Lessons from “The Biggest Loser”

By Charlyn Fargo

Want to do give yourself a lasting gift? Don’t wait until January to start eating healthy and working out.

More than two of every three adults nationwide are overweight or obese, according to the National Institutes for Health, and that excess weight raises your risk of developing serious health problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, gallstones, breathing problems and certain cancers.

So many of us wait until January to make that New Year’s Resolution to lose a few pounds, go back to the gym or dust off the treadmill in the basement.

Start today.

A healthy eating plan and regular physical activity can help you lose weight. However, maintaining lost weight is difficult for many people. Body weight is a complicated balance between the amount of energy consumed (calories) and the amount of energy used by the body.

A team led by Dr. Kevin D. Hall of the National Institues of Health’s (NIH) institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) studied participants in a season of “The Biggest Loser,” a televised weight loss competition. Of 16 competitors enrolled, 14 participated in a follow-up study six years later. After losing an average of about 132 pounds during an intensive 30-week diet and exercise period, many of the participants regained a substantial amount of weight after the program was over. But there was great variation among them.

The researchers explored how physical activity and energy intake were related to weight maintenance. At the beginnings of week 6 and week 30 of the competition, as well as six years afterward, the team measured the participants’ body fat, total energy expenditure and resting metabolic rate—the energy burned during inactivity. To calculate each participant’s level of physical activity, the scientists subtracted the resting metabolic rate from the total energy expenditure. They determined the calorie intake by using the observed weight and body fat changes along with the total energy expenditure measurements. Results appeared in the November 2017 issue of Obesity.

Six years after the competition, seven participants had maintained an average weight loss of about 25 percent of their starting weight. The other seven returned to a weight that was within 1 percent of their starting weight. The calorie intake of both groups was similarly reduced from before the competition began. The main difference was in levels of physical activity. The weight loss maintainers increased their physical activity by an average of 160 percent from before the competition began, while those who regained their weight had only a 34 percent increase.

The researchers calculated that an increase of about 80 minutes per day of moderate physical activity or 35 minutes per day of vigorous activity was needed to maintain lost weight. These amounts are much greater than current recommendations for daily physical activity.

That 80 or 35 minutes a day sounds like a lot, but it starts with that first step of getting started. Keep it up for six weeks and it becomes a habit that you won’t want to miss.

Personally, consistency is the toughest thing for me. But the good news is, today’s a great day to start that workout or that healthy eating plan. It’s a gift of health to yourself that will last a lifetime.

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