“Biggest Losers” can’t win the battle with their bodies

A researcher has studied the participants on the reality TV show the Biggest Losers. The study results document the fight our bodies put up when we lose weight. The participants experienced a double-whammy. Not only is their metabolic rate much lower than it should be, but their low levels of the gut hormone leptin mean they are constantly ravenous. So in order to maintain their weight loss, they not must eat very little while being constantly driven by their hunger. It is not surprising that this is a battle they almost always lose. And for many of the participants this means they have gained back the weight they have lost.

An article in today’s New York Times not only discusses the study results, but it also portrays the personal side of this battle. Study participants share their humiliation and despair over their bodies. One talks about wanting to step in front of a bus. Another says he feels like he has been given “a life sentence.”

But there is some hope for the very obese. On May 1, 2012, I underwent life-saving bariatric surgery. Like many before me, this surgery has shaken up the my Body Mass Index (BMI) set point and I have been able to reach and maintain a healthy weight without my body fighting back. At the moment, it seems that this drastic step is one of the few avenues that works. Researchers, like Dr. Lee M. Kaplan at Massachusetts General Hospital are investigating why this surgery works.  It seems reasonable to hope that in the future less invasive options will be found. But at present, the Weight Center at Mass General offers a model of what treatment for obesity should be.

Here is a video clip that reiterates the results of the Biggest Loser study and speaks with some of the participants. The devastating conclusion of the study – the more you lose weight the slower your metabolism will be and the hungrier you will be. You can’t watch this clip without having compassion for how hard these folks fight the battle with their bodies.

If you are a person who “struggles with their weight” please be kind to yourself. It’s not all your fault.

And if you are a person who is dangerously heavy, please don’t beat yourself for not being able to lose weight “on your own.” Get the help you need.