How to Avoid ‘The Biggest Loser’ Syndrome

This week, a major light bulb went off for me.

The New York Times published a popular and controversial piece last week, After “The Biggest Loser,” Their Bodies Fought to Regain Weight, that demonstrates what we already know about rapid fat loss. Chances are, you gain it all back.

Call it the ‘The Biggest Loser’ syndrome, but researches found that TBL contestants had slower metabolisms and lower levels of leptin, the hormone that controls hunger, than before their dramatic weight loss. Seems counterintuitive when we consider that losing hundred of pounds might actually make us healthier than when we started.

Keeping weight off reflects biology, not psychology – NYT

Boy, the health industry is really in for it. For years, supplement, diet and equipment companies have sold products that promise incredible results. If we fail, it’s easy to blame our lack of willpower or discipline. So it’s not the manufacture’s’ problem, it’s our problem. But if scientists are digging into our biological blueprint to determine who will struggle with weight loss or with keeping it off, how will these companies respond? Who can they blame?

The takeaway

The NYT article sheds light on an issue that many of us ignore, and that is that weight loss and weight maintenance are two separate things that must be approached differently. Fitness professionals often approach these two elements in much the same way, but if our biology determines our success rate, then keeping weight off might actually require a lot more than just a healthy exercise and diet program.

The science is helping shape the conversation around weight loss and weight maintenance. Until we know for certain how to approach each of these elements best, I like to rely on this three pronged approach with myself, my clients and students to determine the best fitness or nutrition regimen:


Sustainable practices hardly sound fun.

Eat vegetables, get 8-10 hours of sleep, drink plenty of water? How lame does that sound?!

It’s too easy, too simple and too boring to work, we reason.

Instead, we fork over $300 for designer juices, colonoscopy and cleanses. We hate every single moment of it but it worked for a friend of a friend so we carry on.

One month later and we’re back on the yo-yo-diet train trying to find the next program or fad that will make us lean, sexy machines.

Fit, healthy and vibrant people adopt sustainable habits that will carry them through the years. Sure, they won’t brag about their steamed vegetables and the awesome results they got from six months of consistent training, but it sure beats the hell out of extreme, ill-designed, well-marketed and ridiculous health practices that keep us at zero 360 days a year (note: you get 5 days of success!)

If it’s extreme, it will likely fail you. If it’s simple and boring, chances are it works. Just like there is no overnight success in business, there is no overnight success in health and wellness. The next time you hear about a new approach – be it a new exercise fad, piece of equipment, diet, or whatever the heck the Kardashians are plugging next, ask yourself these three questions:

  • Is this something I want to do for the next six months? Next year? A lifetime?
  • Will this improve my life in the long-term or near-term?
  • Does this sound stupid? (if it smells like bullshit, it probably is)

You are an intelligent and reasonable person. Trust your gut and use your brain before you dive in to the “next big thing” that promises BIG results for less work.


Once I hit 30, it dawned on me that anything that felt tedious, soul crushing or boring was not worth doing. If it isn’t fun, why the hell bother? Starting a new program, fitness regimen, or nutrition protocol comes with its challenges and discomfort, but if you dread it 99% of the time, move on.

We can and still should have fun with whatever practice we pick up, from Arco yoga to strongman. At some point, you need to ditch the torture of the treadmill (unless you like it) and dabble with something you enjoy.

What those marketing gurus for shake weights, waist trainers, cleanses and detoxes won’t tell you is that their ‘product’ is not meant for fun. It’s meant to sell you an illusion. Make having fun your motto in fitness and in health.


The reason shows like “The Biggest Loser” and gimmicks sell is because they promise effectiveness. And sure, when you’re at a ranch working out 8 hours a day, surrounded by health coaches, trainers and chefs, even an extreme approach from TBL is fruitful. But going anything sustainable and fun must also be effective.

There’s a lot more to weight loss than calories in and calories out. As the New York Times article shows, we must approach weight loss and weight maintenance differently than we ever have before. Meaning, it can’t just be about the results. We must look at the whole picture – the practices themselves, the nutrition, and all the biological factors that contribute to our success (or failure). If your approach now is sustainable, fun and effective – you’ve hit the jackpot. Stick with it. But if you’re still not getting the results you want (but know it’s sustainable and are having fun doing it), you can decide whether or not it’s time to move on and try something new.

Time to sound off! What struggles have you faced in your weight loss journey or in trying to maintain your weight? Do shows like “The Biggest Loser” inspire you or set unrealistic expectations? Comment below or head over to Facebook and Twitter for some real talk.

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