In her May 2 column in the NY TIMES, “That Lost Weight? The Body Finds It,” Gina Kolata paints a clear picture of what scientists have learned by following a handful of contestants on “The Biggest Loser” for several years after their participation in the show. Their findings? When you lose a lot of weight, your metabolism slows and your body fights back against the weight loss.
The science is sound. But if you are one of the millions of people who want to shed pounds, I am begging you, please do not let this be an excuse to stop trying. You are not doomed to be fat.
The column, and the research it covered, ignores the fact that many “Biggest Loser” contestants, even if they may have gained some weight back, are healthier today than they were before they joined the show. It also ignores the fact that people can keep the weight off and that many former contestants have done it.
As the executive producer of “The Biggest Loser,” “Extreme Weight Loss,” and many other transformational reality TV series, I have seen firsthand how hard the cast members on these shows have to fight their bodies to lose weight. I’ve kept in touch with many of them over the past twelve years, so I also understand how much harder they have to work to keep it off. But I can personally attest that they do it successfully. In fact, more than 50 percent of the people that have been on my shows have kept the weight off; that is more than 10 times the national average! But, I also understand the issues that can lead you back to the past, a slippery slope, even though you did all the hard work to get that weight off. It is a narrative I have seen over and over and I preach to all contestants to be aware of it before they leave us.
It goes something like this…..You are one of the lucky few to get a lottery ticket to come to one of my weight loss shows to work with some of the leading experts in weight loss, nutrition and fitness in the world. You lose 200 pounds, and declare that you finally have your life back. The dream. Everything you ever wanted. Thin, fit, and can guarantee you will be around to walk your kid down the aisle and maybe with a little luck, enjoy a 50th wedding anniversary one day. Then you take your foot off the pedal. You slowly stop worrying about every meal you eat, and worry about every other. When your friends want to go to the all you can eat buffet, previously you would have said “no way”, but now you figure one meal ain’t gonna kill ya. So you go, and a binge ensues See, just like an alcoholic who should not go watch football games on Sunday in a bar, a food addict should not go to a place that has an all you can eat buffet. But, hey, you have been on the biggest loser and lost 11 pounds in one week before! So what damage can be done in one night? These are all signs of the wheels coming off but you don’t notice them. Then you look in the mirror and all of the weight has “crept” back on. That is not your metabolism talking here. That is bad decision making.
One example of a former contestant who lost the weight and still fights to keep it off everyday is Bruce Pitcher, who was just 28 years old when he came on “Extreme Weight Loss.” A high school football coach, Bruce had been sexually molested by his father when he was a young boy. It wasn’t until he came on the show and started working with a therapist we provided that he really came to terms with the fact that his dad had never loved him in an appropriate way—and shed 185 of the more than 400 pounds he put on after his father went to jail. Bruce now works as a trainer for “Extreme Weight Loss” and continues to take steps every day to improve his physical and emotional health: He sticks to the diet that helped him lose weight and keeps educating himself on the finer points of healthy eating (did you know that a russet potato has more calories than a red potato?). He works out every day. And, even more important, he consciously works on keeping a positive attitude. In fact, his motto is: “The only thing in life that’s not hereditary is your attitude.” He gives himself a pep talk every morning and surrounds himself with people who are also committed to living healthfully.
Bruce’s story is the perfect example of what it really takes to lose weight and keep it off: You have to fix the mind-set that causes you to eat too much. No one is hungry enough to eat themselves to 400 pounds without some emotional issues weighing on their minds.
Your problems may not be as dramatic as Bruce’s—perhaps you are worried you may lose your job, or your kids are constantly acting up in school, or you fear your partner is falling out of love with you. Whatever you are dealing with, once you grapple with your mental and emotional blocks, the pounds will fall off. Any psychologist will tell you: You can’t control what happens to you in life, but you can control how you deal with the crappy hand you’re dealt. That is 100 percent up to you. Of course, it’s hard. But it’s what you need to do—not just to lose weight, but to become a happier and more empowered person.
So search your heart, admit to your deepest and darkest fears, and get some help: Join a support group, talk to a friend, or call me! It will be the hardest thing you’ve ever done, but I promise you that it will be worth it. Once you fix your head, you’ll drop the weight and keep it off, whatever your metabolism.
--JD Roth, author of The Big Fat Truth