Have you ever watched a weight loss TV show and thought “if only I knew what these experts were keeping secret behind the curtains so that I could lose weight fast”?
The Biggest Loser is an excellent example of how not to go about losing weight.
Past participants of this extreme weight loss show now must maintain unrealistic lifestyles in order to fight weight regain.
Leptin is a key hormone playing roles in both appetite and metabolic rate that needs close attention through monitoring your hunger if you are trying to lose body fat.
In order to be successful, you must listen to and work with your body, not against it.
“As he regained more than 100 pounds, his metabolism slowed so much that, just to maintain his current weight of 295 pounds, he now has to eat 800 calories a day less than a typical man his size.”
That’s just one quote from the article After ‘The Biggest Loser,’ Their Bodies Fought to Regain Weight which demonstrates how extreme exercise and diet regimens can be the equivalent to shooting yourself in the foot. Many of the past participants of the Biggest Loser have experienced drastic metabolic rate slowing and are now burning 500+ calories less than expected for someone of their age, height and weight.
In order to maintain their weight they have to continue to maintain drastically low intake levels (some less than 1000 calories) and exercise for nonsensical lengths of time (some 4+ hours per day).
If you haven’t read this article yet (or any of the many articles that have recently been in the media) based on research led by world renowned expert in metabolic adaptations and fat loss, Dr. Kevin Hall, prepare to have your mind blown:
Do you feel depressed or hopeless after reading this article? Don’t, but do take it as an eye opener.
This is an example of taking more diet and more exercise to an extreme. It is exactly why exercising past the point of that which is reasonably maintainable long term usually ends up backfiring and why consuming as many calories as possible while losing weight is important.
For more on this, please read my articles Why your fit friend’s nutrition plan isn’t working for you and Adding more and more cardio activity can end up making fat loss MORE difficult.
Kevin Hall himself uses the analogy of a spring when comes to fat loss diet efforts, 'the farther you stretch it, the more force it pulls back with'.
Your body adapts to exercise, the more you do the more compensatory mechanisms your body develops to become more efficient (ie. more work for less calories), essentially so that you do not starve to death. And, according to the research team led by Dr. Kevin Hall who studied these past Biggest Loser participants, these unwanted tradeoffs last a long time.
A key hormone we are looking at here when it comes to nutrition is leptin. This is one of the main hormone signals for satiation or fullness from meals and is strongly associated with metabolic rate. The study showed that the participants’ leptin levels plummeted by ~94%. Needless to say these people’s bodies are signaling to them extreme hunger and they’re ignoring it during the time when they are at the Biggest Loser resort.
When you are attempting to lose weight through a caloric deficit listen for this cue of hunger. This is your gauge of where your leptin levels stand. Keeping hunger in check and to a reasonable minimum will not only make the process more enjoyable (through avoiding unnecessary suffering) but will actually make it easier to maintain the fat loss long term.
What you can do
Listen to your body and the signals it is sending you.
Extremely hungry? Increase the amount you are eating and/or eat foods with more bulk (less calorie dense).
Often craving sweets or starches? Increase the amount of slow digesting carbohydrates you are consuming.
Often craving greasy foods? Increase your fat intake, particularly of nutrient dense fats – nuts, seeds, avocado, etc.
Having the urge to binge on the weekend feeling like you better get in all the food you enjoy before reality kicks back in on Monday? Be less restrictive through the week.
If you want your body to change, you’re going to need to learn how to work with it, not against it.
If you enjoyed this post, are still feeling a bit down from the results of the study or would just like to ingrain an optimistic outlook into your head, I highly recommend reading this Huffington post article by Dr. Scott Kahan. It is by far my favourite post (of many) on the biggest loser study: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/scott-kahan-md/my-take-on-that-biggest-l_b_10055486.html
The key to success when you feel like nothing else is working
Fohergill E, Guo J, Howard L, Kerns JC, Knuth ND, Brychta R et al. (2016). Persistent Metabolic Adaptation 6 Years After “The Biggest Loser” Competition. Obesity. 10.1002/oby.21538
Klok MD, Jakobsdottir S and Drent ML. The role of leptin and ghrelin in the regulation of food intake and body weight in humans: a review. Obesity Reviews. 10.1111/j.1467-789X.2006.00270.x