An article appeared on one of the body positive groups I follow on Facebook called The Science of Fat: After ‘The Biggest Loser,’ their bodies fought to regain weight. It is about a study done by scientist Kevin Hall which followed contestants from the show for six years. He wanted to test what happened to people who lost lots of weight through intense diet and exercise. The article focused mostly on Danny Cahill who lost the most weight of any contestant of the show. He dropped 239 pounds in seven months but has since put back on more than 100. Dr. Hall found that the majority of the contestants he followed put back some or all of the weight they lost. Some even weigh more than when they started the show.
The study found that it all has to “with resting metabolism, which determines how many calories a person burns when at rest.” At the end of the show the contestants metabolisms slowed and as the years went by the numbers never recovered and they gained weight back.
“It was as if their bodies were intensifying their effort to pull the contestants back to their original weight.”
We blame ourselves often, if not all the time, for our inability to lose or keep off weight but we have to remember that we seem to be fighting against our body’s desire to store fat for survival. According to the article our bodies’ hormones alter our metabolic rate which can pull weight back on despite our best efforts to keep it off. There is a particular number that the body feels comfortable at and we are able to maintain that weight without effort.
The body is an amazing complex system that baffles my brain to try and understand its inner workings. It isn’t just your metabolism that makes weight hard to lose and keep off but the body’s hormones… in particular this hormone called Leptin. Leptin, the “satiety hormone” signals to the body that it is not hungry. In my body it constantly struggles against Ghrelin, the “hunger hormone”… Poor Leptin fights a losing battle most of the time.
In the study the researchers discovered that the contestants not only had slower metabolisms but were always fighting against hunger and cravings. It was found that by the end of the show the contestants had no Leptin at all. They began with the show at normal levels. Their level rose again to half of their previous numbers after their weight went began to rise. The hormone that increases your hunger level also rose. The researchers claim this helped to explain their urges to eat.
What was surprising was what a coordinated effect it is,” Dr. Proietto said. “The body puts multiple mechanisms in place to get you back to your weight. The only way to maintain weight loss is to be hungry all the time. We desperately need agents that will suppress hunger and that are safe with long-term use.”
What they fail to talk about is what is wrong with the inhumanness of the show in general. Part of the problem is the fact Mr. Cahill lost 239 pounds in seven months. That is extremely unhealthy and alone can and will mess with your metabolic system. The fact that it happened to so many others from the show should be proof of that. Just read this part about what his life was like on and off the show.
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.
Eventually, he and the others were sent home for four months to try to keep losing weight on their own.
Mr. Cahill set a goal of a 3,500-caloric deficit per day. The idea was to lose a pound a day. He quit his job as a land surveyor to do it.
His routine went like this: Wake up at 5 a.m. and run on a treadmill for 45 minutes. Have breakfast — typically one egg and two egg whites, half a grapefruit and a piece of sprouted grain toast. Run on the treadmill for another 45 minutes. Rest for 40 minutes; bike ride nine miles to a gym. Work out for two and a half hours. Shower, ride home, eat lunch — typically a grilled skinless chicken breast, a cup of broccoli and 10 spears of asparagus. Rest for an hour. Drive to the gym for another round of exercise.
If he had not burned enough calories to hit his goal, he went back to the gym after dinner to work out some more. At times, he found himself running around his neighborhood in the dark until his calorie-burn indicator reset to zero at midnight.
Mr. Cahill knew he could not maintain his finale weight of 191 pounds. He was so mentally and physically exhausted he barely moved for two weeks after his publicity tour ended. But he had started a new career giving motivational speeches as the biggest loser ever, and for the next four years, he managed to keep his weight below 255 pounds by exercising two to three hours a day. But two years ago, he went back to his job as a surveyor, and the pounds started coming back.
I’m exhausted just reading this! Does not sound like fun or something I would be able to maintain.
Reading this article reminded about similar research done in the past by Dr. Linda Bacon. In her book Health at Every Size, she discusses how your body will work against your efforts to lose weight. She said that the body has a particular “set point” which is about a 10 to 20 pound range. I seem to be at my set point because this past year I’ve done nothing but maintain in a ten pound range since last Spring. My set-point is not acceptable to me so I am working on trying to lower it but in a healthy way. Slow and steady wins the race.
I have been meaning to go into more details about this book and the concepts but I got sidetracked. I think I am going to rededicate myself to its philosophy and once a week take you with me. The basics to the principles include doing movements that you enjoy. Exercise can feel like such a chore! For instance, I enjoying going for walks outside but hate the treadmill. Eat a variety of foods with particular attention to more plant foods. Stay away from processed foods. Get sufficient sleep. I know these all sound simple and common and yet why is it so difficult to stick too? We shall find out! Good news is Dr. Bacon says the set-point can be reset. I can’t remember off-hand how but as soon as I unearth it I will pass it along 🙂