Avoid The Biggest Loser Influence
Avoid “The Biggest Loser” Influence On You
While it is
encouraging to see TV providing a positive outlook on tackling the American
obesity epidemic, the reality show “The Biggest Loser” mislead
viewers by promoting incredulous, confusing and sometimes dangerous weight loss
figures. In response, this article provides information to cut through the
smoke and mirrors of Hollywood “reality” to offer a more sensible view of
monitoring your successful weight loss campaign for the New Year.
Dismiss expectations of “huge” weight loss amounts
Amazing! The biggest loser in week 1 of the show lost twenty-eight pounds of
“weight” in a week. At this rate in three months all that would have been left
is a grease stain!
figures are simply unrealistic as they extend way beyond the natural capacities
of the body’s self regulation of balance called homeostasis. The human body is
unable to make such adjustments and remain physiologically intact. It seems
this logic thumbs its nose at people with even a thread of knowledge about
nutrition and physiology.
(Incidentally, I emailed the nutritionist supervising the show and have yet to
hear a response back to explain the massive weight loss figures).
“Weight loss” is a relative term
Body weight is probably the most popular method of measuring the success of a
fat loss program. The Biggest Loser show is a classic example of the
uselessness of weight measurements as demonstrated in the wide variety of huge
weight loss figures.
Monitoring weight changes alone is flawed and loses its significance since
there are many factors that can confound the result. In fact, if resistance
exercise forms part of the fat loss plan, it is unhealthy and misleading to
assume success can be measured simply by monitoring body weight changes alone.
How much of the “weight loss” would have resulted from fat losses?
The first question a viewer might have is: “Did the contestant lose 28 pounds
The answer is a resounding, echoing “NO!” If the weight loss resulted entirely
from fat loss (actually the whole aim of the Show) then the individual would
have needed to consume –98 000 calories a week or –14 000 calories a day! (28
lbs x 3 500 cal/lb fat = 98 000 cal./ 7days = 14 000).
In other words, even if the individual ate absolutely nothing, he would have
been required to expend the equivalent of 14 000 calories of energy daily – a
Even if this amount of weight loss were in fact real, the actual amount of
contributing fat loss would probably be on the order of 10 – 20 % of this
How much of the “weight loss” would have resulted from lean muscle tissue loss?
It is highly likely the contestants were placed on highly restrictive diets.
Combine this with expending large amounts of energy with exercise, and it’s fair
to assume that a good percentage (probably about 20-25%) of the “weight loss”
resulted from lean muscle tissue loss.
While it is true that performing resistance training will minimize losses, it
is impossible to lose large amounts of body “weight” without losing a fair
amount of lean muscle tissue as well.
Here’s why: when consuming a calorie-restricted diet, stored carbohydrate
(called glycogen) in the muscle and liver will be lower than normal. Intense
exercise such as lifting weights, running, jumping jacks etc. rely heavily of
the use of carbohydrates to fuel it. Liver glycogen is responsible for
maintaining blood sugar (glucose) levels, and during intense exercise it is
inevitable that blood sugar will begin to drop, especially if consuming a low calorie
When liver glycogen stores become increasingly depleted, blood sugar levels
fall and hypoglycemia sets in. In response, the body begins to use amino acids
(the building blocks of protein) to “make” new glucose for use by the brain and
nervous system in a process called gluconeogenesis.
Skeletal muscle is the body’s primary “store” of protein and as a result, this
valuable tissue is sacrificed when blood sugar drops. Muscle, which is composed
mainly of water and weighs comparatively more than fat tissue – contributes a
larger percentage to weight loss (“muscle weighs more than fat”).
Remember also that lean muscle mass determines metabolic rate too – so loss of
muscle directly lowers metabolic rates – making future weight loss even harder.
How much of the “weight loss” would have resulted from fluid losses?
Again, if the values were to be taken with a grain of salt, dehydration would
probably account for a largest percentage (50-60%) of the weight loss. Water is
very dense, and a percentage or two reduction of normal body fluid balance can
yield great “weight loss” values. This is the motivation behind the “amazing”
results seen with body wraps and exercising in rubber suits. Unfortunately,
reality quickly fades when the person hydrates themselves to normal values.
Carbohydrate storage is accompanied by significant water storage – one gram of
glycogen (stored carbohydrate) requires the storage of approximately 2.7 grams
of water with it. So if for example, glycogen stores are depleted from intense
exercise and never fully replenished due to carbohydrate (calorie) restriction,
then the individual will “seem” lighter because of decreased water retention.
Low calorie and “ketotic” (ketosis) diets tend to have a dehydrating effect on
the body anyway since the products of this type of low-calorie metabolism
(ketones and urea) must be eliminated via the urine.
Body composition is the key to monitoring success and ensuring motivation and
adherence in a weight-loss program
Had the show monitored each contestant’s body composition instead of strictly
using body weight changes, this would have been a much more effective and
credible way of determining fat loss progress. What is very ironic and puzzling
is that each contestant’s dimensions and body composition measurements were
actually taken in the first episode, but the results were subsequently
Body composition is the measure of what percentage of the body is composed of
either fat (adipose tissue) or lean tissue (muscle and bone). Body composition
analysis is the only reliable method of determining fat loss and muscle gain
and observing bodily changes when scales and tape measures are unable to do so.
An experienced personal trainer or exercise physiologist can perform body
composition analyses to help to track progress during a weight-loss program.
While body composition can be measured by using skin fold measurements,
probably the most accurate and affordable means of determining body composition
is through a procedure called Bioelectrical Impedance Assessment (BIA). BIA is
comparable to underwater weighing – the “gold standard” of body composition and
in many instances will even calculate metabolic rate and hydration status.
Aim to lose about 1% of your body mass a week
If you don’t have access to a body composition assessment service and the scale
is your only resort, then it is recommended that you aim to lose 1 – 1.5 % of
you body mass a week to ensure safe and permanent fat loss. Look to increase
your energy expenditure/output higher than your energy intake (negative calorie
balance) with a sensible calorie-controlled diet and regular exercise,
including resistance training.
The human body is a master of adaptation and ensuring survival – quick losses
of large amounts of weight are unlikely to be permanent as the body’s
homeostatic control mechanisms will not tolerate large fluctuations in body
In conclusion, while The Biggest Loser may have served as a valuable source of
inspiration for some, it is hoped that this article has highlighted some of the
problems associated with strictly using body weight changes as a means of
measuring fat loss success. A successful and healthy fat loss program will
focus on body composition and dimension changes rather than focusing solely on
the amount of “weight” lost.