If you’ve been on a weight loss program or are trying to manage your weight on an ongoing basis, you’ve probably seen the recent publicity surrounding a study of contestants from the TV show “The Biggest Loser”. The study followed contestants from Season 8 for six years after the season ended. In a nutshell, the study found that the majority of the contestants gained back much, if not all the weight they lost and some weigh even more now than they did before the show. But the surprising results are not necessarily because the contestants fell back into old habits. In fact, many must now fight harder than the rest of us just to keep their weight stable. The reason has to do with their metabolism and how it is affected by the extreme weight loss that many Biggest Loser contestants experience. What happened to them is nicely explained in a recent article in the New York Times: “Researchers knew that just about anyone who deliberately loses weight — even if they start at a normal weight or even underweight — will have a slower metabolism when the diet ends. What shocked the researchers was what happened (after the show): As the years went by and the numbers on the scale climbed, the contestants’ metabolisms did not recover. They became even slower, and the pounds kept piling on. It was as if their bodies were intensifying their effort to pull the contestants back to their original weight.” This is one of the first long-term studies of the effects of major weight loss in a short time. As such, conclusions are difficult to make until the results are studied and other research is conducted. But that hasn’t stopped a deluge of articles and reports in the media stating that exercising for weight loss doesn’t work and long-term weight loss is impossible.
How Exercise Helps You Lose Weight
The plain fact is that, yes, exercise can help you lose weight. The problem is that how it does so is not as simple as we make it out to be. It’s not a straight line equation. If you live a sedentary lifestyle and add more activity to your day, while consuming the same number of calories, you will very likely see some weight loss and a reduction in the symptoms of the extra weight, like cellulite. But the mistake we make when we see some results from the initial increase in calories burned is to assume that, if we exercise more, we will burn more calories and lose more weight. In The Biggest Loser, contestants go through an intense increase in activity and decrease in calories consumed to amplify the effect of the weight loss. Unfortunately, once you cross a certain threshold of calories in versus calories out, a threshold that is different in each of us, your body detects that something’s not “right”. It doesn’t know that you want to lose weight. It is programmed by nature to survive. When it detects any threat to that survival, like a disruption in calorie intake and/or burn, it executes powerful defense mechanisms to counteract the threat. That includes slowing down your metabolism to conserve energy. In some cases, metabolic rates can drop enough that, even if a person is on a calorie-reduced diet, and getting regular exercise, he or she might still gain weight. In the case of season 8’s winner, Danny Cahill, who has regained almost 50% of the weight he lost, he must eat 800 calories less per day than an average man of his weight just to avoid putting on more weight. So the lesson is that crash diets and/or heavy exercise plans have very little chance of working for ongoing weight loss. But if you adjust your lifestyle to eat a healthy, balanced diet, and live more actively, in ways that do not disrupt your body’s systems, you have every chance of seeing ongoing weight loss benefits, including a reduction in the appearance of cellulite.