprising was that in the six years following, their metabolisms never recovered - in fact, they became even slower.
The New York Times reports
Six years after Season 8 ended, 14 of the 16 contestants went to the N.I.H. last fall for three days of testing. The researchers were concerned that the contestants might try to frantically lose weight before coming in, so they shipped equipment to them that would measure their physical activity and weight before their visit, and had the information sent remotely to the N.I.H. The contestants received their metabolic results last week. They were shocked, but on further reflection, decided the numbers explained a lot.
This season's winner of The Biggest Loser
started on the show weighing 430 pounds and ended up weighing only 191 pounds - the biggest weight loss in the reality show's history. He now weighs 295 pounds and unfortunately burns 800 fewer calories per day
than one would expect from a person his size. And this is just one example. Several other contestants gained over 100 pounds
after leaving the show and their resting metabolism is slower than ever before.
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“All my friends were drinking beer and not gaining massive amounts of weight,” Cahill told the Times
. “The moment I started drinking beer, there goes another 20 pounds. I said, ‘This is not right. Something is wrong with my body.’”
This is not right. Something is wrong with my body.’”
Recently, Ali Vincent, a contestant who went from 234 pounds to 112 pounds posted on her own Facebook about nearly returning to her pre-show weight. “I have had successes and I have had major losses. I have gone from feeling alone to having thousands of people reach out with support. I have experienced ultimate highs that I could have never dreamed of as well as nightmares I wouldn’t wish on an enemy. Quite frankly some of them have gotten the better of me and I have struggled,” she wrote
, announcing that she had joined Weight Watchers.
The director of New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children's Hospital argues that the study has a small sample size and you shouldn't base your feelings about weight loss after the study. But, he's not surprised by the study's results. “This is a subset of the most successful [dieters,>” he said. “If they don’t show a return to normal in metabolism, what hope is there for the rest of us?”
“That shouldn’t be interpreted to mean we are doomed to battle our biology... It means we need to explore other approaches.”
What do you think? Share with us your thoughts in the comments below