After the Biggest Loser…

I’ve received so many emails from people today sharing the NY Times article and asking for my take, I figured I’d write a blog post.  The article discusses how the participants of the Biggest Loser lost a lot of weight in the shows, but almost all of them have gained back the weight lost and some even more than what they lost. Several participants underwent testing for metabolic function and the findings are astounding in that they show their resting metabolism burning significantly fewer calories than people at the same weight. The overall message is that extreme weight loss damages the metabolism for years after the diet and evento the point that the lost weight cannot be maintained. Here it is for all of you who haven’t read it.

I can’t say that I’m surprised because for years I’ve been critical of the show. The Biggest Loser is trying to sell the idea that with diet and exercise you can lose exorbitant amounts of weight and keep them off. The participants are grossly overweight to begin with, have health issues and undergo extreme workouts (hello 8 hours a day!) and diet regimens and are then expected to lose even more after leaving the ranch to compete to be the biggest loser. Years ago I met with producers when I auditioned for the show and I voiced my concern that there was no long-term follow up and support and that these participants didn’t really get to address where their food issues stemmed from either (go figure, they didn’t want me with that attitude), but I stay strong in that belief. What these participants are pushed to do sends America the wrong message. Everyone who is dieting and trying to lose weight and only dropping “only 5 lbs” is thinking “what the heck is wrong with me?”

From a metabolism perspective these participants go through all the classic issues that people face when they lose weight and yet with all the experts there, they still don’t manage to create programs for the participants that are actually smart and effective.

  • They eat so few calories and exercise so much for months at a time, that the thyroid has no other choice but to slow down and produce less thyroxin.
  • Due to the extreme amounts of cardio, these participants lose not just fat, but massive amounts of muscle. That’s a big issue because muscle tissue is what’s metabolically the most active.
  • The body undergoes extreme stress from that much exercise. That means cortisol levels are high, which promotes fat storage even with a clean diet.
  • The metabolism adapts to everything over time, so the participants need to cycle their workouts and their diet in order to prevent metabolic slow-down and adaptation.
  • Participants experience a raging appetite due to increased stress levels.
  • Also, if protein intake is too low, that further promotes muscle loss and a huge appetite.
  • With leptin levels increasing, hunger increases and controlling hunger can be tough if you don’t know how to eat properly before and after workouts and trigger foods can easily derail you and set you back several days. Low leptin levels can also slow down thyroid function and even lower adrenaline levels, which can slow metabolism.
  • As participants lose pounds and pounds of fat, they not only release fat into the blood stream, but also toxins that are stored in fat cells. That can lead to participants getting sick, feeling low on energy, developing food allergies, and further slowing down thyroid function.

There are many smart ways that these participants could have lost weight and even kept it off and didn’t have to struggle quite as much with the maintenance aspect, but the goal of the show is to show extreme weight loss as fast as possible and to get product placements on the show that further show what consumers should spend their money on to achieve the same results (you can see why I’m having issues with this)…

 

If you want to lose weight and not run into the same metabolic issues of damaging your metabolism for years to come, here are my tips:

  • Focus your workouts on lifting weights. Lifting helps burn body fat, while maintaining your muscle mass.
  • You want to add cardio to your workouts that’s smarter, not longer. Start with low-intensity workouts during which you keep your heart rate low. It allows your body to burn body fat for energy. After having built up an aerobic base (which means that your heart rate doesn’t shoot high with increased intensity), you can add higher intensity cardio to the mix. That way you keep hunger at bay, stimulate fat burning, and keep stress levels low.
  • You want to focus your diet on lean proteins. Aim for at least 1 gram of protein per pound of muscle mass. That way you stay full and maintain muscle mass.
  • Ensure that you intersperse periods where you eat slightly more, such as during times you up your workout intensity. Balance that out with periods where you allow your body more rest and recovery, during which you eat slightly less. It allows your metabolism to adjust without slowing down.
  • Rest, recovery, sleep, stress management play a huge role in fat loss and keeping it off.
  • Lastly, addressing the emotional triggers that created the weight gain in the first place is crucial. Unless the underlying issues aren’t resolves, the same old triggers will resurface time and time again to start the diet cycle.

 

I can only hope that these findings are motivating The Biggest Loser Show execs to hire metabolism experts to help all these amazing people on the show. After all, they gave up months of their lives, gave up their jobs, left their families for months to demonstrate how much weight they can lose in the name of the show making millions. It’s the right thing to do.