A new study of reality TV participants sheds light on why it can be so hard to lose weight and keep it off.
For the study, published online this week in the journal Obesity, researchers followed up 14 people who participated in the weight loss competition show “The Biggest Loser” six years ago.
Only one contestant had kept off the weight lost during the competition. Most of the contestants “regained a significant amount of the weight lost,” the researchers wrote.
In addition to changes in contestants’ body composition, the researchers looked for changes in their resting metabolic rate, which determines how many calories a person burns when at rest, a New York Times report explains.
One of the study authors, Kevin Hall of the National Institutes of Health, tells the New York Times that researchers learned some interesting things about the contestants’ resting metabolism.
As expected, their resting metabolic rate had slowed down significantly by the time the show ended, meaning the newly slimmed-down contestants were not burning enough calories to maintain their slimmer bodies.
Scientists already knew that most anyone who intentionally loses weight has a slower metabolism after the diet, even if they started out at a normal weight or underweight.
What surprised the researchers was that the contestants’ resting metabolic rates had not recovered six years later. Their resting metabolism instead had slowed down further, as if their bodies were working even harder to get back to their original weight.
Hall tells the New York Times:
“It is frightening and amazing. I am just blown away.”
Dr. William Yancy, director of the Duke Diet and Fitness Center, tells CBS News that “The Biggest Loser” perpetuates the idea that weight loss is as simple as dieting and exercise.
Yancy, who was not involved in the study, says obesity should be treated like a chronic illness, not a lifestyle problem:
“There’s that constant mentality that if you diet and exercise to lose weight it can be fixed. But it’s a lifelong challenge…”
In addition to dieting and exercise, Yancy says factors affecting weight loss include:
- Diet content (balance of carbohydrates, proteins and fats)
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