Why The Biggest Loser is Turning Us Into Losers.

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The Biggest Loser is an inspiring hour of television in which severely overweight people shed their extra pounds in a very short amount of time. The idea is that we think: “Hey, if they can lose that much weight, maybe I can too!”

But the New York Times dug into what happens to many contestants from the show after filming ends.

The results weren’t… good:

“Out of 14 contestants he studied, 13 have regained weight. Four contestants are heavier today than they were before the competition began.”

When we combine this with another recent study that showed, “The chance of returning to a normal weight after becoming obese is only one in 210 for men and one in 124 for women over a year” – things look a bit gloomy.

Why are these people struggling to maintain their lost weight, or even gaining back more weight than they lost in the first place?

Is there a solution that works? Or are we… essentially screwed?

Here’s why the Biggest Loser is churning out losers, and how we can win instead.

Temporary Fixes Don’t Last. Duh.


Why is The Biggest Loser so unsuccessful for most contestants on the show in the long term?

Think of it like a giant diet or detox, lasting 5-7 months. These are contestants, clearly battling biology, genetics, potentially depression and other issues, but then also have every resource and financial incentive to lose as much weight as quickly as possible. Before they got on to the show, the dark forces fighting for “Team Unhealthy” were far stronger. Then the show adds a ton of power, a ridiculous amount, to Team Health. Listen to this story about one contestant:

“Sequestered on the “Biggest Loser” ranch with the other contestants, Mr. Cahill exercised seven hours a day, burning 8,000 to 9,000 calories according to a calorie tracker the show gave him. He took electrolyte tablets to help replace the salts he lost through sweating, consuming many fewer calories than before.”

And this is why as soon as the show stops and you remove one side of this equation (all the temporary incentives to be healthy), these people are tossed right back into their old environment and ways of life. Think of it like taking a heroin addict, washing them out in an extreme detox facility for 6 months with every resource available and a major financial bonus if they stay clean, and then sticking them back in their old environment, with old drug-addicted friends, and a ready supply of heroin in their house.

What do we REALLY think is going to happen?

The answer should be obvious. Contestants fall back into old patterns and gain much of the weight back because they’re set up to fail! They are put through an unsustainable life at a breakneck pace, and then dropped right back in the life-scenario that got them unhealthy to begin with.

On a smaller scale, millions and millions of people do this to themselves every single day:

“I’m trying this new 10-day cleanse. Only lemon juice for me! Oh look I lost 10 pounds (all of which was water weight, by the way).”

“I’m just trying to lose 20 pounds before my wedding/vacation. To the treadmill and only chicken and broccoli!”

“I’m on a detox to flush out my toxins for this 30-day challenge.”

Admit it, you’ve probably said one of the sentences above (or something like it) at some point in your life. Hell, you might be on a diet or a cleanse as you read this right now!

Even if you lose 100+ pounds due to a series of extreme changes in your life (congrats!), you will always go back to “normal” after if the changes aren’t permanent, just like in the show (shit!)… which means you’ll then have to begin the rollercoaster boom-and-bust cycle again.

Most health and fitness companies know this, and expect you to consistently buy into their service, product, or  their latest and greatest solution: they need you to need them, forever, so they can get paid and create the next get-fit-quick product.

Ultimately, if you’re somebody who has struggled to lose weight over a long period of time, or has lost weight and seen it all creep back, you need to change your mindset right now. Imagine you are on the show The Biggest Loser.

If you want to change, you have to accept that “you can’t go home again.” The old you is dead. You cannot go back to the way you used to live, ever. The old you got you where you are now. If you want to go somewhere new, you need a new you – a new way of living.

Your “normal” HAS to change or you are doomed. And that is an AMAZING thing that you will come to love.

Tomorrow I’m going to explain EXACTLY how to make healthy your new normal. No more rubber-banding. No more regaining weight. No more dreading the day it all falls apart.

Just a new, healthy, you. See you tomorrow.


photo: Judit Klein: hourglass

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    21 thoughts on “Why The Biggest Loser is Turning Us Into Losers.

    1. Losing weight and getting healthier are very complex life challenges. In my journey, I have learned everything is connected. Biggest Loser just makes it too simple. You have to change your mindset about food, life, exercise, fun, pretty much everything. For me it took changing many things to get back on track. Also, the whole diet and exercise combo on the show is horrible. I mean it is shown to set people up to gain weight in the future. In the study, the people on season they followed had BMR up to 500 calories day less than a normal person of their size. That is a set up for failure.
      That show is just awful. I will never watch it.

    2. Yeah, this blog post sort of totally ignored the whole metabolism component to this. Which is…kinda important to the whole Biggest Loser story.

    3. Most of the time I really enjoy these blog posts, but this one severely annoyed me.

      Really, not ONE mention of the wrecked metabolisms? Just “they went back to their old habits”, when many of them definitively stated that was NOT the case? When the doctors found that before being on the Biggest Loser, they burned calories at a rate consistent with other people their age/weight, and afterwards they burned significantly FEWER calories for their age/weight, even after regaining all the weight they had lost? Something like that isn’t important enough to even get a blip on the blog post? Doesn’t matter?

      For shame, NerdFitness. I expect better things from you.

    4. Um, I think Steve said he will have more info in the next post….maybe wait and see before getting angry??

    5. Another way to lose weight but with side effects. Anyways thanks for posting this article.

    6. Heh. Before Ancel Keys set out to prove that fat was bad for you by cherry-picking results for his Seven Countries Study, he actually did some good science, researching starvation during World War II. His experiments showed that dramatically reducing a person’s daily caloric intake over time would permanently slow down their metabolism. This would in turn reduce the person’s daily caloric requirements so that when they returned to a “normal” caloric intake, that would actually become excess caloric intake.

      By having the guinea pigs on “The Biggest Loser” reduce their caloric intake and increase their exercise so much (let’s face it, 7 hours a day is excessive and cannot be sustained as part of a normal lifestyle — these subjects would be better served if they limited their exercise to 7 hours a week, and even that might be too much …), they’re simply replicating Keys’ Starvation experiments.

      The reported post-show results are exactly what anyone even remotely familiar with the science should have foreseen; doctors and nutritionists associated with the show should be tried for malpractice. What a bunch of quacks.

    7. Agree with the article about the metabolic damage, but what I really hate about BL is that almost all of those contestants are there because they have an unhealthy relationship with food. Food, and always unhealthy food, has filled a hole in their life and they eat for emotional reasons. BL never addresses this, other than to get the crying, drama clip for the show and they throw these poor people back in their previous life with the same emotional issues they had before they were on the show. What do they expect will happen?

    8. I agree with what a few others have said; you seemed to have either missed the point of the article or just skimmed and didn’t catch what it was actually saying.

      Maybe your next post will clarify all, but the linked article was less about the train wreck that Biggest Loser is and more about how the body seems so resistant to weight loss. Changing your mindset about weight loss is probably not going to prevent the metabolic issues/constant hunger battle mentioned in the article. I did find the original article fascinating though (thanks for sharing), and really want an explanation as to why the stomach surgery seemed to reverse the metabolic damage.

      Finally, and this is just me nitpicking, but, “I’m on a detox to flush out my toxins for this 30-day challenge.”…you’re still a proponent of Paleo, right? Isn’t that exactly what the Whole 30 thing is, just maybe with a different spin?

    9. I don’t think this post was meant as a comprehensive report on the show itself. Seems to me that this was intended as an abstract lesson about how many people approach weight loss as a temporary solution without making the necessary changed to lifestyle, habits, diet and mentality. This story is meant to make us think of ourselves, our own approach to being healthy and losing weight and by drawing potential similarities, inspire us to treat weight loss as a life goal. Seemed pretty obvious I thought.

    10. Another key thing to understand about TBL is that they do months of work/filming and then make it look like it’s happening much faster. In an article on the Australian version of TBL, a former contestant revealed that 2-3 weeks of working out 7hrs a day was edited to look like 1 week in the BL house. They were told to say “Good result this *week*” when it was actually more than 7 days since their last weigh-in. This gives unrealistic expectations on people who try to emulate actions on the show (however incorrect and unhelpful they may be) and when they can’t reach those kind of results, they give up totally.

    11. he referred to the same study in a blog post last year. Goes into a little more depth on why people regain weight.

      One partial reason I’ve heard is that somebody who loses weight requires fewer calories as compared to somebody else of similar size. So you’ve got to maintain a healthy diet for longer than just the time it takes to get to that weight or it’s easy to start the rebound quickly. I can’t find my source on that so it’s more likely than not Bro-science.

      I will however quote the Mayo Clinic: “There’s no easy way to lose weight. The foundation for weight loss continues to be based on physical activity and diet. Take in fewer calories than you burn, and you lose weight.”

      (woo broke my commenting cherry)

    12. I see what people are saying about the article having just read it. However, no one outside of the BL would ever do an exercise regime as intense and I believe the article has been used to highlight some key points – 90% of success is related to what you eat not how much. These individuals on the BL once the show was over went back to their usual environments of high carbohydrate processed foods and coupled with the metabolic disorders such an intense regime inflicted goes a long way to understanding their putting the lost weight back on, with very little chances of keeping the weight off. NF is not BL and to make the assertion that referencing this article made that assertion is a stretch. Looking forward to the second article.

    13. Came here to say this. Not sure I’m cool with calling TBL an “inspiring” show, given what we now know about how people were treated.

    14. As far as I understand, detoxes have nothing to do with losing weight, it’s only a side effect. Bad example. Classic dieting, on the other side…

    15. It is important to keep up an exercise regimen. You can do it at home with equipment from b2brazil.com/activities-sports-entertainment/fitness-gym-equipment. This online marketplace lists products from around the world, especially from Brazil!

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