Avoiding the Biggest Loser Phenomenon
I loved watching The Biggest Loser, the reality show that had teams of severely obese men and women battling it out and competing against each other to win the most coveted prize of the season which is of course The Biggest Loser.
It sure looked like those who won during each season did the right thing in losing the huge amounts of fat plus getting their health back… or did they?
The winners lost massive amounts of weight. For example, Danny Cahill lost an astonishing 239 pounds in just 7 months, Tracey Yukich lost 118 pounds and Sean Algaier dropped 289 pounds. These and other winners basked in their glories of achieving monumental losses in weight while reclaiming their health.
One would imagine that after the massive weight loss these men and women who achieved such goals against tremendous odds would remain as slim and healthy individuals years after. But guess what? It wasn’t a happily ever after ending at all.
The Daily Mail reported that almost all the winners regained their weight. Danny Cahill has regained 100 pounds in the 6 years after the show, and his metabolism has slowed to a point where his body burns 800 fewer calories a day than for a man his size. This is despite his greatest efforts in trying to keep the weight off. Sean Algaier now weighs 450 pounds, 6 pounds more than he did before but his metabolism has also slowed down and he burns 458 fewer calories than a man his size would. Tracey Yukich has also regained 50 pounds and now weighs 178 pounds. Another competitor, Rudy Pauls started out at 442 pounds; he lost 208 pounds and ended up 234 pounds after the show but by 2014, he had regained back to 390 pounds.
What had caused this weight rebound?
According to Dr. Kevin Hall an expert on metabolism at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, this happens as a result of the resting metabolism of the body slowing down through calorie restriction diets so that even when the diet ended, the body’s metabolism never recovered, even years after the show as evidenced by how the winners and contestants regained most of their pre-show weight.
Dr. Michael Schwartz, a professor of medicine at the University of Washington and a researcher on obesity and diabetes said, “The key point is that you can be on TV, you can lose enormous amounts of weight, you can go on for six years, but you can’t get away from a basic biological reality,”. Dr. Schwartz, who was not involved in the study concluded, “As long as you are below your initial weight, your body is going to try to get you back.”
The show’s doctor, Dr. Robert Huizenga reasoned, “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.”
So if you’re overweight and are determined to get rid of the fat, how do you ensure your metabolism doesn’t slow down drastically like what happened to these Biggest Loser contestants?
Tip Number 1 – Don’t Think of Just a Diet, Think of It as a Lifestyle Change!
My guess is you got to be overweight and fat because of bad eating habits which spanned probably years if not decades. So for you to lose the fat, don’t just think of your new way of eating a just a diet. Why? Well because in most people’s minds, diet is temporary.
Once you think of your new way of eating as just a diet, you’ll be putting the thought of a temporary solution in your mind. What will happen is that when you think of it this way, sure you’ll lose weight as long as long as you’re dieting but once you reach your goal i.e. your desired weight, you’ll go right back to your old unhealthy eating habits and before you know it, you’ll regain the weight that you lost.
Most people jump from one diet to the next, hoping not only to lose the extra weight but also for sustained weight loss. But they go around in circles because this almost never works as long as they think of dieting instead of going for a total change in lifestyle.
Your new way of eating should and must remain permanent in that lifestyle change otherwise you won’t succeed losing the weight and keeping it off for good. You need to find a weight loss strategy that you can maintain for the rest of your life, which is definitely not the Biggest Loser’s strategy of “eat almost nothing, train as hard as possible.”
When I lost those 5 inches from my waist in 2013, I didn’t just change my way of eating temporarily; it was a total lifestyle change. From then until now, I can actually count the number of times that I “let go” and had cheat meals: it was probably about 6 – 7 cheat meals in a year and all those were for either festive or special occasions.
After I lost those 5 inches from my waist in 2013, it measured 30 inches. Now it varies between 29 and 30 inches and I can still fit into my wedding suit that I wore in 1989 when I said my wedding vows to my lovely wife of 28 years!
My secret? I started reducing my carbs and am STILL eating a carb restricted diet. I started working out and today at 59 years of age, I’m STILL working out 3 times a week with resistance training circuits and have included daily 30 minute brisk walks into my routine, rain or shine!
Tip Number 2 – Don’t Count Calories!
Most weight loss diets would have you restrict your calories and portions. And it does work to a certain extent because you do lose weight on calorie restricted diets. Just ask the Biggest Loser contestants – all of them were put on calorie restricted diets and they lost massive amounts of weight in a very short time.
Well, if it works then what’s wrong with it?
When you lose a lot of weight by decreasing your calories and fat intake, your body reacts by conserving the energy through reducing the amount calories you burn to maintain energy balance. The less calories your body burns the slower your metabolism. This was what happened to the Biggest Loser contestants.
Besides lowering your metabolism, calorie restriction also makes you feel hungry all the time and increases your food cravings.
This effectively puts your body in a starvation mode because this is your brain’s natural mechanism in protection you from actual starvation. This metabolic damage that happens as a result of prolonged calorie restriction is what scientists call, adaptive thermogenesis.
When you have adaptive thermogenesis, at your much lower body weight your metabolism crawls and you need to eat much less than someone your weight with a normal healthy metabolism. You end up hungry all the time and have endless food cravings.
No wonder people on low fat calorie restricted diets regain part of, if not most or all of the weight that they lost; anything more they eat beyond their new baseline metabolism will promote weight gain. This was exactly what happened to the Biggest Loser contestants.
Tip Number 3 – Ditch Aerobic Exercise, Do Intervals and Resistance Training Instead!
If you like jogging or brisk walking like me, sure do it by all means. They’re all good exercises for health and longevity but they won’t help much in weight loss and fat burning because they don’t raise your metabolism. On the other hand, intervals or HIIT (high intensity interval training) and strength or resistance training raises your metabolism for 48 hours which means you burn fat even at rest.
The traditional slow and steady moderate type cardio work does help in burning calories when you’re exercising. But after the exercise, that’s it, it doesn’t rev up your metabolism like intervals and resistance training do.
Now before you get the wrong idea that you have to do sprints round the track or train like a bodybuilder to lose weight and burn fat, I need to say that how you do your intervals and/or resistance training are relative to your age, present condition and existing state of fitness. If you’re in your 50s, weigh over 200 pounds and have been sedentary for decades, sprints are the last thing that you should do. Neither should you attempt do try the punishing gym routine that you did in your youth.
You can start by brisk walking every alternate day. On days that you don’t brisk walk go to the gym, hop onto a stationary bike and do intervals on it. Warm up on the bike for 10 minutes by peddling at a moderate pace. Then start your intervals by increasing the resistance and pedaling hard for 60 seconds, then slow down back to a moderate pace for 90 secs, after which you pedal hard again for 60 seconds and so on. Do these intervals until you’re comfortably tired, and then stop.
If you haven’t exercised in years and this is your first workout, you’ll be lucky to last 5 minutes. But that’s OK. Do these stationary bike intervals every alternate day and you’ll see progress. If you’re EXTREMELY unfit, you can do brisk walking intervals i.e. walk at a moderate pace for 90 seconds, then increase your pace and brisk walk for 60 seconds and so on.
As you get fitter and slimmer, you can do more intense work like intervals on the rowing machine at the gym. You can even do resistance training circuits which will keep your body’s metabolism up and burn fat non-stop. Just google; there are tons of such workouts on YouTube. But please be sensible – if you’re over 40 or a senior like me, ditch any movements that can negatively impact your joints e.g. jumping jacks and burpees. If you can afford a personal trainer, please hire one to train you. This will minimize any chances of injury.
Tip Number 4 – Restrict Carb Intake
Ok, I’ll admit it – I’m partial to restricting carbs because I like it simple. It’s much easier to omit foods than it is to count calories. Besides, in eating low carb foods, you actually eat less than you would on a normal high carb diet because proteins and fats are very satiating. Don’t believe me? Substitute your normal breakfast cereal for a chilled mug or shaker of unsweetened soy milk with a heaping scoop of whey protein and add some chia seeds for fiber. You probably won’t feel hungry till the afternoon.
Also by restricting your carbs, not only do you lose fat, you also decrease your risks of chronic conditions like Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s and non-alcoholic liver disease because insulin resistance is one of the main causes of these chronic diseases. And reduced carb diets are excellent for increasing insulin sensitivity.
If the contestants from The Biggest Loser had been put on carb restricted diets instead of the calorie restricted diet, the chances of them regaining their weight would probably have been much lower because when you don’t feel hungry all the time, you also get lesser food cravings and your body doesn’t go into starvation mode which slows down metabolism; all these factors make carb restriction much more sustainable in the long term than calorie restricted diets.
And did I mention that there are numerous studies that prove carb restricted diets are far superior for maintaining and sustaining long term weight loss than calorie restricted low fat diets?
Authority Nutrition has listed 23 studies that show eating low carb is far superior in all aspects to low fat calorie restricted diets. I will list 3 of the most prominent studies from that list that deal with weight loss.
In this 12 month study of 63 participants, 33 were placed on a low carb diet while the remaining 30 were placed on a conventional calorie restricted low fat diet. The low carb group lost 7.3% of total body weight compared to only 4.5% from the calorie restricted low fat group.
In another study, 53 obese women were randomly divided into 2 groups for 6 months. The 1st group followed a low carb diet while the 2nd group followed a calorie restricted low fat diet. At the end of the study, the results showed that the low carb group lost an average of 8.5 kg or 18.7 pounds while the calorie restricted low fat group lost only 3.9 kg or 8.6 pounds.
In yet another 6-month study, 132 severe obese were randomly put into 2 groups: low carb and calorie restricted low fat. At the end of the study, the group that was put on the low carb diet lost an average of 5.8 kg or 12.8 pounds while the other group that was on the calorie restricted low fat diet only lost an average of 1.9 kg or 4.2 pounds.
Tip Number 5 – Fast Intermittently
Those who are on weight loss programs often find that after a while, they hit a plateau and no matter what they do, they don’t lose any more weight. In most cases, intermittent fasting should be able to break these weight loss plateaus
If you do face a weight loss plateau, start on 16:8 fasting protocol i.e. fasting for 16 hours and eating within a window of 8 hours so it’s either breakfast and lunch or lunch and dinner, whichever is more convenient for you. Once you’re adapted to it, then you can progress to OMAD or one meal a day if needed. You should be able to break the plateau by then.
Incidentally, in case you’re wondering, I’ve written on the benefits of fasting, intermittent and extended in this earlier post so please read it if you’re skeptical about its health benefits.
Tip Number 6 – Listen to Your Body
Whichever way of eating you decide to follow for weight and fat loss, be it carb or calorie restriction or even vegetarian and vegan, you need to realize not one of them works for everyone because all of us are different. Notice I didn’t use the word diet; rather I used the term way of eating because these words denote a lifestyle choice that’s permanent.
And because we’re all different, we need to listen to our bodies as we get accustomed to our new way/s of eating. Let me give you an example of what I mean. I’ve mentioned that I’m partial to carb restriction because it’s given the results that I wanted and it works for me. That being said, I needed to tweak the macronutrient and portion sizes to fit ME. I do very well on a higher daily carb count at around 120 to 150 grams although I started off much lower at 50 grams of carbs per day because I feel much better on a higher carb count than an extremely low one.
As I’ve tweaked the amount of carbs I need to suit me specifically, you’ll also need to tweak your new way of eating so that you can lose fat AND feel better physically at the same time. In the Facebook groups of which I’m a member, folks ask questions when they’re unsure; and in the process, discover what really works for them. Some are able to burn fat AND maintain the weight loss at a higher carb count while others thrive on a much lower one. What is most important is that it must work for YOU and no one else.
If you’re above 40, female and overweight PLEASE get your thyroid checked first before attempting to embark on a weight loss program because thyroid issues can cause weight gain plus other health problems. For some reason, women are 10 times more likely to have a thyroid problem than men.
Tip Number 7 – Set Smaller & More Realistic Goals
The main reason why many folks miss their mark in their weight loss journey is because they set high goals and aim to achieve them in sometimes unrealistic timeframes.
It’s much easier and more realistic to set your goal to lose, say, 15 pounds or 6.8 kg within 3 months than to lose 50 pounds or 22.7 kg in 6 pounds. Now, please don’t get the idea that I’m discouraging you from setting high goals. Far from it, I’m encouraging you to set realistic and attainable goals because going by the law of averages, most folks lose anything from 1 – 3 pounds or 0.45 to 1.36 kg per week.
When I started my fat loss journey in 2013, my goal was to lose 2 to 3 inches from my waist in 4 months. I ended up losing 5 inches within that timeframe. Now, I set my initial goal of 2 to 3 inches within 4 months because based on my personal experience in fatloss that was an achievable goal. So when I lost 5 inches it was a pleasant surprise.
If I had aimed for 5 inches within 4 months but lost only 3 inches, I would have been really disappointed because I didn’t manage my own expectations.
If your best friend or friendly neighbor lost, say, 50 pounds (22.7 kg) within 5 months, it’s because his or her way of eating and exercise program were tweaked to suit him or her. But most importantly it’s because people are different.
Losing weight and burning fat and more importantly, keeping the fat off requires more than just a diet.
You need to change your lifestyle and give up the foods and habits that made you fat. You need to embrace your new way of eating and exercise program with a view of learning how to tweak them to suit YOU and no one else.
Only then will you be able to maintain your weight and fat loss.
If you’d like to embark on restricting carb but don’t have an idea how to start, my earlier post will help you.
If you want to ensure that you start restricting carbs and exercise correctly to lose weight and burn fat, take all the guesswork out and start getting achievable results within a month, I can help you through personal 1-on-1 coaching. Just send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org or complete the contact form below.