Who doesn’t love seeing contestants on NBC-TV’s “The Biggest Loser” become the biggest winners when they take control of their health and life—aided by near-guerrilla tactics doled out by the best in the (weight loss) business? That support—some call torture—is an advantage most “regular” people don’t have.
Eleven contestants from the show participated in a study reported this week that shows exercise and healthy eating reduce body fat and preserve muscle better than diet alone.
A senior study investigator noted that the voluntary participants were already engaged in an intensive lifestyle intervention. If you watch the show, you might agree that’s an understatement.
Diet and Activity Pair Up
I’ll quote directly from NIH’s news release here, because the methodology is explained so well: “Researchers measured body fat, total energy expenditure and resting metabolic rate—the energy burned during inactivity—three times: at the start of the program, at week 6, and at week 30, which was at least 17 weeks after participants returned home. Participation in the program led to an average weight loss of 128 pounds, with about 82 percent of that coming from body fat, and the rest from lean tissue like muscle. Preserving lean tissue, even during rapid and substantial weight loss, helps maintain strength and mobility and reduces risk of injury, among other benefits.”
Using a computer model, when the show ended, researchers found that diet alone caused more weight loss than exercise: 65 percent of weight loss consisted of body fat and 35 percent consisted of lean mass like muscle. The model calculated that exercise alone resulted in participants losing only fat, and no muscle. The simulation of exercise alone also estimated a small increase in lean mass despite overall weight loss.
Here’s the Plan
Simulations suggest that participants can sustain weight loss—keeping it off— and avoid regaining weight by adopting more moderate lifestyle changes—like 20 minutes of daily vigorous exercise and 20 percent fewer calories—than those demonstrated on the television program. In other words, you don’t have to go to extremes like the show. It’s all doable, and you, too, can win.