During the finale of the NBC reality show The Biggest Loser, we see contestants after they have dropped sometimes hundreds of pounds, beaming and talking about their new leases on life. But what happens after the cameras — not to mention personal trainers, nutritionists, and pressure to drop the weight — go away? A May 2016 study suggests that the majority of contestants gain the weight back, and the reason why isn't good news for anybody who's trying to lose weight and keep it off. Womp womp.
Kevin Hall, a researcher at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, published the study in the journal Obesity. He monitored the weight and overall health of contestants from the eighth season of The Biggest Loser for six years after the show's finale. What he found was disappointing: Most of the contestants gained back a significant amount of the weight they lost during the show. Only one contestant who participated in the study didn't gain any weight at all.
But what was truly shocking was how their dramatic weight losses affected their metabolisms: After six years, the average contestant had a severely slowed metabolism, burning on average 500 calories less each day than a typical person of his or her size. Put another way: They would have to eat 500 fewer calories than other people their size to avoid gaining the weight back. And the more weight the contestants lost, the slower their metabolisms became. Talk about unfair.
So what does this all mean? Overall, Hall wrote that the contestants in general were successful at managing their weight, compared to other weight-loss strategies. But their slowed metabolisms show that the human body essentially fights back against weight loss by making it harder to burn calories. The New York Times notes that this is why it's so hard to fight obesity — bodies work to retain weight, so anyone who wants to shed a few pounds has to fight his or her own biology. It's a disappointing finding for anyone struggling with their weight.
"The Biggest Loser did change my life, but not in a way that most would think," contestant Rudy Pauls, who ended up getting bariatric surgery, told the Times. "It opened my eyes to the fact that obesity is not simply a food addiction. It is a disability of a malfunctioning metabolic system."