Biggest Losers Losing Big-Time

I don’t make a habit out of watching ‘The Biggest Loser’. Cringing and arguing with my television are not pastimes I like to entertain. I did however stumble accross an unattended televsion during last night’s episode, and my attitude towards this garabge was again vindicated.

Upon weighing in, it is revealed a contestant has lost 4.9kg of body weight in the course of one week. The reaction from his trainer, the caricature known as ‘The Commando’ is that whilst 4.9kg is pretty good going, he’s gonna have to pull bigger numbers than that is he is going to compete with the real big-time losers. There are a couple of serious problems here. One is for the message it sends our society, the second for the poor individual that is undoubtedly in for some Commando-style punishment over the coming week.

Firstly, society. If you wish to lose weight (like most of the Australian population), 4.9 kg in a week is dangerously excessive and unsustainable. A healthy, sustainable rate of weight loss is between 0.5kg and 1kg per week depending on body size. This expectation of miraculous, enourmous weight loss serves only to feed our societies want for a quick fix for a lifestyle problem (see Chesty’s article for more on this topic). I have had many clients become upset when they undertake an adjusted eating plan and increase their exercise output to find they only lost 4kg in a month. ‘I was expecting more like 10-15kg for all changes to my life I have made’ is a response I have heard on many occasions.

Secondly, for the indivdual actually losing the weight. If you lose weight rapidly, you will put it back on again. That is based on more than just empirical evidence *(of which by the way, there is a lot!). Tara Parker-Pope in The Weekend Australian Magazine in early February detailed that science is now discovering that when we lose weight rapidly, metabolic and neurological changes occur that make us much more likely to put weight back on.

Post-weight loss, the hormone grehlin, which promotes hunger (preferentially for simple carbs) is produced in greater quantities, whilst production of peptide YY and leptin, which are hunger suppressing hormones are decreased. Also, after a period of weight loss, the nutritional requirement for sustaining weight is dramatically reduced. An average sized woman of around 86kg needs 1260 more kj than a woman who has lost weight to achieve that same size. It is as if the body has gone into shock after the weight loss, and therefore alters hormone levels to regain the weight.

This makes sense from an evolutionary sense. For most of human history, rapid weight loss would be perceievd as a massive threat. Before our current state of abundance in the developed world, rapid weight loss would be because of a sheer lack of food availability. It was in our species best interest to set itself for storage during times of famine, so that we could survive off of our fat stores if absolutely necessary.

It must be stressed at this point that the studies that have garnered the results that I have detailed so far, were from interventions aiming for rapid weight loss. Most of them involve a massive, sudden decrease in caloric intake, with many of these studies using shakes like opti-fast to achieve the weight loss. It seems, at least from this literature, that rapid weight loss is an instigator for the post-weight-loss shock state.

Science is proving that there is currently no silver bullet for weight loss, and that a quick-fix approach is destined for failure. What you weight is largely symptomatic of your lifestyle. Focusing on changing our weight lends itself to seeking the most rapid solution. But your weight is not the problem- it is the lifestyle that has preceeded the weight that needs alteration.

If you wish to lose weight, ask yourself, what aspects of my lifestyle are currently facilitating weight gain or weight maintenance? Remember there is more at play here than just food and exercise. Stress and sleep are two variables that can dramatically influence our hormone levels and predispose us to weight gain- or negate weight loss.

Rather than ‘losing weight’, we tend to promote ‘gaining health’. Rapid weight loss is not a healthy behaviour, our systems are actually protective against it- hence why it is unsustainable. For more information of sustainable weight loss, see our FESS up tips page at:


  1. Good call Scott, thankyou for raising this. On a further note, it should also be highlighted that ‘reality’ t.v. is about as far from actual reality as it could be. It has been well documented since the beginning of the second Australian season of this travisty that ‘weekly’ weigh-ins are only weekly in t.v. land – and this is all that is required to present it as such to viewers. In reality, the numbers that these contestants are presenting with are apparently based on 2-3 weeks of work, but presented to the t.v. audience in a weekly format to add to the glamour and spectacle of weight loss.
    Such poor health should not be glorified, it should be presented for what it is. This however would not be addictive viewing.
    And so the powers that be continue misleading an already misled demographic of society, effectively promoting greater failure within a community that needs self empowerment. For shame!

  2. Jeannette Kelly says:

    Whilst I agree with everything you’ve said Scott, so many people fail because change is too gradual, both the loss of weight & the change of lifestyle. I watch the biggest loser periodically (like to see the changes each week rather than daily) there are so so many issues in these people’s lives that have contributed to what & who they are I find myself in tears regularly when I watch & I so wish them luck in trying so achieve a better way of life albeit maybe too quickly. I have to say that I have to admire their guts & determination, bearing their massive bodies on our TV screens & the fact that they are fitter than I’ll ever be, way before they hit the shows finish line.
    There are many success stories & even if they regain some weight, at least they’ve had the opportunity to learn lifestyle skills they never had, as so many are ignorant about healthy food & healthy lifestyle,many have had difficult lives because of their obesity.
    In addition to this, whilst there is a competitive spirit on the show, they have the opportunity to make friends who identify with them probably for life.

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