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Biggest Loser - number crunch shows fat loss claims unlikely

The article (below) from 2004 is still totally relevant for each season of this abomination of a show on "fat loss". The greatest weight loss for the first week for the 2005 season was 28 pounds and the least was 11.

I can hardly contain myself - seriously. Since it is a scientific fact that healthy fat loss is no greater than 2 pounds in one week, what the hell kind of crap is this show trying to promote here? 28 pounds? 28 pounds of fat is 98,000 calories! Or 1,18,216 calories, depending on whether you use the 3500 calorie/ pound or the 4222 calorie/ pound reference. Either way that's a lot of energy to use up.

Wrap your head around that.- that's a 14,000 calorie deficit each day.

To have a 1000 calorie deficit a 200 lb person could eat 2500 calories and burn off 3500 calories through exercise. 3500 calories worth of exercise will take about 3 to 3.5 hours of hard training for an athlete. An untrained person would take longer, perhaps 4.5 to 7 hours of training because they would not be fit enough to sustain the higher output.

That 200 lb person could eat 1500 calories and burn of 2500 to get the 1000 calorie deficit, but once you get down around a 1500 calorie intake you risk not meeting your daily intake of vitamins and minerals. But we're not talking about a 1000 calorie deficit, we're talking 14,000. An exercise pace of 1000 calories per hour can be maintained by a trained endurance athlete, but within 3 hours they would have to start consuming carbohydrates in order to continue exercising at or near that pace. To burn off 14,000 calories would require constant fueling for hours. If you keep eating, then how do you get the deficit? If you can't continue exercising without eating, how do you continue?

It can't be done.

It is true that at a certain point of obesity the numbers become more realistic, but the show still goes beyond the more rapid weight loss potential of the very obese. People who weigh 350 to 450 + pounds have so much mass that to maintain weight they need to consume 3500 to 4500 calories per day. Bring these people down to the 1100 to 2300 calorie per day intake that contestants are reported to consume and before adding exercise you're at a 3000 calorie deficit. Add 7 hours of exercise and that might be another 3000 calories. That puts a contestant at 6000, maybe 7000 calorie deficit, still only half of what is required for a 28 pound fat loss in one week. Some first week contestants have apparently weighed in with a 30+ pound weight loss. Note the term "weight" loss is used, not "fat" loss.

Even if these contestants could exercise for 14 hours at 1000 calories per hour, they wouldn't be able to repeat that day after day. This beyond what Tour de France competitors do.

The numbers simply don't add up. Even if they did, the contestants would be at a high risk of electrolyte imbalance, dehydration, and serious medical conditions, not to mention overuse injuries from too much exercise, especially for untrained people.

No matter how you look at it, the shows results are totally unrealistic and would put any persons health at risk who attempted to model the contestants claimed results.

It is totally impossible for this rate of fat loss to occur. It is inconceivable that this show can get away with this garbage. Even 11 pounds is 5,500 calories from fat each day - totally impossible. As an example through 18 hours of athletic training in one week I burned off 12,648 calories so even if I doubled my training I would not even come close to what these goof balls are claiming. Is this show prepared to say that it recommends that unfit people attempt to train more than twice amount of a trained athlete? This is safe?

This show should be asked to prove the contestants who lost 28 pounds in one week burned off 14,000 calories per day.

Ironman competitors will burn off 8500 to 11,500 calories during an Ironman race (2.4-mile (3800 meter) swim, 112-mile (180 kilometer) bike, plus a 26.2-mile (42.2 kilometer) full marathon. Were the fat loss contestants doing more than a full Ironman race worth of exercise every day for weeks on end? Impossible. Not even the world champion Ironman athlete could do that, and if they tried they would become injured.

As a researcher, a coach, and an athlete I can say these claim's are totally impossible and in no way whatsoever portray any portion of what healthy fat loss entails. No, these people did not burn off 98,000 calories in one week. It is even doubtful that they lost 28 pounds of anything - even unhealthily.

The show is obviously about fat loss - it isn't titled, "the biggest loser of water and muscle", but that is exactly what is happening if you lose more than about 2 pounds of weight over 7 days. This show is totally sensationalistic crap that poses unhealthy rapid weight loss as something to be in awe of. For sure, if you're losing 28 pounds in seven days you have lost a huge amount of water and lean muscle mass and minimal fat. The show makes a trite attempt to provide some basic safe weight loss info on its web site - none of which is applied to any of its contestants.

NBC airs "The Biggest Loser" - a reality style elimination TV show where obese persons try to lose as much fat as possible each week.

  • Weight loss is wholly unhealthy - ranging from 5 to an extreme 30 pounds in one week
  • Candidates are put through extreme workouts that in reality would be harmful to any person starting an exercise program
  • Obese people are admonished for not achieving massive fat loss in extremely short periods
  • Show depicts an extraordinary emotional and physical struggle with fat loss that is beyond reality

The real losers are both the shows participants and viewers. The participants are put through exercise extremes that amount to nothing less than stupidity. Each time they are shown exercising they are in physical pain and suffering mental duress from the "trainer".

The viewer is once again subjected to the all too common "boot camp" sensationalized concept of exercise. At no time is it shown that losing fat is in fact not painful or restricting. At no time is the healthy standard of fat loss being between 2 and 8 pounds per month implemented. In fact, one participant lost 20 lb. in one week. 20 pounds of fat is 70,000 calories in total or 10,000 calories from fat per day. Keep in mind, weight loss does not mean healthy fat loss.

It is absolutely irrefutably impossible to burn 10,000 calories from fat in one day, even if you are a champion endurance athlete running nonstop for 10 hours - which of course the obese persons in the show are not, and could not. During one week of training for competitive cycling I will typically burn 8000 to 10,000 calories, and at times up to 15,000 calories from exercise alone. One of the shows contestants apparently burned 700% more calories in one week and is somehow healthy? This is very difficult to believe.

On hard race days I may burn up to 5000 calories in one day. Of those 5000 calories 30% or less will be fat, 60% carbs, and 10% protein. The non-athletic obese persons on this show are going to burn off more calories than a trained athlete? I don't think so. In fact it would be nothing short of insane to even suggest that they try because their untrained bodies could not handle the stress loads.

This disclaimer is posted on the shows web site, "Our contestants were supervised by doctors while participating in the show, and their diet and exercise regimen was tailored to their medical status and their specific needs. Consult with your own doctor before embarking on any diet or exercise program."

Interesting that the disclaimer does not state that the diet and exercise programs are deemed healthy. No physician in their right mind would condone a weight loss of 20 pounds in one weeks time as it is certain the amount of water and lean muscle loss required to achieve a 20 pound loss would be wholly unhealthy. It would also be difficult to find a medical professional who recommended exercising to the point of exhaustion and pain nearly every day, which is what the contestants did. Was there really a 20-pound weight loss at all? Or is this a number made up to sensationalize the process? The shows producers should be challenged to scientifically prove that a human can lose 20 pounds of fat in on week.

Aside from the physiological extremes and impossibilities showcased, each individual is put through ridicule and treated as a circus act. That goes part and parcel with the common "reality show", but instead of playing only on characteristics of human behavior, "The Biggest Loser" specifically targets overweight people and makes a mockery out of the serious process of losing weight to get healthy.

It is true that many who are overweight struggle with apathy towards changing their lifestyle to healthier living. Making this apathy into a target to use for purposeful humiliation is not part of the medically recommended treatment of healthy fat loss. Can you say; immoral? Unethical?

An example of this is when the contestants were given a choice; no contact with their families, or, if they ate a giant high-calorie desert, they would be granted telephone time with their families. Part of the deal is secluding the contestants from their families and the outside world while they attempt extreme weight loss in a sort of "boot camp". The contestants were shown deliberating the choice of breaking their diet commitment to gain access to their families, or keeping the diet commitment and holding off on family time. In the end nobody broke their diet commitment, and they were all rewarded contact with their families anyway.

Were the contestants put through a legitimate "test"? The show euphemistically portrayed the segment as a character building test of will. It looked more like a contrived manipulative scheme that put people through irrelevant and unnecessary mental anguish for the sole purpose of sensationalizing their weakness.

At one point in the show, a female contestant lost 5 pounds in one week, the least of any contestant. She was totally convinced that she failed, and that she was beneath the others who apparently lost up to 5 times more weight in one week. The reality is her weight loss was the closest to being realistic and healthy, as healthy fat loss for one week is known be as much as 2 pounds. The contestant also listed nearly every part of her body when explaining where she felt pain "from exercise". So how is exercise that hurts the entire body supposed to be good for anyone? How is feeling guilty for losing "only" five pounds productive? The shows contestants and viewer are exposed to false information regarding healthy fat loss.

One of the male contestants was limping on a treadmill complaining of an injured and sore knee. His "trainer" scoffed, "don't worry about it", and the man continued on limping. Need I say more?

The FTC (US Federal Trade Commission) is known to take action against companies that make unrealistic claims of rapid weight loss. Weight loss claims that are similar to those made by this TV show. I wonder if in the long term, shows like this would be allowed to air, given that any company that claimed to have a 20 lb weight loss in one week exercise or diet plan, would certainly be put under the microscope of the FTC.

In fact, the weight loss depicted in these shows qualifies as a "red Flag" under current FTC recommendations concerning bogus weight loss claims. Check out FTC information on bogus claims at this FTC web site

The show has succeeded in sensationalizing the serious epidemic of obesity, and thus has succeeded in making a popular show with ratings.

The commercial success of the show should not be taken as evidence that anything in the show is a valid representation of healthy fat loss. In fact, it is an abhorrent abomination of realty. It is the worst I have ever seen.

- Cris LaBossiere

2003-2004 Rhino Fitness

Copyright 2004 Rhino Fitness. All rights reserved.
For more information contact: clabossiere@rhinofitness.ca