'Biggest Losers' show why we regain lost weight
Posted May 5
The first woman to win "The Biggest Loser" recently admitted to Oprah Winfrey that she has regained much of the weight she lost on the reality show.
Now researchers at the National Institutes of Health say they have figured out one reason Ali Vincent couldn't sustain her weight loss — and why it happens to many of us, as well.
In 2008, Vincent lost 112 pounds, going from 234 to 122 pounds as a contestant on the popular NBC show. But on Facebook April 19 and in an interview with Winfrey, she said she had topped 200 pounds again and was enrolling in Weight Watchers.
That makes Vincent a member of a not-so-exclusive club: those who lose weight, only to regain it. Studies have suggested that the odds of maintaining weight loss for the long term are about the same as the odds of surviving metastatic lung cancer: 5 percent.
Now researchers at the National Institutes of Health may have figured out why with the help of other "Biggest Loser" participants. They studied Season 8 contestants for six years and found that the dieters' metabolism, which slowed during weight loss, never regained its vigor.
This meant that even after they had lost weight, they had to continue to eat less than their peers or they would start gaining again. It was as if their bodies wanted to return to their highest weight and was willing to fight to get there.
In a report on the findings, The New York Times explained how Danny Cahill, who won the competition in 2009, has regained more than 100 pounds, just like Vincent. And 12 of 13 other contestants in Season 8 have regained weight; four are heavier now than before the show.
"When the show began, the contestants, though hugely overweight, had normal metabolisms for their size, meaning they were burning a normal number of calories for people of their weight. When it ended, their metabolisms had slowed radically and their bodies were not burning enough calories to maintain their thinner size," The Times' medical writer Gina Kolata wrote.
The findings, Dr. Kevin Hall, a metabolism expert at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease told Kolata, are "frightening and amazing."
They also provide insight for anyone who keeps losing — and finding — the same 10 pounds They suggest that even after reaching a weight-loss goal, we can't go back to eating "normally" without gaining weight. In Cahill's case, the researchers determined that his metabolism had slowed to the point where he had to eat 800 calories less than other men with similar profiles in order not to gain weight.
This doesn't mean we are doomed to always return to our highest weight, Dr. David Ludwig, director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital, told Kolata: "It means we need to explore other options," he said.
Until science finds a way to get our metabolism revved up again, the trick to maintaining weight loss seems to be eating less than we want and exercising like mad. The show’s doctor, Robert Huizenga, tells former contestants they should exercise at least nine hours a week, The Times said.
But the findings should provide psychological relief to anyone trapped in a cycle of dieting.
Dr. Michael Rosenbaum, an obesity researcher at Columbia University, told Kolata, “The difficulty in keeping weight off reflects biology, not a pathological lack of willpower affecting two-thirds of the USA."