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Extreme Weight Loss… and Gains

Today I’ll be talking about the somewhat recent New York Times article about The Biggest Loser.

For those of you that haven’t seen the article yet, the gist is as follows: contestants on the show lose a ton of weight really fast and through unhealthy methods. After the show, their bodies are PISSED. They are fighting tooth and nail to get the weight back up. As a result of the unhealthy and rapid weight-loss, their metabolisms are slow. Real slow. And it’s extremely difficult for the former contestants to keep the weight off without resorting to the unhealthy methods the show teaches them.

In fact, many of the contestants have gained significant amounts of weight back. Take Danny Cahill for example. He was the Season 8 winner and, within 6 years, he gained 100 of the nearly-250 pounds he lost on the show.

So, not only are their bodies pissed. I am pissed. I’ll readily admit to watching this show in the past. But after starting my education in nutrition, I knew something was wrong. These people are on the show, or “The Ranch,” for what, 7 months? And many of the contestants are losing 100+ pounds. How are they losing this weight? Well…

  • They’re working out for 6-8 hours per day
  • They cannot eat more than 1200 calories per day (some eat even less to win)
  • They eliminate water for 24 hours prior to the weigh-in – essentially, dehydrating their bodies

In what world are these tactics realistic? Sure, they make for dramatic TV. And yes, the contestants look seemingly healthy at the finale. Well, at least on the outside. But their insides are screaming. Due to the extreme nature of the show, many of the contestants metabolic rates (the rate at which you burn calories) has decreased so much that they have to eat at least 300 calories less per day than the average person their size.

So let me make this even easier to understand: if a 6’1″ 220 pound man requires 2,400 calories per day just to sustain his regular activity levels, a former contestant of the same size cannot eat more than 2,100 calories per day to do the same. But often times, their metabolic rates are even more damaged to the point where a 6’1″ 220 pound man cannot eat more than 1600 calories per day in order to maintain their day-to-day activities. 1600 calories. Per DAY. Isn’t that INSANE?! I, and many other women my size with my activity level will often lose weight on more than that.

I cannot, in good faith, recommend this show or this extreme style of weight-loss to anybody. It makes me sad, it makes me sick, and it makes me angry. This show (and others like it) is taking advantage of people – people who feel that they have to resort to extremes just to be happy and healthy.

You don’t have to resort to extreme weight loss. You don’t have to work out for 6 hours per day. You don’t have to dehydrate yourself.

You can live a normal life. You can go out to eat. You can skip the gym if you’re busy with work, kids, family, or you just don’t feel like going that day. You can lose weight and do these things.

Have you seen this article? What are your thoughts?