What About “The Biggest Loser”?

Dr. Barry Sears (Ph.D., I think) recently wrote about a lecture he attended by a dietitian affiliated with “The Biggest Loser” TV show. She revealed the keys to weight-loss success on the show. Calorie restriction is a major feature, with the typical 300-pounder (136 kg) eating 1,750 calories a day. On my Advanced Mediterranean Diet, 300-pounders get 2,300 calories (men) or 1,900 calories (women).

Although not stressed by Dr. Sears, my impression is that contestants exercise a huge amount.

Go to the link above and you’ll learn that all contestants are paid to participate. In researching my Conquer Diabetes and Prediabetes book, I learned that the actual Biggest Loser wins $250,000 (USD). Also, “The Biggest Loser” is an international phenomenon with multiple countries hosting their own versions, with different pay-off amounts. A former winner, Ali Vincent, lives in my part of the world and still has some celebrity status.

This TV show demonstrates that the calories in/calories out theory of body weight still applies. Including the fact that massive exercise can help significantly with weight loss. In real-world situations, exercise probably contributes only a small degree to loss of excess weight. The major take-home point of the show, for me, is that you can indeed make food and physical activity choices that determine your weight.

Most of us watch too much

I know losing 50 to 10o pounds of fat (25–45 kg) and keeping it off for a couple years is hard; most folks can’t do it. Do you think you’d be more successful if I gave you $250,ooo for your success?

Steve Parker, M.D.

6 responses to “What About “The Biggest Loser”?

  1. Actually, the dietician describes the “prescribed” diet for Biggest Loser competitors. If you read some of the contestants’ comments after the show, many of them do a variety of less-than-healthy tricks to reduce their calories more.

    Not to mention that it’s really a mixed bag whether or not the $250K is enough for actually maintaining the weight … for many it doesn’t seem to be enough.

    Finally, having had personal experience with exercise bulemia in the past, I suspect that that plays a part for these folks who do maintain. Because that’s essentially what the Biggest Loser teaches them. Keeps them thinner? Perhaps, but not sure it’s in their best health interests!

    • Hey, Beth.
      Surveys of successful long-term maintainers suggest most of them exercise an hour a day on nearly all days of the week. That’s a huge time commitment that few people will make. I hold out hope that it can be done in less time, perhaps utilizing high-intensity interval training and weight training.

      -Steve

  2. I think there should be a special place in Hell for the producers of The Biggest Loser.

    It’s really nothing more than public torture of the obese.

    Anyway, like all calorie-restricted diets (with or without exercise), at five years all but a handful will have regained the weight they lost if not more.

    • Sam, that sounds like a great topic for a book. Like those books that follow-up on lottery winners: how are they doing five years later? Not so great, as I recall.

      -Steve

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