Biggest Lie of the Biggest Loser

The Biggest Loser is an easy target. It’s a slow-motion train wreck that NBC has exploited for 17 seasons of high intensity weight loss competitions. A new study published yesterday in Obesity explains why it is a train wreck for many, if not most, of the contestants.

Fothergill and colleagues studied 14 of the 16 participants in season 8 of the Biggest Loser for six years after the show was over. On average, the participants regained 71% of the weight they had lost on the show and even after six years, they showed an impressive reduction in their metabolic rates. At the end of the show, participants burned an average of 610 fewer calories per day at rest than before they started. At the end of six years, they were burning 704 fewer calories daily.

In other words, even after regaining most of the weight they lost, the metabolism of these people did not return to the same rate as before they started.

The Biggest Loser sensationalizes dramatic weight loss. The real truth of dealing with obesity is hidden from view. Reality is all about maintaining a healthier weight for the long term. And if you look closely at Fothergill’s data, you can see that these people have done remarkably well, despite the metabolic changes weighing them down. On average they maintained a 12% weight loss and 57% maintained at least a 10% weight loss. Fothergill et al compare that to only 27% who maintained a 10% weight loss after eight years in the Look AHEAD study. Fothergill describes it as “vigilant combat against metabolic adaptation.”

Obesity medicine physician Fatima Cody Stanford of the MGH Weight Center explained the gap between what is shown on the Biggest Loser and the reality of what her patients face every day:

Patients come to me wondering why their bodies won’t do what they see bodies doing on the Biggest Loser. I tell them there’s a reason you don’t see a reunion show for the Biggest Loser. It’s because the body works really hard against you to get that weight back.

The biggest lie of the Biggest Loser is that it’s a reality show. The show has little to do with the reality of obesity and weight management.

Click here for the study. Click here, herehere, and here to read more about it.

Fallen, photograph © Aftab Uzzaman / flickr

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May 3, 2016

4 Responses to “Biggest Lie of the Biggest Loser”

  1. May 03, 2016 at 9:53 am, Allen Browne said:

    The biggest loser technique is not realistic for most people and the long term results are no better than other techniques that ignore/deny the physiological derangement.

    • May 03, 2016 at 10:08 am, Ted said:

      Well said, Allen. Thanks!

  2. May 03, 2016 at 12:14 pm, EJHarman said:

    While I fully agree with Allen Browne, I think the greatest takeaway (and hopefully insight for some who are “fat bashers”) is that our society vilifies a physiological condition (and conditioning) that has virtually nothing to do with “willpower”, more exercise and less food. EJH

    • May 03, 2016 at 1:44 pm, Ted said:

      Also well said. Thanks, EJ!