The Biggest Loser: What Failed Weight-Loss Journeys Teach Us About Long-Term Weight Loss

May 16, 2019 8:52 pm / Posted in ,

If you’re anything like millions of North Americans, you’ve heard of shows like The Biggest Loser, which feature overweight or obese contestants competing for a grand prize. The winner is – predictably – the biggest loser, the one who loses the highest percentage of weight. Throughout the show, personal trainers yell at contestants to exercise harder than they’ve ever exercised in their lives. Contestants also go on very strict diets. It may sound an unpleasant way to lose weight, but at least they get results. Right?

Wrong. In 2016, the National Institutes of Health in the U.S. came out with a study that measured, essentially, how fast former Biggest Loser contestants’ metabolisms were and whether they’d been able to keep the weight off. The results were disheartening; most of the former contestants had regained the weight and had significantly slower metabolisms to boot. It’s normal for your metabolism to slow down as you lose weight since your body just doesn’t need as much energy to maintain your daily functions. But the study showed that the former contestants’ metabolisms were burning 500 calories fewer than expected, even when accounting for normal changes in metabolism. That’s a whole meal’s worth!

Does this mean you’re doomed if you’re hoping to lose weight? Absolutely not. What it does mean is that extreme weight loss programs, like the ones we see on shows like The Biggest Loser, are completely ineffective in the long run. Years of training hundreds of clients have taught me that the best way to lose weight and keep it off is to go slowly. It’s unrealistic and dangerous to go from completely sedentary to exercising 2 hours a day, 7 days a week. It’s not any fun either. It’s crucial for you to adapt to a healthy new lifestyle that you like, that makes you feel good. Over time, you’ll see that small changes add up to a completely overhauled lifestyle and a healthier, fitter body.

I’ve said this before: fitness should feel good to you. Everyone is different. What’s best for one person may be the opposite of what’s best for their best friend, partner, mother, or neighbour. Do yourself a favour and be gentle with yourself and your body; accept where you’re at today and work with what you’ve got. I promise the journey – to whatever your fitness goal –  will have way better views that way.

Thank you to Yoni Freedhoff, a long-time obesity doctor based in Ottawa, who inspired me to write this blog with this article. Dr. Freedhoff’s own blog can be found here.

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