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 http://informhealth.com/skinny-and-rich-in-only-18-months-without-exercise/ 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:  http://informhealth.com/fess-up/tips/.

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