Readers send me links to articles all the time. (Bless all of you who do.) Some articles are particularly newsworthy or timely and become fodder for blog posts. Others don’t and end up in what I now think of as the Cold Case Files. They’re old, but still worth digging out now and then for a second look.
I just came across one that deserves a second look because it relates to my recent posts on how U.S. News ranked the popular diets and The Rider And The Elephant. I poked fun at how U.S. News ranked the Slim Fast diet #13 while placing the paleo diet 35th out of 35 – because it’s just so darned hard to follow, you see. What I didn’t mention in that post is that the Biggest Loser diet was ranked #9. The U.S. News panel of experts had this to say about eating like a Biggest Loser:
The diet received high marks for short-term weight loss, safety and soundness as a regimen for diabetes, and it was rated moderately effective for heart health.
Good for short-term weight loss — and it must not be hard to follow, because according to the (ahem) logic the panelists cited while putting paleo at the bottom of the list, a difficult diet should earn a bad score.
We know the Biggest Loser diet is good for short-term weight loss because we see people losing impressive amounts of weight during weekly weigh-ins on the TV show, right? Uh-huh … so let’s take a look at an article from an Australian news service I found in my Cold Case Files:
Andrew ‘Cosi’ Costello was a contestant on the Biggest Loser in 2008 … Today, Cosi writes exclusively for news.com.au about what contestants really have to go through on the hit Channel 10 show.
“The only thing that really disappoints me about the Biggest Loser is the length of time between the weigh-ins. Have you ever wondered how the contestants manage to lose a staggering 12 kilos in a single week? We don’t. In my series a weekly weigh-in was NEVER filmed after just one week of working out. In fact the longest gap from one weigh-in to the next was three and a half weeks. That’s 25 days between weigh-ins, not seven. That “week” I lost more than nine kilos. I had to stand on the scales and was asked to say the line, “wow, it’s a great result, I’ve worked really hard this week”. The producers made sure that we never gave this secret away, because if we did, it created a nightmare for them in the editing suite. The shortest gap from weigh-in to weigh-in during our series was 16 days. That’s a fact.”
So that short-tem weight loss isn’t as impressive as the U.S. News panelists think it is.
“The thing is, overweight people get inspired by watching the Biggest Loser. They get off the couch and they hit the gym. But after a week in the real world, some people might only lose 1kg so they feel like they’ve failed and they give up. That’s where the show is misleading. You need to remember it’s a TV show, it’s not all real. In fact, not even the scales we stood on were real.”
Awesome. So people watching the show try starving themselves and horsewhipping themselves into hours of exercise so they can achieve a similarly awesome seven-day weight loss … except the weight loss might have actually required 25 days and was measured on a not-real scale, at least while the cameras were rolling.
“I would say that about 75 per cent of the contestants from my series in 2008 are back to their starting weight. About 25 per cent had had gastric banding or surgery.”
If 75 percent are back to the their starting weight and 25 percent had bariatric surgery, that would leave … hang on, let me get out the calculator … almost nobody achieving long-term weight loss.
Yes, but … uh … the short-term weight loss is good. Just ask the experts consulted by U.S. News.
“Anyone can lose weight in a controlled environment; I’d say it’s almost impossible not to lose weight on the Biggest Loser. But the show doesn’t address the reasons why people like me are so obsessed and addicted to eating excess amounts of food; it doesn’t get to the root of the problem.”
Bingo. People who go on The Biggest Loser are (as the article makes clear) agreeing to be in lockdown. Same goes for people who participate in metabolic ward studies. And yes, under those circumstances, you can probably demonstrate that all weight-loss diets work as long as the dieter sticks to the diet, as some internet cowboys like to point out. So what? All that tells us is that if you lock the elephant in a cell, he doesn’t run away — because he can’t. But he’ll be miserable the whole time, and when he’s no longer in lockdown, he won’t be hanging around for long – even if the rider thinks he should.
When Ancel Keys conducted his semi-starvation study in the 1940s, the participants were in lockdown. Yup, they lost weight. They also lost their energy, their ability to concentrate, their sex drive, their desire to talk about much of anything besides food, and – in a couple of cases – their sanity. One man bit off his own finger to get released from the study. That’s an elephant being pretty damned determined to run away. Soon after the study ended, all of the men regained the lost weight, and some gained more than they’d lost. After being starved, the elephant wanted to protect itself against future starvation.
So again, I don’t give a rat’s rear-end what the (ahem) experts consulted by U.S. News consider a good diet. A good diet is a diet that keeps the elephant happy instead of dragging him to a place he doesn’t want to go. And I doubt the Biggest Loser diet fits that definition for most people.