What Happened to TV’s Biggest Losers Six Years Later?

If people lose a lot of weight, do their bodies fight to regain it?

Sixteen obese contestants on NBC’s “The Biggest Loser” lost an average of 128 pounds after an intensive seven months of dieting and exercise in 2009. That amounted to shedding an average of 39 percent of their body weight.

Could they keep that weight off? Researchers at the National Institutes of Health set out to find out from the 14 contestants who agreed to be studied.

Six years later

Unfortunately, after six years, most of the 14 had regained a significant amount of their lost weight, an average of 90 pounds per person. Only one hadn’t regained at least some of the lost weight. On average, the 14 weighed just 12 percent less than when they made their first appearance on the reality show.

Metabolism slows down

Researchers know that losing weight leads to a slower resting metabolism. That’s the number of calories your body needs to keep your heart beating, keep your kidneys filtering blood, and to do whatever else is necessary to keep you alive 24 hours a day

“Your metabolism slows down when you cut calories,” says Kevin Hall, senior investigator in the Laboratory of Biological Modeling at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. “It’s as though your body is hunkering down to face scarcity, so it burns fewer calories per minute.”

Biggest_Loser_Revised

The metabolic rate of “The Biggest Loser” contestants had fallen by an average of about 660 calories per day by the end of the competition. “You could explain only about 350 of the 660 calories by their smaller size,” says Hall. The remaining 310 calories were due to slower metabolism.

Here’s what stunned the researchers

The big surprise was what happened over the long term. Hall found that six years later, after the “Biggest Losers” had regained much of their weight, their resting metabolic rates hadn’t climbed back up toward where they were before the competition began. In fact, their metabolisms were even slower than before, given the weight they had regained. That’s what stunned the researchers.

It was as if their bodies were still fighting to restore the lost weight, even though they had already regained much of it. On average, the contestants would have to eat 500 fewer calories a day than other people of the same weight just to avoid putting on even more pounds.

What about other people?

“Now, their case is an extreme,” Hall cautions. But even if you went from, say, 165 pounds to 145 pounds, to stay at 145 you would have to eat fewer calories than you ate when you used to weigh 145.

“Once you lose at least 10 percent of your weight and your weight is stable, you may need to eat  about 10 percent fewer calories to keep the weight off,” says Hall. That’s because your now-lighter body burns fewer calories both at rest and when you move.

Another reason not to gain the extra weight in the first place.

 

Source: Obesity (Silver Spring). 2016 May 2. doi:10.1002/oby.21538.

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11 Replies to “What Happened to TV’s Biggest Losers Six Years Later?”

  1. As a fitness professional working with morbidly obese clients I’ve always disliked Biggest Loser. I’m hoping that this study is the death knell of that show.

  2. I am concerned that these findings will discourage people from even trying. Did the researchers cinsider/mention in the report that their rapid loss may have had something to do with it? Also, the way they lose is so unrealistic. Did the contestants continue their weightlifting regimens? Also, as it has been mentioned in many vlogs, they went from exercising intensely many hours a day in a controlled environment, back to “normal” living, once the final.competition was over. This just seems like such a small extreme sample to present as applying to everyone who loses weight. I can only use my own experience with losing 50 5 years ago, and I haven’t seen this happen. I didn’t go nuts with the exercise, and have kept the same level. I do keep an accurate food and exercise record with fitbit and exercise pal, as I did when I started.

  3. Age 72. Obese. But blood pressure generally 135/75, healthy, able to do deep water fitness flat out. But my weight was steadily going up, and thyroid was not an issue. Finally put myself on restricted calories per day (about 1400 average) food intake using a day planner and recording calorie intake. Weight loss is happening after three weeks. Now this study comes along. What’s a guy to do? I will keep on my rather compulsive plan to keep the pounds off and see where it goes….. The alternative is not attractive.

  4. Just two days ago, your post (and many others of your posts) made the point that weight loss is really about eating less, rather than about exercise. Now, these findings seem to contradict that. The less you eat, the less your body will need before it regains weight (even after you get back to where you started!) and the hungrier you will be…. Seems like there is no solution? Other than radical ones like surgery or drugs?

  5. This information is very discouraging and to say don’t gain the weight in the first place is uncompassionate to those of us that for whatever reasons have not been blessed with a metabolism that doesn’t end up packing on the weight even though we are as active as our peers and eat the same types and amounts of food they do. I wish your research lead to more positive and encouraging suggestions on what one can do to help speed up a declining metabolism so that one can keep the weight off after working so hard to shed the pounds.

  6. I’d like to see some articles of help to those of us who would like to lose some weight, rather than hear about how hopeless it is since we don’t have time travel.

  7. Very informative article however I believe a piece is missing. What role if any does exercise play in spurring ones metabolism in the
    given scenario? As a kidney cancer patient trying to attain an optimal weight this is a very relevant issue to me. If anyone with a possible answer or reference resource is monitoring this site please respond! Keep up the good work!

  8. Interesting fact about needing to consume less calories while being the same weight that one was before losing weight.

  9. Now we’re starting to hear from the contestants themselves that the show encouraged them to take weight loss drugs, dietary supplements and diuretics – while starving themselves and to lie about how much weight they were losing.

    The study conducted by Dr. Hall at the NIH, published two weeks ago, says changing metabolic rates, hormone levels, and genetic predispositions explain post-show weight gain.

    What’s missing, former Losers tell The Post, is any examination of the show’s secret and brutal tactics, which include providing illicit drugs to contestants and submitting them to questionable medical exams by the show’s resident doctor, Rob Huizenga, known as “Dr. H.”

    Huizenga collaborated with Hall on the NIH’s study….therefore, I would question the veracity of the study.

  10. Thanks for the “..another reason not to gain the weight in the first place”… while true, it’s also a slap in the face to all of us who have not only gained weight but dropped//gained//dropped//gained over decades. Where is the link to how to fight the slow metabolism or how to speed up the slow metabolism or even how to know if you do in fact have a slow metabolism?

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