After ‘The Biggest Loser,’ Their Bodies Fought to Regain Weight

After ‘The Biggest Loser,’ Their Bodies Fought to Regain Weight, by Gina Kolata. Scientists studied the “Biggest Loser” contestants for six years after that victorious night. The project was the first to measure what happened to people over as long as six years after they had lost large amounts of weight with intensive dieting and exercise.

The results, the researchers said, were stunning. They showed just how hard the body fights back against weight loss.

It has to do with resting metabolism, which determines how many calories a person burns when at rest. When the show began, the contestants, though hugely overweight, had normal metabolisms for their size, meaning they were burning a normal number of calories for people of their weight. When it ended, their metabolisms had slowed radically and their bodies were not burning enough calories to maintain their thinner sizes.

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. So they were not surprised to see that “The Biggest Loser” contestants had slow metabolisms when the show ended.

What shocked the researchers was what happened next: 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. …

Sean Algaier, 36, a pastor from Charlotte, N.C., feels cheated. He went from 444 pounds to 289 as a contestant on the show. Now his weight is up to 450 again, and he is burning 458 fewer calories a day than would be expected for a man his size. “It’s kind of like hearing you have a life sentence,” he said.

Apparently we all have a “set weight”:

There is always a weight a person’s body maintains without any effort. And while it is not known why that weight can change over the years — it may be an effect of aging — at any point, there is a weight that is easy to maintain, and that is the weight the body fights to defend. Finding a way to thwart these mechanisms is the goal scientists are striving for.

Simply cutting calories is not the answer to long-term weight loss:

All this does not mean that modest weight loss is hopeless, experts say. Individuals respond differently to diet manipulations — low-carbohydrate or low-calorie diets, for example — and to exercise and weight-loss drugs, among other interventions.

But Dr. Ludwig said that simply cutting calories was not the answer. “There are no doubt exceptional individuals who can ignore primal biological signals and maintain weight loss for the long term by restricting calories,” he said, but he added that “for most people, the combination of incessant hunger and slowing metabolism is a recipe for weight regain — explaining why so few individuals can maintain weight loss for more than a few months.”