Don't Diet in 2019 - Reason #15: Your metabolism will be "The Biggest Loser"

“HELP! I’ve been on so many diets…but now I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been!”

During the show The Biggest Loser participants lost staggering amounts of weight on semi-starvation diets coupled with intense exercise of up to six hours every day. Sounds fun and sustainable, doesn’t it? A study that followed Biggest Loser participants for six years post-weight loss found that nearly all of them had regained most, if not all of the weight they lost. A few were heavier than their original weight prior to the show.

Why does this happen?

Let’s get into the scary details of what an extreme diet can do to your metabolism by living vicariously through a Biggest Loser contestant.

Let’s say you are a sedentary 40-year-old woman who is 5’ 5” and weighs 350 lbs. According to this Basal Metabolic Rate calculator, a sedentary woman of your age and size needs about 2800 calories per day to maintain that weight.

Now you get a casting call for a show that promises you can lose all the weight and have the body/life of your dreams. The catch: you have to leave your normal life behind — friends, family, job — for six months. They forget to mention that you’ll have to endure daily exercise sessions of up to 6 hours and extreme calorie restriction — less than 1200 calories per day.

After months and months of this extreme program you lose all the weight. Hurray! But there’s a problem. Now you have to go home — back to your normal life, job, family, friends, kids, stress. You stop exercising 4 to 6 hours every day (because that’s pretty unrealistic if you have kids and/or a job), but still commit to a daily hour-long workout. You try to stay the course with your nutrition, but you’re ravenously hungry all the time, and decide that now that you’ve reached your weight goal, you can relax your dietary restrictions — just a little.


But here’s what the research shows happened to The Biggest Loser contestants’ metabolisms — and why they regained all the weight:

  • It was found that the metabolic rates of The Biggest Loser contestants were reduced by up to 40% — and never rebounded.

  • So initially a contestant who started the show weighing 350 lbs. might need 2500 to 3000 calories per day to maintain that weight. However, upon completing the show, metabolism had dropped to 1000 to 1200 calories per day. Their bodies had “learned” to live on less.

  • Considering that they were also burning up to 1000 calories per day during their marathon training sessions, their bodies learned to live on a LOT LESS…

  • Do the math. Eat 1100 to 1200 calories every day…and burn off 1000 calories through exercise. Essentially the contestants trained their bodies to live on 100 to 200 calories per day.

  • Additionally, the contestants likely lost a significant amount of muscle mass. Muscle is your metabolic FIRE. If you lose muscle, you simply don’t burn as many calories.

The Biggest Loser contestants may have permanently damaged their metabolism

Most people know that as you lose weight, metabolism will drop simply because your body size is smaller. Conversely, metabolism should rise again if you gain weight. Nothing mind-blowing about that.

But The Biggest Loser contestants didn’t exhibit a normal metabolic response to increased caloric intake and subsequent weight regain. In fact, The Biggest Loser contestants appeared to have handicapped their metabolisms permanently because their metabolic rates did not increase proportionally to their weight gain.

So now you have a person whose weight has rebounded back up to 350 pounds…but metabolism is still at a crawl with the body only needing 1000 or so calories per day to operate. Perhaps most disturbing: many of the participants reported being obsessed with food and constantly hungry. The hormones that regulate hunger and satiety were fatally disturbed by the extreme calorie restriction and heavy exercise. So, despite eating more after the show was over, the participants continued to feel overwhelming hunger and urges to eat.

When you put the pieces of this puzzle together, it finally becomes clear why most people who lose weight on a diet end up regaining it…and often end up weighing more than when they initially began dieting. This is why I get tearful phone calls from 40-year-old women who have done every diet under the sun and are telling me “I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been!”

Every time you go on a crash diet, you kill your metabolism a little more, and you essentially train your body to become more efficient at storing body fat. Ugh!

What you should do instead…

Anti-Diet Wisdom: How do you treat an obstinate and stubborn 3 year-old child? Does screaming, yelling, and forcing typically help? If you have much parenting experience, you know that this negative forceful approach can cause a child to dig his/her heels in even more! Your body is a lot like a stubborn 3 year-old. A relaxed yet firm and consistent approach will yield slower, but far more long-lasting positive changes. Be gentle and patient with yourself!

Rather than focus on your weight, start focusing on your health. A healthy body naturally reaches its healthiest weight. Think “micro-steps”. Start by incorporating lifestyle changes that are easy for you to stick with. Making slight shifts can lead to big changes over the long haul…without sending your body into a famine-induced fat-storing frenzy. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

  • Drink 16 oz. of water upon waking in the morning. This re-hydrates and wakes up internal organs, and gets metabolism going.

  • Get outside for 10 to 15 minutes every morning. Sleep is essential for fat loss and natural light helps to regulate sleep-wake cycles, thereby assisting you in getting more quality Zzzz’s.

  • Switch from harsh antimicrobial/antibacterial soaps to regular soap for washing body and hands. Your skin is porous and absorbs most anything you put on it. Antibiotics and other harsh chemicals found in these soaps are hormone disruptors. Disrupted hormones cause slow metabolism!

  • Get an under-sink mounted reverse osmosis filter for drinking water. Municipal water supplies contain hormones, pesticides, heavy metals, chlorine, and fluoride — all of which are known hormone disruptors.

  • Queue up three of your favorite songs on your phone or Ipod and get moving! Walk or do something other than sit until the songs are over (about 10 minutes). Work up to doing this two or three times per day. Any movement is good movement…and it all adds up!

  • Add a serving of deeply colored vegetables and/or fruit to every meal. Notice I did not say to take anything away — I simply said add fruits and veggies to your current diet. Deeply colored veggies and fruits are full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that will nourish your cells. A nourished body naturally regulates appetite!

  • If you use electronics after dark (who doesn’t?!?), download a blue light filter like f.lux onto all devices — computer, phone, tablet. These devices emit blue light, which makes the brain think it’s high noon. It’s no wonder sleep problems are epidemic in the western world! Blue light filters are FREE to download, so this is a no-brainer!

  • Take five minutes to do a guided meditation or deep breathing exercise every day. When diet, exercise, and sleep are dialed in but a client still isn’t losing weight or feeling better, stress is usually the culprit. We aren’t biologically built to handle the busy lives we lead in the modern world. Practicing stress reduction every day is critical to physical and emotional health.

Are you going to lose 150 pounds in 6 months by doing these things? No. But these small changes can help regulate important hormones, get appetite under control, reduce stress, and eventually help to lower your body’s “set point weight”…and won’t cause permanent damage to your metabolism and hormones.

For more simple, non-food ways to increase your health, check out this post I wrote a few weeks ago about obesogens and thanks for reading!


Blog Author: Kelly Bailey, IIN certified holistic nutrition coach, and NPTI certified personal trainer

Learn more about the author here.

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