I’m hooked on “The Biggest Loser”. Maybe its because I get to watch lives being transformed and new behaviors shaped. Or maybe its because I feel gratified that these changes are a result of improvements in nutrition and exercise, areas in which I have expertise, rather than the promise of a fad diet, magic pills or surgery as a solution. But I was always so curious about what goes on behind the scenes. So you can imagine my excitement when I had the opportunity to learn from the registered dietitian and physician for the show at a recent conference.
First off, they both admitted upfront that one of the reasons the people lose so much weight consistently is because of their new environment. All the barriers that usually exist to behavior change (job/life stresses, family and friends, lack of time, lack of knowledge about what to do) have been removed. Their new job is to exercise, learn about good nutrition habits, and practice them. This is one of the keys to their success. They get enough time in the new environment that once they leave they have enough knowledge and motivation to keep it going… Essentially, they transform their lifestyle. That said, “Biggest Loser” success is within everyone’s reach. Read on to find out more!
Biggest Loser Diet
- modified, low carbohydrate diet 45% of calories from carbohydrates (mostly fruits, vegetables and some whole grains), 30% of calories from protein, and 25% of calories from healthy fats or oils (seeds, nuts, avocado, olive oil)
- no “white stuff”
- whole foods, elemental ingredients
- 4-3-2-1: daily 4 cups minimum of fruits and vegetables, 3 servings of healthy proteins (e.g. fish, skinless chicken breast, 93% lean ground turkey), 2 servings of whole grains, and 1 serving of healthy fat.
- Aim for everyone to have 1 serving of fish daily.
- There is room for 1 optional treat per day.
- Cereals must have minimum 5 grams of fiber per serving and less than 5 grams of sugar per serving. This limits the cereals to certain oatmeals, bran cereals, or other high fiber cereals on the market.
- Goal of 7 calories per pound of body weight for daily caloric intake. This is recalculated after significant weight loss.
Participants are provided with calorie counting resources and a food and exercise diary which they must maintain daily. This helps to raise awareness of past behaviors and develops an understanding for calorie balance through diet and exercise.
Their diets are analyzed daily by the show’s registered dietitian / nutritionist. The nutritionist reported a 70% adherence to the diet. The nutritionist also reported as a result of the diet contestents experience decreased risk for diabetes because the measure that is used to diagnose diabetes decreases from “at risk” to a healthy range.
Biggest Loser Exercise
- Goal is 7 hours per week of exercise
- Incorporate weight training, coaching, teamwork, and competition
Typical Week at the Ranch
- Before getting started, participants undergo extensive medical tests, including a physical, stress test, DEXA (to measure accurately percent body fat and lean mass), and “Bod Pod” (to measure resting metabolic rate)
- Participants also undergo psychological evaluation and the support network at home is briefed on the program so they know what to expect when the person returns home.
- All participants get a full nutrition consult, including a week of food journals review. They discuss any GI symptoms they are having. They discuss eating schedules and cooking and shopping strategies.
In 3 seasons, they found the contestants shared many characteristics, including:
- no idea of the number of calories they need or what they actually consume
- most skip breakfast and snacks and let a long time go between meals
- most consume very little fruits and vegetables
- most are not getting enough protein, and what they do get is high in saturated fat
- most get very little whole grains
- most have too much “white stuff” (sugar, refined flour)
- little planning of meals, mostly on-the-go eating and dining out
- most are meeting their daily caloric needs through beverages alone (e.g. caloric sodas, juices and fruit punch)
- many consume very little water
- nearly all reported limited to no exercise
- nearly all prioritize everything and everyone else in their life ahead of their own health
I found the common denominators particularly insightful. It is easy to see why they are struggling with their weight when you look at behaviors they have in common. The goal of the Biggest Loser is to restructure that lifestyle and get them on the path to better health and wellness.