With shows like the Biggest Loser getting massive reviews and viewer numbers, clearly its hitting a chord with the general public. The show encourages massive weight loss on a weekly basis. How do we know how much is a reasonable amount of weight to lose? Is it true that you can only lose half a kilo per week. Let’s take a look at what is realistic – and achievable – for you …
First off, is it really possible to drop fat as quickly as the contestants on The Biggest Loser? Can the man on the street (or you 🙂 achieve these kind of losses without a team of trainers, nutritionists and camera men following their every move? Or are the massive and speedy losses on the show nothing more than clever marketing and a not-so-subtle manipulation of the viewer?
I did a little research to find out just how much weight some of our contestants have racked up. At the time of my research the show was airing Week 11. Here’s a summary of total weight loss for the final four contestants at that time:
Sam: just over 40kg (88 pounds)
Cosi: close to 48kg (105.6 pounds)
Alison: around 36kg (79.2 pounds)
Gary: close to 59kg (129.8 pounds)
The weekly weight loss (divided by 11 just to keep it simple, although obviously they would have lost different amounts each week) is shown here:
Sam: 3.63 kg p/week (7.9 pounds)
Cosi: 4.36 kg p/week (9.6 pounds)
Alison: 3.27 kg p/week (7.2 pounds)
Gary: 5.36 kg p/week (11.8 pounds)
Just in case you’re interested, this averages out at a body weight percentage loss of around 2.8 weekly. If you matched this to the ‘average’ 70kg woman, that would equate to 1.96kg per week, and for a 90kg man it would be around 2.66kg per week.
Doesn’t sound like too much, really, does it? I’m sure many readers out there would be thrilled to lose this amount of weight each week, and not necessarily consider it extreme.
But let’s think about that. In my experience most of you have heard over and over that healthy weight loss is around 0.5-1kg per week. In fact, every health expert, resource or study I’ve consulted indicates that a ‘healthy’ (as in mainly fat, and sustainable) amount of weight loss is just that – around half a kilo per week for women, and 1 kilo for men. Extremely overweight people are said to be able to lose 1.5 kg per week.
If we take this as gospel (for now), then clearly the BL contestants are losing weight much faster than they should be in order to keep it off. According to Anne Collins, fat loss expert extraordinaire,
‘When we lose weight we don’t just lose fat. We lose a combination of body fat, and muscle tissue. Studies show that when we diet, the weight we lose is on average 75 percent fat and 25 percent muscle. (Also) remember water accounts for about 70 percent of the total body weight of an average person, with muscle tissue containing roughly 75 percent water (plus 20 percent protein and 5 percent minerals), and body fat containing roughly 50 percent water.’
How is this relevant?
When you lose weight rapidly, your body will shed muscle and water before it lets go of fat stores. This is because your body views rapid weight loss as a threat to your survival – your physiology assumes that you must be low on resources (food), or on the run. Why else would you starve or over-exercise yourself?
In order to preserve life (yours!) your very intelligent body gets rid of the less important stuff – like muscle. Yep, that’s the metabolism boosting stuff in case you forgot. After all, fat stores will keep you alive for longer.
So the long and short of it is that losing weight too quickly will not only mean you lose muscle and water over fat, but you will also (at least semi) permanently lower your resting metabolic rate, meaning that the same amount of food you used to eat will cause you to gain more weight.
This is where the concept of the ‘yo-yo effect’ comes in to play – the idea (reality) that most diets result in a bounce-back effect that leaves the sorry soul in question more overweight than when they started.
But that’s not really the full story. Here’s where it gets even more confusing (or interesting, for the thinkers among you).
o If your body is under a lot of stress, you cannot safely lose weight. Basically, your body will not allow you to. This is because stress is a threat to your survival – and your body cannot distinguish between our modern day stress of a demanding job or unsettled relationship, and the stress of a threat on your life. Therefore, your body views all stress as a threat to your survival – and tries to give you a fighting chance by keeping a protective layer of fat that will not go away regardless of what you eat or how you exercise.
o According to William W. Wolcott, author of The Metabolic Typing Diet, ‘It is not uncommon for people to gain weight in response to stress. Weight gain literally represents a protective layer, an insulator, against the pain and suffering of the stress. In such cases, diet, nutrition, and exercise are powerless to resolve the problem’. Solution: put steps into place to detoxify stress. This includes eating correctly, but also taking time out.
o Ironically, cutting back calories to an extreme or doing high amounts of cardio exercise can also prevent you losing weight.
o Even if you are losing weight at the ‘safe’ rate of, you will still find your lean muscle mass reduces to some extent. In the long run this means you will lower your metabolism and possibly gain weight back. The only way to counteract this is to perform resistance exercise. I’d recommend at least 1-2 half hour sessions per week, for maintenance, or more if you’re looking to gain a significant amount of muscle.
o A final spark of hope – Over the years I have known clients to ‘lean up’ in an incredibly fast manner. Without losing a significant amount of muscle – and I’m not just talking abut extremely overweight people. I’m going to finish this article with my hot tips for maximising weight loss from fat.
MAXIMISE YOUR FAT LOSS
1. Eat correctly. Trust me on this – pill popping is NOT how the human body achieves true health and weight loss. Choose natural, minimally processed sources of carbohydrate, fat and protein.
2. Sleep correctly. Numerous studies have shown that building up a sleep debt will result in rampant stress hormones that cause your body to store fat. Regardless of how you eat or exercise. I’ve written many articles on the topic myself.
3. Think correctly. I don’t care how ‘airy fairy’ this sounds – your thoughts do have power. If you believe and tell yourself that you can’t lose weight, you WON’T lose weight. Positive thinking on its own may not cut it, but it sure ain’t going to hurt. Build confidence and promote positive action by telling yourself that you can and will improve your health and weight.
4. Reduce stress. We’ve spoken about how stress hormones cause you to store fat. If you truly can’t change your lifestyle, put steps into place to relax and recuperate. Using your one free hour pounding the treadmill is not always the best option. But ask yourself this. Can you REALLY not change your lifestyle? If your life depended on it I bet you would walk out of the job, relationship, situation or whatever it might be. Guess what? Your life does depend on it.
I guess when all is said and done, the rapid weight loss of Biggest Loser contestants may not be possible or ideal for most people. This aside I believe the show does a brilliant job of inspiring people to reach, to fight, to do whatever it takes to achieve their dreams. I think if you asked them, the BL contestants would tell you that they had definitely been living life.
How ’bout you?
Life is Now. Press Play.