The sad truth behind The Biggest Loser

Have you seen The Biggest Loser? Participants rapidly lose half their body weight in front of the TV cameras, by eating less and moving more.

It seems to work great. So why don’t all the “lazy” people watching do the same thing?

Here’s the sad truth behind the show, revealed by a former contestant: Former Biggest Loser contestant Andrew ‘Cosi’ Costello reveals the truth about the weight loss show

Just one of the interesting details: How do people lose so much weight in a single week? Answer: They don’t. There were anywhere from 16 to 25 days between the weigh-ins, not one week as the producers made the participants pretend.

The saddest fact? The “eat less, move more” mentality may work great as long as the participants are locked up in a house for months, with guards and little food. But it doesn’t necessarily work in real life, after the competition.

Here’s what the former participant had to say about the long term results:

I would say that about 75 per cent of the contestants from my series in 2008 are back to their starting weight. About 25 per cent had had gastric banding or surgery.


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New Study: A Low-Carb Diet and Intermittent Fasting Beneficial for Diabetics!

Small Steps or Radical Changes?


  1. Gabriele Nesta
    I've watched this show since the very beginning, years ago. I have always loved it. I fully understand that it's not realistic. It's a reality show. Actually, i feel ambivalent about it now because showing a 30 pound weight loss in the first week, as happens a lot lately, is not realistic and leaves impressionable dieters with frustration and possibly eating disorders when trying to copy these results. None of it is realistic.......leaving your home and job to work out all day long, having trainers, nutritionists and doctors monitoring your food intake and health......who does this in real life? I would think the average viewer would realize this. And the latest winner from last week appeared anorexic. This was bound to happen in a bad economy.......someone was bound to overdo it, either out of sheer greed or a newly acquired eating order to win $250,000. If the viewer is able to overlook these problems the show is very inspirational and fun. It's not the producers' fault or the show's fault when a contestant decides to starve themselves for money. They are all adults and should know what they're getting into.
    Replies: #2, #17
  2. FrankG
    How is it "inspirational" if it is "not realistic"?!?

    Overweight people should be inspired to take part in a fiction, on the slim-chance (see what I did there?) to win a prize???

    Yes we are all adults and of course it is perfectly reasonable to expect us to pander to the lowest-common denominators of society's whims, for some questionable entertainment value???

    Roll up! Roll up! Look at the freak with an eating disorder! Such fun!

    Good grief... is this really indicative of what human society has to offer?

  3. Gabriele Nesta
    It's inspirational because almost every single contestant loses a large amount of weight and eliminates some serious diseases. It's inspirational to watch them complete half marathons and climb up mountains. It's inspirational to witness dramatic life changes in otherwise sick people. We in the US don't like taking personal responsibilities for things any more........if these people chose to go home and starve themselves, that's on them. If they chose to go home and gorge themselves and gain everything back, that's also on them. If someone doesn't like the show, then don't watch it.
    Reply: #4
  4. FrankG
    All those things might be inspirational if it were based in truth but it's a lie Gabriele... how on earth can that be inspirational?!? People should aspire to do the impossible? Lose as much (in the real world) as these folks (in their cloistered existence) do in a month, over what we are led to believe is just a week?

    You are right. I don't like these "reality" shows. I don't watch them and my hope is that by "voting with my feet" such gutter-mentality shows will go away, as fast as they seem to have appeared.

    But hey...I hope you enjoy watching these people suffer.. just so log as it makes you feel better about yourself.

  5. Gabriele Nesta
    Well it's not exactly a lie Frank, because they DO lose the weight. The time frame might be misleading but the weight loss is real. The diseases that are avoided are real. Have you actually ever watched this show you are commenting on? It's hardly a "gutter mentality show". Also, this does not make me feel better, if anything i am jealous that they have lost it all and i haven't. And we viewers are not "enjoying watching these people suffer" - what utter and total nonsense. These are adults. They weren't recruited out of some jail somewhere. They willingly signed up for a show that's been on TV over a decade. They KNOW what they are in for. They know what will be expected. Speak for yourself, not the millions of people who do enjoy this show for what it is.
    Reply: #21
  6. FrankG
    I wonder how many people have been disheartened (just as you describe) but the unrealistic rapidity of the weight loss in these shows? How is that "inspirational"?

    Rationalize all you like but shows such as these are garbage and I think of people who watch them in the same way as those who like to watch train-wrecks, car-crashes etc... appealing to the lowest common-denominator, the basest parts of human nature.

    I think it's time that humans grew up and matured... if you want to wave "personal responsibility" about, then we need informed and honest input... not a pack of lies.

  7. Marg
    I see things a little from Gabrielle's and Frank's point of view. On one hand, I enjoy watching BL because I feel motivated to go do my workouts when I watch people totally motivated to lose weight. I like hearing their personal stories and like seeing how much more attractive they look when they're slim. I like Jillian Michaels for some reason :-) On the other hand, the show peddles ALL the wrong messages about nutrition. 100 calorie packs, processed soups in cans, it's all about calories (forget nutrient density), nutrition and snack bars and Subway sandwiches. Biggest Loser is a shill for corporate interests. Plus, crash dieting never works long term, as most of us know who have tried it. You can lose weight fast if you starve yourself and force yourself to move more via running or exercise classes, but that weight will creep right back on once you start eating to satiety -- and you don't even have to eat "junk"! You'll subconsciously eat a little more each meal. It's called the leptin response, and unless you know how to reset your leptin, you're doomed to a lifetime of subversive hunger.

    This latest season's debacle with Rachel proves that the show's producers don't have contestant's health and well-being in mind. What I worry about is the fine line between what is currently Biggest Loser and a show where overweight people are literally starving themselves for money, and home audiences cheering this spectacle. It is the real life Hunger Games! Is this what we want to support and condone?

    Losing massive amounts of weight and then gaining it back is harder on the body than just staying the same, or losing a little bit at a time. The Biggest Loser exemplifies the worst in conventional diet advice, offers no real solutions except "hey fattie, get up off your ass and work out 6 hours a day and eat a few small salads and some dry turkey and then maybe you'll be an acceptable human being."

  8. Gabriele Nesta
    I agree with you Marg that the food they peddle on that show is not good. These are their sponsors and i don't think they should be doing it. With Rachel, i don't blame the producers and i'm surprised this hasn't happened earlier, actually. If you are bound and determined to win that money, you will starve yourself. A few of the women from past years have actually come close to this skeletal appearance already. Add a lousy economy to the mix and a young woman who is either greedy or now food-obsessed, and you have the perfect recipe for what happened with Rachel.

    They actually do give nutritional advice during the show, apart from their sponsor food. What they do NOT do is follow these people home, hold their hands and guide them through the rest of their lives. How can they? They lay the framework, and send them home. Is it the show's fault that people gain weight back? I'm following several former contestants who did not gain back their weight.

    One more point.......actually, the audience, while cheering for Rachel's entrance, was noticeable shocked and dismayed at seeing her body. Jillian and Bob were visibly stunned. People were not cheering her on at all, quite the contrary, as evidenced by the millions of posts on social media commenting on her underweight appearance. Nobody is happy to see that but again, she did it to herself. It was not something that fans of the show want to see.

  9. Tati
    I've heard from a PT who used to train the participants after they got voted out, that they all had to eat lots of diet pills. The sort of pills that make you poo your pants. They were given lots of pills on a daily basis so that nothing of what they ate actually stayed in their system for a very long time.
  10. Jane
    I recently read an interview with one if the winners from Australia.
    He said he hasn't eaten carbs in 6 yrs.
    he's maintained his weight loss.

    I used to watched (eating ice cream) when I was fat. Hoping to be inspired.
    Now I'm LCHF I can't bear to watch people exercising themselves to death. It doesn't have to be that way.

  11. coffeebraingal
    Doc, this is totally unrelated to your post, but I think the attached link deserves a retort. Please comment on this! Thank you!

    Replies: #14, #16
  12. Francois
    For the sake of exchanging ideas, here is my two cents worth. I have to side 100% with FrankG... The show is a lie from beginning to the end. Of course, it is possible to lose weight on a high carb diet, as long as you are willing to be starving all the time because of the tiny portions and quick absorption of food, along with massively fluctuating glucose levels. This is why people are told that the best way to lose weight is to eat six to eight times a day (if not, hunger pangs are unbearable). Who on earth has the time to eat six to eight times a day? And who, without an eating disorder, enjoys being hungry all the time?
    The show is a lie because it uses deception. Read the interview: candidates are weighted every three to four weeks, yet are given lines to state "Gosh, I really worked hard this week", misleading people into thinking that 1. it happened in only one week, 2. exercise did it 3. you can do it on a high carb diet (which is true if you are ready to suffer huger all day). Do the people improve their health? Yes, but unfortunately, only for a short period. Back in the real world, most of them regain their lost weight AND the medical conditions that came with it and many choose gastric banding as a way out of obesity. Since no real effective dietary advice was given (LCHF anyone?), people are mislead to believe that they are slobs and gluttons since they cannot keep the weight off. They are also mislead to believe that exercise is necessary for weight loss. It is not. Now, I do interval training myself six times a week because I love it and I am a strong advocate of physical exercise, which is essential for a number of reasons, but weight loss is not one of them.
    It certainly would not make such a great show to see people on a LCHF diet eat real food and get a normal body fat level without starving themselves or developing eating disorders. No. it is "much better" to see people being beaten up by the trainers, screamed at, cry (did you read the interview? it explains how the show producers psychologically manipulate these people so they will break down... it makes for great drama and people love seeing other people suffer. We are no different from people who did not miss one public execution: it was "fun".
    As a physician, I then have to deal with people whose ego have been destroyed from watching this show, because it is impossible to achieve on their own what they do on the show.
    I actually purchased a video series by Jillian Michael: great-looking lady, but what a "bitchy" way of dealing with people. Her programs work because she starves people. All these programs work because they starve people. The exercises are actually interesting and even, sometimes, challenging. But people are mislead into thinking that it is the exercise that gets them to lose weight so fast... It does not. Diet does. Exercise makes you healthy and strong.
    I hate this so called "reality TV". It is not reality. it is a pitiful show. And to lie to viewers, to psychologically manipulate candidates so they'll break down is, in my mind, the closest you can get to being criminal. it is called psychological, emotional and physical abuse. Anyone doing it at home on unwilling family members could be brought to justice. I gather producers are saved only because candidates are willing adults, accepting to be abused, and they signed a contract. I wonder though if someone explained that they will be required to lie to viewers and be destroyed psychologically.
    LCHF saved my life. My sleep apnea disappeared, along with my metabolic syndrome and I lost a significant amount of adipose tissue. And I did not have to suffer. I'll stick to that. And I'll keep on speaking to my patients of the only long term way to lose adipose tissue and regain health without suffering.
  13. Paul the rat
    just reduce carbohydrates to minimum (+- 10%E), consume +- 15%E as proteins and weight will drop

    Nutr J. 2014 Feb 6;13(1):15. [Epub ahead of print]

    Modern diet and metabolic variance - a recipe for disaster?

    Grantham JP, Staub K, Rühli FJ, Henneberg M.
    Recently, a positive correlation between alanine transaminase activity and body mass was established among healthy young individuals of normal weight. Here we explore further this relationship and propose a physiological rationale for this link.
    Cross-sectional statistical analysis of adiposity across large samples of adults differing by age, diet and lifestyle.Subjects: 46,684 19-20 years old Swiss male conscripts and published data on 1000 Eskimos, 518 Toronto residents and 97,000 North American Adventists.Measurements: Serum concentrations of the alanine transaminase, post-prandial glucose levels, cholesterol, body height and weight, blood pressure and routine blood analysis (thrombocytes and leukocytes) for Swiss conscripts. Adiposity measures and dietary information for other groups were also obtained.
    Stepwise multiple regression after correction for random errors of physiological tests showed that 28% of the total variance in body mass is associated with ALT concentrations. This relationship remained significant when only metabolically healthy (as defined by the American Heart Association) Swiss conscripts were selected. The data indicated that high protein only or high carbohydrate only diets are associated with lower levels of obesity than a diet combining proteins and carbohydrates.

    Elevated levels of alanine transaminase, and likely other transaminases, may result in overactivity of the alanine cycle that produces pyruvate from protein. When a mixed meal of protein, carbohydrate and fat is consumed, carbohydrates and fats are digested faster and metabolised to satisfy body's energetic needs while slower digested protein is ultimately converted to malonyl CoA and stored as fat. Chronicity of this sequence is proposed to cause accumulation of somatic fat stores and thus obesity.

  14. Francois
    "I think the attached link deserves a retort". Actually, it does not. McDougall is beyond retort. He is the Messiah of nutrition. Accusing others of selective reading, he is the champion cherry-picker. And an aggressive one at that. Jimmy Moore did an interview with him. he is the most unpleasant and abrasive individual you can speak to. Maybe this has to do with excess carb in the diet. Actually worth listening to: a great way to see him lose all credibility.
    You want a retort? Read this blog. It has tons of references on the positive effects of LCHF on biochemical parameters (all articles curiously overlooked by McDougall). But let me go on a few of his statements: "Type-2 diabetes is cured by a starch-based, high-carbohydrate diet. To take this point to the extreme, the Rice Diet, consisting of white rice, fruit, fruit juice, and table sugar (more than 90% of the calories are from carbohydrate) has been shown to cause profound weight losses in the severely obese, cure type-2 diabetes, and reverse heart disease. Dietary fat increases blood sugar levels and causes people with type-1 diabetes to require more insulin." Strong statements, but completely false. Just look-up the following article on the internet (it's free) Yoshifumi Y, Uchida J et al., A non-calorie-restricted Low-carbohydrate Diet
    is Effective as an alternative therapy for patients with Type 2 Diabetes.
    Intern Med 53: 13-19, 2014
    Look at figure 2: the partly restricted carb diet to 75 grams per day (no caloric restriction) showed a significant decrease in HbA1C% (a marker of diabetes) and of triglycerides (now known to be the most important index of the lipid profile) while the caloric restricted (no carb restriction) showed no change of HbA1C and TG.
    McDougall is the champion of sweeping statements. Look up the HORUS study: they did CT scans of mummies and found that in all ancient people (Pueblos, ancient Egyptians, etc) suffered from coronary artery and vascular disease. They did not smoke and ate no junk food. But they ate a lot of these "so healthy" grains. McDougall forgets to state that as soon as people started eating grains, diabetes, heart disease and other chronic diseases appeared. Humans became smaller by up to six inches and the jaws were difformed (see Weston price excellent books, free online on that very subject).
    McDougall forgets the Eskimos and Inuit who remained healthy on a fat and meat-only diet but became sick as soon as grains were introduced in their diet. This very same "fat and meat only" diet was used by Caucasians explorers in the north with the same excellent results, including in a very controlled food ward study in New York City.
    On climate change, I suggest you watch the extraordinary TED talk by Alan Savory. On chronic disease and inflammation, suggest you read how Dr Terry Wahls reverted her MS with a paleo LCHF diet (she calls bacon fat a health food and I fully agree). LCHF proponents are not against plants: most times, they eat more, much more green-leafy vegetables than anyone else. We are simply not fat phobic (as long as these fats are not trans fats or have a severe imbalance in the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6)
    I could go on and on and destroy every single one of his arguments. It would be fastidious and is unnecessary. One last word: McDougall participated in a stupid youtube video showing pictures of "diet gurus", alternating high carb proponents and high fat ones. All high carb and grain proponents look sick and cachectic. I suggest you read the post on Marks daily apple where he actually attended for education purposes one of the intensive McDougall sessions. Hilarious. So please stop thinking about McDougall posts. Or even better: try for one week eating what he suggests: you'll never go back again to that type of bland crap.
    Replies: #19, #24
  15. coffeebraingal
    Francois, I totally agree with you. I just would have loved to see our good diet doc pick apart Dr. Mcdougall's cherry-picked studies, one by one.

    I actually followed the Mcdougall plan back in the early 80's, and I never was so tired and sick in my life. I thank God it didn't do long-term damage.

    I don't understand how anyone can survive with a productive life on a diet so rich in starches and minimal, and I do mean minimal protein. It's insane!

  16. Boundless
    Regarding that hit piece by McDougall attacking Wheat Belly & Grain Brain, it was mentioned on the Wheat Belly Blog. Dr. Davis made it quite clear in a response that he sees no point in responding. Here's the sub-thread:

    But to drift back to this thread's topic, I'm not at all surprised to learn that Biggest Loser is pure fiction in addition to being massively incorrect dietary and weight management advice. "Starve & strive while eating carbs" is no way to manage weight. Exercise is a largely ineffective way to lose weight, as it doesn't burn all that many calories, promotes appetite, and increases scale weight via muscle mass.

    Reply: #36
  17. DJ
    Is it still "inspirational" when you realize that the majority of these contestants gain their weight back (or even more) once the show is over?

    I used to watch the show... I stopped after I realized what a sham it was. Listening to Jillian Michaels lecture Gary Taubes on the laws of thermodynamics really put the last nail in the coffin.

  18. Joy
    So Biggest loser is actually just another TV scam? That is so wrong. It just gives people false hope. Rather stick to low carb.
  19. sten
    Regarding the Egyptians, and most other things, you are spot on! Other research was done on dental health which indicates that this also was poor and included poor bone health...

    Egyptians is in my view the best example of an society living like ours today with most things available around the year at least for the rich then. The Nile through the desert made bread available throughout the year since just everything can be dried there without technology. The combination of blood sugar elevations from wheat and all kind of dried fruits ( often 60% sugar ) and restricted animal fats and meat (no large grass lands in Egypt = no large herds of animals) is probably coming very close to the SAD recommendations we have today and it led to disaster already then. The "official explanation" when the original mummies were scanned for heart disease and the extremely high prevalence of heart disease was found was typical of independent public views on things: "Only people that were rich were mummified and they were the few that ate meat most often" That is a true statement. Only problem in the context is that the average life span of the poor that did not eat meat and animal fats and did all the physical work that then was necessary was about 10 years shorter. Here are the real biggest losers from ancient times and we will never see their heart health when they went. But the food and work out profile agrees with the program, but fortunately (!) the participants are allowed to get out of the torture.
    Are there other ancient examples than Egyptians with extremely high prevalence of heart disease ? Great that I found and started the LCHF eating over two years ago. I suffered from severe effort angina for 6-7 years before and it disappeared completely after 6 weeks on strict LCHF with plenty of salads without store bought (sugar laden) dressing. I was far down the way to go like the Egyptians and must have done a "last minute" change!. But I am just another anecdote or even a paradox?
    Regarding bone health I read somewhere that archaeologists can
    see if a skeleton originates from hunter gatherer or agricultural society. The hunter gatherer skeletons are larger with stronger bones free from osteoporosis.

  20. Eddie Mitchell
    "It's not the producers' fault or the show's fault when a contestant decides to starve themselves for money. They are all adults and should know what they're getting into."

    How many so called reality shows do we see involving people who are clearly mentally ill ! It is the producers' fault, it's cheap to make TV. Bring on the poor, the disadvantaged, the poorly educated, the mentally ill and let them make fools of themselves.

    Bring on the Barry Williams show.


  21. Galina L.
    I believe the show mostly inspires the idea that the people with excessive weight should be given a hard time for their own good, like that yelling bitch Julian Mitchel gives to participants, while providing a wrong diet advice. I just can't stand her.
  22. Nan
    And now BL is creating anorexics!

    If they were serious the program would do follow ups with all the players.

  23. Rozzy
    Jillian Michaels says low carb diets are harmful ;(
    Reply: #25
  24. murray
    Seems like a decent retort to me, Francois.
    Reply: #27
  25. Galina L.
    I remember I saw a while ago on a Doctors show how Julian Mitchel demonstrated one of her interventions - she started with reducing some poor fat dark-skinned girl (she was 10 - 12 years old) to tears by skillfully explaining how horrible it was being fat (like the girl didn't know it already), then proceed with talk about portion control and meal examples. I remember a banana was the good breakfast food in JM opinion. Hunger pangs were warranted in couple hours, and the girl would be just more miserable, while couple eggs would keep her full for hours! Why all that diets recommending maniacs keep pushing bananas, sweet potatoes and whole grain crackers? Since then I avoided to see her on TV for any reason. Sadistic bitch!
    Reply: #28
  26. Eddie Mitchell
    Yeah let's all take the piss out of the fat man, the fat woman, the fat kid. Easy targets eh. No one chooses to be fat, they are victims and should be helped at every opportunity. The mass media sucks, and should be ashamed. But shit sells.


  27. Francois
    Yeah, I read McDougall's text and blew my top. I may have written a little more than I wanted. I did not cover every statement made by McDougall, but I tried to make the point he was an aggressive idiot (convinced he is right and thinking he is providing a service to humanity). In a way, McDougall is quite similar to Ancel Keys in fact. Keys used the same tactics in his supposedly scientific rebuttals of anyone stating differently from him. Name calling and reputation destroying were used. I just cannot stand McDougall and Keys.
    It might be scientifically interesting to watch McDougall get dementia because of insufficient fat in his diet. And given the way he is behaving, it may be rather quick. It is unfortunate that anyone would develop dementia, even a moron, but I fear this is what we'll witness soon.
    Replies: #29, #33
  28. Rozzy
    My parents pushed avocados they are still my favorite fruit to this day the creamier the better!
  29. Rozzy
    Ancel Keys is dead!?
    Reply: #30
  30. bill
    Yeah, but he lived to 100 years old!

    I'm all about LCHF, but how do we square that?

    Reply: #31
  31. Galina L.
    Dr.Eades had a post on the comparison Jack LaLanne vs Ancel Keys.
    Would you like to be at the end of your life like that ruined man in a wheel chair with dropping mouth?
  32. Haggus
    Manipulate your water intake and sodium levels and you too can lose boat loads of weight (water) that would make the producers of BL proud. It's a tad risky, but do it with a tear in your eye as you ogling 250k cheque, and your golden.

    The sad truth is that many of us who 'diet' will fail and regain. Think LCing is immune? Check out your favourite LC board for "inspirational" posts from people who have come back wondering what the hell went wrong. Calling out others that failed comes across at being smug.

    Reply: #34
  33. Galina L.
    Thank you, Francois,
    Indeed the unusual crankiness and the tendency for constant irritation what fits criteria of being an aggressive idiot is the mark of a poor mental health and a bad impulse control. My grandma who now has a full-blown Alzheimer started with increased crankiness and hostile behavior, especially toward my mother.
  34. Galina L.
    Unfortunately, diets work till followed, if people go on and off LC diet , the weight regain is also unavoidable, may be even worse. I see the advantage of LCarbing in the absence of hunger - I personally follow it since Nov.2007 without even a desire to "fall from the wagon".
  35. heffe
    I wonder how many people are dead after being inspired to lose 30 pounds in a week on their own. The accomplishment would not be any less with an actual timeline.
  36. Magnus
    When I click the link I get page not found.

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