The decision to up the intensity of a workout provides the unintended but welcome consequence of an improved mood due to endorphin release. But 14 contestants from the TV show The Biggest Loser received a most unwelcome consequence when learning how extreme exercise and dieting had dramatically reduced their resting metabolic rate.
Since this study from Obesity received a lot of press, I’ll do a mini review. Fourteen contestants from The Biggest Loser were followed for six years. All but one has regained a significant amount of weight. More surprising than weight gain was that their resting metabolic rate (RMR), the amount of calories the body uses at rest, had decreased approximately 500 calories.
The expectation would be that with weight regain, the RMR would go up. Instead, after six years, it remained suppressed. Bad news since that translates to eating 500 fewer calories a day to maintain weight. Additionally leptin, the body hormone that makes one feel full, was also reduced after the extreme weight loss. It appears the body is doing everything possible to get back to that original weight.
Health benefits can occur with modest weight change. A loss of 10 percent of body weight can lead to lower blood cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure and even improve the body’s ability to use insulin. Weight maintenance is the challenge. By making a habit of eating more nutritious foods, cleaning the high sugar junk out of the house, cooking more, setting a goal of at least five vegetables and fruits a day and most important not falling for an over-hyped diet claim, weight maintenance will occur naturally. Why lose 80 pounds to gain back 70? Wouldn’t it be better to lose 10, assess your goals and then make a decision? I quote the tortoise: “Slow and steady wins the race.”
Sheah Rarback is a registered dietitian on the faculty of the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine. Follow her on Twitter @sheahrarback.