A few weeks ago I spoke at the American Society of Bariatric Physicians. Later in the day I heard an interesting lecture from the lead dietitian for the TV series “The Biggest Loser”. In this lecture, she disclosed all the keys for successful weight loss in the individuals on the show.
The first was incredibly careful screening just like you would do for a clinical trial. This is to make sure you have incredibly motivated people, who aren’t depressed or have other existing medical conditions, such as heart disease. In other words, you stack the deck. Considering that after the first pilot show in 2004, there were 225,000 applications for the 2005 series, there is no problem in recruiting motivated people. Just to make sure the motivation is maintained, the contestants get paid while they are on the show in addition to the big payoff for the winner at the end of the series.
Next contestants are isolated in a “camp”. Consider this to be like a metabolic ward where they only have access to good food for the next 10 to 16 weeks. This means no white carbohydrates and no artificial sweeteners other than stevia, and all the meals made for them.
According to the speaker, the real secret is that they are fed a Zone like Diet with 45 percent of the calories coming carbohydrates (primarily non-starchy vegetables and fruits) with a very limited amount of whole grains, 30 percent of the calories from low-fat protein, and 25 percent from good fats, such as olive oil or nuts. The typical calorie intake for the females is 1,200 to 1,600 and for the males about 1,800-2,400. The typical 300-pound contestant will consume about 1,750 calories per day. Finally, you spread the balanced calories over three meals and two snacks during the day.
Of course, you never see the contestants eating their Zone meals and snacks or the dietitian discussing nutrition with them because that makes for boring TV. So most of the time you see them being yelled at by their trainers. That makes for exciting TV. In fact, the more tears they shed by being intimidated, the better the ratings.
So what happens to them after they leave the show, no longer get paid and are surrounded by their favorite foods? About 50 percent regain the lost weight. But the other 50 percent have found out that the Zone Diet isn’t that hard, and now they have a clear dietary plan for a lifetime without being yelled at by drill sergeant-like trainers.