Since 2004, millions of Americans have tune into NBC to watch The Biggest Loser contestants sweat, struggle, and diet their way to some serious weight loss. While the show initially earned plenty of praise, it has also had its share of controversies. From contestants losing too much weight to the weight loss myths it allegedly perpetuates, The Biggest Loser has faced criticism from nutritionists, medical professionals, and even former contestants.
Still, controversies aside, the show remains popular, and contestants are left with the difficult task of keeping their weight off once the season is over or they’re sent home. This has proven to be no easy task, and many of them end up gaining some or all of the pounds back.
But first, does The Biggest Loser set contestants up to fail?
When the contestants leave the set, they return home to the same temptations and lifestyles that led to their obesity in the first place. And while that’s to be expected, they often find that their progress is slow or non-existent when they can’t spend their entire days exercising or be as diligent with calorie-counting.
But last year, The New York Times published the results of a study that showed that the time on The Biggest Loser crash dieting and over-exercising slowed contestants’ metabolisms significantly. Even after six years, their bodies were still trying desperately to regain the weight. This means former contestants have to work even harder to continue their journeys.
Here’s what former Biggest Loser stars have had to do to stay slender.
They stay very physically active
A study of former Biggest Loser contestants led by Kevin Hall, a senior investigator with the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, showed that those who maintained their weight loss increased their physical activity up to 160% from before their time on the show. Those who regained the weight increased their activity by 34%. Everyone’s food intake was the same, so exercise was clearly the key.
To maintain the weight loss, Hall’s team estimated that contestants would need 80 minutes of moderate exercise each day, which is far beyond standard guidelines.
They focus on the right kinds of exercise
Not only do the former contestants have to exercise a lot, but they have to find workouts that torch calories and challenges them. Hall’s study showed that the average Biggest Loser contestant burns 500 calories less per day than an ordinary person of their size. This means they must offset the deficit with moderate to intense exercise that will burn calories fast.
They keep diligent track of the foods they eat
— Jennifer Kerns, M.D. (@DrJenKerns) November 1, 2017
Dr. Jennifer Kerns, a former Biggest Loser contestant, is now an obesity specialist at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center. She has maintained a 100 pound weight loss, but she believes it’s possible only because she meticulously tracks what she eats and exercises as much as she can.
Kerns is sympathetic to those who regain the weight. “The amount of time and dedication it takes to manage one’s food intake and prioritize exercise every day can be an untenable burden for many people,” she told the New York Times. “It’s totally unfair to judge those who can’t do it.”
They give motivational talks to others
It's been awhile but I've been noticing so many positive changes in my body lately and it's so exciting for me. Can't stop, won't stop! 8 years down, forever to go. #beforeandafter #weightlosstransformation #weightlossjourney #motivation #hardwork #dedication #healthylifestyle #fitnessmotivation #fitfam #sweat
Sometimes motivation comes from unlikely places, like speaking publicly to help inspire others. Amanda Arlauskas was a Season 8 contestant, and she has maintained her weight loss over the years. But it hasn’t been easy.
Arlauskas said that her first six months home were a real struggle, and she regained almost 40 pounds before deciding to get back on track. She watched her diet carefully and worked out with a trainer, but she has also traveled the country and shared her stories at schools, hospitals, and health and wellness events. Inspiring others inspires her to keep going. Danny Cahill, who was also on Season 8 (and won), also credits his public speaking as inspiration to maintain the weight loss.
They have surgery to remove the excess skin
When you lose an excess of 100 pounds, loose skin often remains on your body … and it isn’t weightless. Former contestants Shannon Thomas, Danny Cahill, and Amy Cremen are just a few of the contestants who have talked publicly about having skin removal surgery. Many of the contestants see it as a new beginning, and that motivates them to keep their new bodies fit and healthy.
They focus on their health, not their weight
When you’re in a competitive environment where your weekly weigh-in matters most, it’s easy to become obsessed with the number on the scale. But many contestants eventually realize there’s more to health than the scale and try to find a balance between focusing on their fitness and living their lives.
Dr. John Morton, chief of bariatric surgery at Stanford Health Care, says it’s best to think of obesity as something akin to high blood pressure, which can be lowered with medication and lifestyle changes but go through the roof when those things are stopped. Obesity is a lifelong condition, but it’s not something that is hopeless.
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