Why Weight Came Back – Biggest Loser Study

The Biggest Loser Produced Some Real Winners

The Biggest Loser is a hugely popular show. Since it came biggest loserout in 2004, it challenged obese people to lose as many pounds as possible, following a strict diet and exercise program set up for them by professionals. The contestants on the show work out nearly seven hours per day, and have an extremely regimented diet targeted at having the largest daily calorie deficit possible.

Contestants on this show have seen some huge successes, many losing hundreds of pounds and regaining a life they thought lost. One man lost 264 pounds in a single season of the show. These changes to the body are incredible.

The New York Times Study – Most Contestants Regained Nearly All of the Weight

bigest loserIn May of this Year, the New York Times published a study that followed the contestants from Season 8 of the Biggest Loser, six years after the show had ended. To the surprise of many, the contestants included, most of them regained nearly all of the weight they had lost on the show.

From the New York Times

“This is very astounding since many of the contestants had retained the healthy lifestyles they worked to develop on the show. They ate well, and exercised hard. What could be going on that lead to such serious weight gain despite the lifestyle turnaround?”

I highly encourage everyone to read the article from the New York Times. You can find it here

Fighting Biology – How our Bodies Respond to Weight Loss

To answer the question of why many of the contestants regained their weight despite living healthy lifestyles, the researchers in the New York Times study examined how our biology fights back to regain that weight.

What the researchers found was that these people who had lost extraordinary amounts of weight had their metabolism slow down – big time. These contestants’ metabolisms burned hundreds of calories less than other people with the same height and weight. How could this be?

Check out this video to meet some of the contestants on the show and learn about their struggle afterward

Rapid Weight Loss – How it affects the body

The contestants on the show lost an incredible weight loss 03amount of weight in a fairly short amount of time, about seven months. The amount of time required to maintain this level of fat loss, and keep burning that same amount of calories while eating so few, is a full time job.

Most people can’t keep up that kind of lifestyle. Even though they may still work out daily and maintain a healthy diet, it’s ridiculously hard to maintain a weight that is so much lower than the starting weight.

This is because our body is designed to store as much energy as possible. As we lose weight, our body fights harder and harder against us. Our metabolism slows down as the weight drops.

This is largely due to different hormones, one of the most important is leptin.


weight loss 04The hormone leptin is a chemical that tells our brain when we need to stop eating. It functions to work with the brain to control hunger so that we can maintain the current energy levels we need to go about our daily lives. This chemical will keep most people’s weight fairly constant.

However, leptin is produced by our fat cells. So when we lose a lot of fat from our bodies, our level of leptin decreases. As a result our hunger increases and our metabolism slows down. As the hunger increases and weight is put back on, those who were obese before find their brains becoming resistant to leptin. So even as fat cells come back, the leptin doesn’t work to tell the brain to stop eating. It keeps wanting more.

This is proof that obesity is not simply “food addiction.” These people’s brains are starving while their bodies are obese. It is a true physiological disease.

Leptin Supplements – Can’t We Just Take Leptin Pills?

Unfortunately no. Leptin only enters the bloodstream when it is produced naturally in our fat cells. Taking a pill will not increase our leptin levels. There are many pills sold online that promise to pack you with leptin and slow hunger, but these claims are sadly false.

Click here for an article supplements of leptin

So What Can We Do?

Scientists are still working hard to figure out the best methods weight loss 05for losing weight and keeping it off, with the body’s natural response to weight loss in mind. We will continue to find better and better ways to do this, but for now many aspects of the process remain unclear.

What we do know however, is that slow and steady weight loss will prove more likely to achieve long term results. Losing huge amounts of weight rapidly puts an ever greater strain on the body that will cause it to fight harder against weight loss.

My patients struggle to keep off the weight they lost at times. What I’ve found that helps to prevent this is for them to lose the weight originally by NOT following calorie restriction diets that slow the metabolism way down. By following a low Glycemic Index diet instead , calories are not restricted, simple carbohydrates are. Fat cells are simply a storage bin for carbs/sugars. If you restrict your intake of carbs/sugars (bread, rice, pasta, cereal, sweets, fruit, potatoes, corn) you will lose weight even while eating unrestricted amounts of proteins (meats, eggs, cheese, nuts) and most vegetables. Keeping your total daily calorie count up, especially with protein, helps to keep your metabolism high while dieting. This helps the most to prevent weight regain.  

Slowly reducing calorie intake and increasing exercise will help your body slowly adjust. I’ve written a number of articles about diet and weight loss. Here are some good ones you can use to improve your own health and fitness:

We are doing our best as a society to learn about obesity, weight loss, diet and exercise to continually improve our lives. If you have any questions or ideas on these issue, I’d love to hear your input. Leave a comment below, post on my Facebook page, or give me call. I’m all ears and always eager.

Best wishes for a happy, healthy July.

Dr. Johnson