For the last 12 years—really, it's been on air for 12 years—The Biggest Loser has been shocking the country with incredible weight loss transformations and encouraging overweight Americans to join the battle against obesity, one pound at a time. (And it's not just America; obesity is a global issue.) While season after season has contestants fighting to drops pounds at the Biggest Loser ranch, what they didn't expect is that their bodies would be putting up a fight long after they reached their goal weight.
And by that, we don't mean the fight for weight loss. We mean the fight for weight gain. In a long-term study of Season 8 contestants, researchers found that their bodies continue fighting to return to their orginal weight years after weight loss.
Researcher Kevin Hall followed 14 Biggest Loser contestants for six years after the season finale, as reported by the New York Times. It was the first project to monitor what happened to people over several years after losing large amounts of weight with rigorous dieting and exercise. The results: 13 out of 14 contestants studied regained weight in the six years following the show. Four weigh even more than they did before participating in the Biggest Loser.
The phenomena behind the post-show weight gain is all about metabolism: The contentants' resting metabolism (how many calories they bured while at rest) was normal before starting the show, but had slowed radically by the end, according to the Times. This means their bodies weren't burning enough calories to maintain their smaller size. A slower metabolism is common for anyone (even underweight or normal-weight people) after dieting; however, the surprising thing was that as years went by and the contestants gained more and more weight, their metabolisms didn't recover. In fact, nearly all of the contestants that Hall studied have slower metabolisms than they did six years before, and have a slower resting metabolism than expected for their size.
For example, Season 8 winner Danny Cahill started the show at 430 pounds, ended it at 191 pounds in 2009, and now, at 295 pounds, burns 800 calories fewer daily than a man his size should, says the Times. Sean Algaier went from 444 pounds to 289 as a contestant on the show. Now he weighs 450 pounds again, and is burning 458 fewer calories a day than is expected for a man his size. The first female winner of the show, Ali Vincent, just posted some #realtalk on Facebook about how, since winning the show in 2008, she's still battling guilt-ridden weight gain (and Internet trolls who are calling her out about it).
This is all evidence that weight loss is just the first step in the journey to maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle, and that there may be a deeper metabolic issue behind the inability to keep the weight off.
Dealing with weight management after a significant weight loss is hard enough as it is: you have to deal correctly with intense cravings, extreme hunger, and lack of motivation, and resist the urge to go back to "eating normal." The best bet is to think of your new eating habits as a way of life and a way of keeping the weight off rather than a short-term fix for weight loss.