The ‘Biggest Loser’ returns — should you watch?

Nov 7, 2019 | 4 comments

Maybe you have seen my presentations on ‘best’ and ‘worst’ diets for weight loss. I always focus on eating for energy, and especially when you’re working out, to fuel your fitness.

I read recently that NBC’s USA Network was bringing back the television reality show ‘The Biggest Loser’.

What a drag.

As reported in the New York Times, the ‘Biggest Loser’ contestants mostly struggled to keep their weight off. Not only did the majority regain their considerable weight, but some have also regained more.

A 2016 study published in the journal Obesity examined ‘Biggest Loser’ contestants six years after completing the contest.   Of the 14 studied, only one single contestant kept all of the weight off! Thirteen regained some of their weight, and four contestants regained all of the weight they lost in the competition — plus significantly more.

Those who lost the most weight (and remember, this was very quick weight loss) experienced a significant slowdown in resting metabolism, that is, the rate at which you burn calories just by living and breathing.

During the so-called ‘competition’ to lose weight, contestants exercised intensely for six, seven, even eight hours every day. Yes, they burned tons of calories, but at the same time, they cut their calorie intake to starvation levels, unable to obtain even the minimum amount of essential micronutrients for good health.

Of course, there must be ‘stars’ of the show, and in the original series the dieters were accountable to personal trainers Jillian and Bob — and also to the viewing audience — some say they’re harangued — it’s all part of the show’s shtick.

But, following the competition, the contestants were on all on their own.

And now what? Once the losers drastically cut their body mass, they need far fewer calories to maintain their weight.

And that extreme and rapid weight loss wreaked havoc with the hormones that regulate hunger and satiety. Leptin, the hormone that governs satiety, dropped to a level that promotes craving — creating a scenario that defeated the purpose.

‘Reality TV’ is fake TV and when it comes to a weight loss ‘competition’ like ‘The Biggest Loser’ it’s very painful to watch. The show never addressed the reasons people become so dangerously overweight, to begin with. No one becomes 400 pounds overnight. Weighing that much is hard — it’s hard on your joints, it’s hard on your emotions, it’s hard on your self-esteem.

I find this incredibly sad. Desperate people, dangerously overweight and unhealthy, go on reality television to compete to see who can lose the most weight in the least amount of time. These unfortunates struggle through Herculean amounts of exercise and starve themselves down the scale, and viewers watch and cheer or jeer their ‘favorites’. In the end, like in all reality television shows, there’s only one winner — and everyone else is a loser. The winner is not the person who lost the most weight — it’s the television show producers.

Researchers show that the longer someone stays in severe negative energy balance, by over-exercising and under-eating, the more likely their body will try to adapt to this unnatural inadequate calorie provision. The body is fighting against starvation and slows metabolic rate significantly just for survival.

But, that’s fake television. For you and me, what’s the best diet, anyway?

Most people think that diets don’t work. They may believe this because almost everyone who goes on a diet’ regains the weight. And although 50 percent of Americans say they’re trying to lose weight, research shows that people who ‘go on diets’ rarely lose more than five percent of their body weight, and much of that weight is regained within two years.

Therefore, most people would say that ‘diets don’t work.’

But, they’re wrong.

People who ‘go on a diet’ change what they typically eat and drink, or their usual diet. They give up eating and drinking the foods that contributed to their overweight and conditions associated with overweight (high blood pressure, arthritis, sleep apnea, GERD, and more), and they ‘go on’ someone else’s diet.

‘Someone else’s diet’ meaning a defined plan, typically excluding some foods, even entire food groups, such as all grains, or all ‘carbs’. By definition, they switch from eating mindlessly to eating with deliberate planning and structure.

Speaking of ‘carbs’ or carbohydrate foods — maybe you’re thinking of going on a ‘Low Carb’ diet. You hear, ‘eliminate all carbs including white flour and processed foods.’ Yeah! That’s a good plan.

Maybe you’ll go ‘Low Fat’ and ditch the French fries and fried chicken, and fried potato chips. You’ll stop adding butter and cream cheese to your bread and bagels. Yeah! That’s a good plan too.

Maybe you’ll go ‘Paleo’ and eat only fresh foods, lean meats, fruits, and vegetables. No grains! No beans. No booze! Yeah! That’s a good plan too!

Hmm. Isn’t that funny! Research continually shows that no matter what ‘diet’ an overweight person chooses, they’re usually ditching processed, high-sugar foods, and hopefully adding activity.

So, you’re ‘going on a diet’! You’re losing! And then you see that ‘magic number’ on the scale. That’s the number you’ve been dieting for. Whoo-hoo!

Now what? What happens if you return to your typical eating behaviors? Now that you’re out of ‘diet purgatory’ do you return to the burgers and fries, the ‘grits ‘n gravy? The ice cream and cake? The second or third beer or margarita?

Well, it’s true – 90 percent of people who ‘go on’ diets and lose weight regain the weight, and sometimes more. And you might say that since most people regain weight after ‘going on a diet’ that diets don’t work. But that isn’t true. It’s your diet that isn’t working.

Your weight is just a number on the scale, and while it can be a way to measure weight loss, it doesn’t necessarily measure fat loss. Weight doesn’t always indicate how healthy you are — you can be thin, and quite unhealthy.

Your other numbers are far more important than your weight. How’s your blood pressure and blood glucose? If you’re overweight and hypertensive or pre-diabetic, losing some weight has been shown to improve these numbers.

These other numbers count just as much as your weight!
How many hours of sleep do you get?
How much time do you spend in getting regular activity daily?
Are you doing any resistance training? How many repetitions?
On a scale of 1-10, what’s your stress level?

All these numbers are important to your health.

The ‘best’ diet is the one that keeps you healthy! Don’t ‘diet’, instead ‘live it’!

No doubt if you’re a person struggling with your weight, changing your diet (what you typically eat and drink) is definitely important, so make your diet one that you can live with forever, that sustains your energy, doesn’t break your budget, and tastes good. The key to good health is to fuel your fitness with high-quality food, as you tweak your diet to eliminate as many processed foods as possible. Be a winner by making your diet a healthy one.

So, no more ‘dieting’ — instead, concentrate on living… healthfully. By eating good food, which, here in Cuenca, is plentiful and inexpensive!

For more suggestions on staying healthy while losing weight, read my column here.

Sources: New Years Diet? What happens on January 22?
Journal of General Internal Medicine. Unique perspectives on the Obesogenic Environment.
The New York Times: The Science of Fat. After ‘The Biggest Loser,’ Their Bodies Fought to Regain Weight.
Obesity. Persistent metabolic adaptation 6 years after ‘The Biggest Loser’ competition. The Biggest Loser will return to TV in 2020 on USA Network.
Psychology Today. Is permanent weight loss a myth?
The New York TimesThe Key to Weight Loss Is Diet Quality, Not Quantity, a New Study Finds
Susan Burke March, a Cuenca expat, is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and a Certified Diabetes Educator who specializes in smart solutions for weight loss and diabetes-related weight management. Do you have a food, nutrition or health question? Write to her –

Susan Burke March

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