This week’s big health story revealed some monumental knowledge. It shocked the country! It was…completely a non-surprise to me.
The Biggest Loser, NBC’s weight loss reality show, doesn’t work.
Why is this happening?
To summarize explanations from both CNN and NY Times, the resulting weight gain after the show comes from depleted leptin (a hormone that indicates fullness) and severely slowed metabolism. Put these factors together, and you’ve got a body that’s fighting every intention to maintain the weight loss. These formerly obese contestants would have to work out for nine hours a week just to maintain their weight. Seven years later, these 14 contestants from the show maintained just 12% of their fat loss on average, despite efforts to lead healthier lives.
Is this the best we can do for our friends with obesity? Are we really doomed to a lifelong battle against the bulge? The answer here is, well, maybe.
The Surgical Solution
Kevin Hall, one of the medical researchers who conducted this 6-year study of Biggest Loser contestants, said on CNN’s The Lead that maintaining sustainable weight loss means a lifelong struggle against our own biology. The alternative solution, according to Hall: use bariatric surgery to alter our insides. Hall et al’s original research article can be found here.
While the researcher’s heart is in the right place regarding permanent weight loss, I have to challenge the idea that surgery gives the only solution for permanent weight loss. I also want to establish that this study sample is incredibly small (14 people from a weight loss TV show) and covers a rare scenario (dropping 100+ lbs over 7 months). These contestants’ biologies saw permanent change that makes their new lifestyles damn near unsustainable. So is bariatric surgery the only permanent solution?
Baby Stepping Through Life
As someone who lost 100 lbs and still maintains that loss 2 ½ years later, I know firsthand that lifestyle shift is possible. It’s also a lifelong commitment and pretty damn hard, which Hall alludes to in his study. Many of my friends agree: going on a reality show to lose weight cannot work long-term. Not only is it unhealthy for the participants, it’s also not real life to take those measures of working out 7 hours a day and sustaining super-low levels of food intake.
I told a friend today that “Weight loss is like religions: pick whichever one works for you.” For some, diet and exercise do the trick for making long-term changes that create weight loss. For others, bariatric surgery in one of its varieties may be your solution. At the end of the day, I want you to know that creating real lifestyle change is possible. It may require surgery to lose the weight or simple baby steps in your lifestyle. Whatever your path to better health, follow it for life.
Just don’t rely on Jillian Michaels yelling in your face to get there.