New Research on “Biggest Loser” Contestants Reveals Why Sustained Weight Loss Is So Hard

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On The Biggest Loser, contestants went through a weight-loss journey, often losing upwards of a hundred pounds, through exercise and diet regimens. The difference in appearance is dramatic — but does it last? Researchers followed up with contestants to measure what happens after a large weight loss. What they found may not surprise anyone who has struggled to keep the weight off; according to the New York Times, the results “showed just how hard the body fights back against weight loss.”

A Metabolism Slow Down
After a major weight loss, it’s expected that a person’s metabolism will slow down. However, what researchers observed with The Biggest Loser contestants was that there was no metabolism recovery or bounce back. That is, as hard as it was to lose the weight, keeping it off was even harder. Eating less was not the answer. Even as former contestants continued to eat smart and exercise regularly, their bodies worked against them, striving to return to the original weight. As the New York Times frames it:

It has to do with resting metabolism, which determines how many calories a person burns when at rest. 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 sizes.

Contestants would eat less than peers who weighed similar amounts, and yet still, infuriatingly, gain weight. Another problem: falling leptin, one of the hormones which controls hunger. During the show, leptin levels fell dramatically, leaving contestants feeling a constant hunger. But, “as their weight returned, their leptin levels drifted up again, but only to about half of what they had been when the season began, the researchers found, thus helping to explain their urges to eat.”

What Does This Mean for You?
If you’re a dieter, this research may feel vindicating: Often, people unfairly blame overweight people for not losing, and keeping off, the weight. But the problem is not about willpower or laziness. Losing weight is hard, and biologically, keeping it off is even harder. Read the full article in the New York Times for more on the recent research. Plus, watch this video to find out the benefits of gastric bypass surgery.