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Why “The Biggest Loser” Contestants Are Doomed to Regain Weight

 

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NBC’s “The Biggest Loser” made headlines again recently, but not for its stories of radical weight loss. Instead, the headlines are about radical weight gain.

The New York Times reports that most of the 16 contestants in the 2009 season have regained their weight, and that a study of season 8 contestants revealed that even six years after weight loss contestants struggle to maintain their health.

The show’s doctor Robert Huizenga said, “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.” In other words, without a long term plan for continuing on the path toward Optimal Health anyone that has experienced a positive change is likely to backslide.

This aligns with the core philosophy behind the Habits of Health!

From day one, we talk in terms of sustainable change, addressing the fundamental building blocks of the daily habits that drive our health—for better or for worse. The basic premise of “The Biggest Loser” flies in the face of what we know about creating lasting transformations. In a brief period of time, contestants jump into extreme diet and exercise routines designed to increase the drama of team weigh-ins.

The pounds come off, yes, but the changes are driven entirely by external factors. The contestants are motivated by the competition and are surrounded by producers and coaches and public pressure. When the show ends, all of these drivers-for-change disappear. When they don’t have the resources or the frantic motivation to make healthy choices day-in and day-out, it should come as no surprise that the weight comes back.

A study of “Biggest Loser” (published in Obesity) contestants found that their base metabolism failed to adjust to their new weights, making it more difficult to keep off the weight they lost. This study has inspired some critics to advocate for bariatric surgery as the path to sustainable weight loss, but don’t be so quick to go under the knife.

A separate study from the University of Copenhagen followed 20 obese individuals during the weight loss journeys, a sample size on par with that of the “Biggest Loser” study. This study found that it took a year for study participant’s bodies to adjust to their weight loss, reaching the point where their bodies no longer “fought back” against the change.

But wait, why did these participants succeed in a year where the “Biggest Loser” participants failed in six years?

Here’s why: “After the initial weight loss, the participants entered a 52-week weight maintenance protocol, which consisted of regular meetings with a clinical dietician with instructions on lifestyle changes as well as diet calendar tracking. In case of weight gain, the participants could replace up to two meals per day with a low-calorie diet product.”

Regular support from a professional with a clear plan for maintaining change lead to sustainable results.

This is not a radical revelation! The Habits of Health have been preaching this message for years! Transformations are sustainable and effective when you teach people how to make healthy choices in their everyday lives and give them the behavioral support they need to stay on their path toward Optimal Health when times get tough.

The other key point to make is, the complex nature of sustainable weight loss. In fact, over the last 15 years I have found that focus on adaptation to enhancing a person’s overall wellbeing creates a much more powerful platform for success. I address the psycho /social as well as the bio/medical model of health.

Sustainable weight loss is a complex challenge. In the last 15 years of my own work, I have found that focusing on adapting to enhancing a person’s overall wellbeing creates a much more powerful platform for success than an emphasis on weight loss alone. This means addressing the psycho/social elements of health alongside the bio/medical elements.

In “the Biggest Loser,” contestants by year 6 are not only metabolically deficient but are usually psychologically frustrated by their failure to maintain a celebrated period of weight loss achievement.

It’s time to stop dieting alone as a solution and instead empower people to fundamentally change their orientation away from being the biggest losers to becoming the biggest gainers in health and overall well-being!

The death of dieting is imminent!

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