Dan Rattiner's Stories

Staying Fat: Why ‘Biggest Loser’ Contestants Gain Weight Back

Some scientists have been studying the people who’ve lost the most weight on The Biggest Loser TV show. Turns out that, according to the study, 14 people who were on the show six years ago and went from an average 328 pounds down to 200, smiled at the applause and held their heads high, went home and, during the years that followed, put nearly all the weight they lost back on.

The study, done by Dr. Kevin Hall at the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases, is so startling, especially when you consider how hard these contestants worked to get the pounds off, that it’s resulted in an even closer look at why this is happening.

Turns out it’s about a changing metabolic rate. You probably thought when you sit perfectly still you are not burning calories. Turns out your heart consumes calories when it beats, your lungs take in air and blow it out, you salivate, your blood flows, your organs twitch and so forth and so on—I don’t want to get too personal here. Suffice it to say that this “at rest” calorie consumption is higher if you are fat and lower if thin, but measureable with everybody, some more and some less and, with everybody, different.

What the scientists did was, at the start of The Biggest Loser contests, measure the calorie consumption of each contestant at rest. As the weeks went by and they ate less to lose weight, their body reacted by slowing down its calorie consumption. It was a survival decision. There’s less food coming in. There’s fat to burn off, so let’s not burn it in any great hurry.

Now the contest ends—applause, interviews, cheers—and these formerly fat people go home, and, naturally, they back off their tight diet that won the contest and begin to eat a bit more.

You would think that if these formerly fat people now gained a bit of weight back, their metabolic rate would begin to rise to back where it was before. But it doesn’t. It never went back up.

It’s as if your body is saying we had these hard times with calorie intake once before. Now we’re gonna be prepared in case it might happen again. It’s measureable. And so now these former contestants are consuming more, but their body engines are not burning it off the way they used to. And the food turns to fat. And a new, ever-worsening cycle begins.

They eat, they gain weight, they try not to eat but their body is not working the way it used to. It turns still more of what you eat into fat, you remain hungry and up it goes. Formerly overweight people, now overweight again, get philosophical about it. Back up to nearly 400, something clicks and they level off there. Well, that’s that, they say.

The scientists don’t know exactly why the burning of the calories does not go back up or what people might be able to do about it.

Here’s another way to think of it. You are sitting in a parking lot with your motor running, waiting for someone who ran into a store to come back out so you can then leave. Well, now imagine that the idle needs to be adjusted. It’s too high or too low. Gasoline consumption suffers. It’s a pretty easy fix.

After a weight loss trauma, humans need to go into a service station and have their idles adjusted. That’s the answer.

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