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What We Can Learn From the Controversial Biggest Loser Study

biggest loser studyA study published last week unveiled the reality of the popular TV show The Biggest Loser. Six years after competing on the show, many of the contestants had regained much of the weight they had worked so hard to lose, but we can learn from their experience.

The study found the cause of regain to be metabolic adaptation, which “acts to decrease energy expenditure and thereby impedes the rate of weight-loss during an intervention.” In other words, your body burns fewer calories than you would expect in rapid weight-loss situations. Your body works to maintain a certain weight, and it doesn’t respond well when you suddenly, drastically change that weight from your “set point,” or the weight you’ve been for a while. Your body is an efficient machine, and it learns how to expend the appropriate amount of energy to maintain itself. This is why, over time, you’ll burn fewer calories by doing the same exercise.

Contrary to expectations and some interpretations, the study did not prove the common idea that rapid weight loss increases the risk of weight regain. The Biggest Loser contestants were actually relatively more successful at keeping off weight than participants of other weight-loss programs. In part, the authors attribute the contestant’s greater success to the amount of weight lost immediately. “Magnitude of early weight-loss is the best predictor of long-term weight-loss,” the report cites.

If you don’t have as much weight to lose, this could be a challenge for you, but all hope is not lost. “Long-term weight-loss requires vigilant combat against persistent metabolic adaptation that acts to proportionally counter ongoing efforts to reduce body weight,” the study concludes. More simply put, you have to stick with it. No matter what weight you start at, you have to change your set point so that your body will stop working against you to get back to that previous weight. You have to make your body work to maintain a new weight instead.

If you’re on a weight-loss journey of your own, you can avoid the fated weight regain by doing a few things.

4 Things to Learn From The Biggest Loser Study

1. Build muscle. Increased muscle mass will raise your metabolism, which will in turn counteract your body’s attempt to slow its metabolic rate as your weight decreases. A healthy exercise routine includes a variety of exercise, so be sure that some of that is strength training, whether its lifting weights or doing body-weight exercises.

2. Stay strong. Muscle is more dense than fat, so all that muscle you’re building will probably cause you to see some ups and downs as your average weight decreases. Don’t let a number on a scale discourage you. As long as you’re feeling healthy and happy working toward your goal, keep going.

3. Try new things. If you feel like you’ve hit that dreaded plateau and your body is working against you, change it up. Do something you’ve never done before. Your body won’t know how to react efficiently. You could end up burning tons of calories and getting back on track and motivated to continue your healthy journey.

4. Eat healthy. No matter what your exercise plan is, it’s important to nourish your body appropriately. Especially if you’re building muscle, you’ll need to consume quality calories to support that. When in doubt, stick with fruits, vegetables, whole grains and proteins.

What do you think about the latest Biggest Loser study? —Megan

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