You’ve probably heard a lot of buzz about the new study on Biggest Loser contestants, and their discouraging post-show weight-gain. The research, published in the journal Obesity, tracked 14 contestants for six years. The result: While each person initially shed an average of 100 pounds, only one was able to keep the weight off. The rest of the contestants regained much of the weight they lost.
But the real kicker is that it wasn't just about a lack of willpower or simply slipping back into old habits. The contestants actually experienced changes in their metabolism. Researchers found that participants’ metabolic rates slowed much more than expected, which made keeping weight off extra difficult and gaining weight back a whole lot easier. The contestants burned 600 fewer calories per day on average, compared to other adults of the same size. They also experienced a spike in hunger, due to changes in leptin, a hormone involved with appetite regulation. In other words, it was biologically more difficult for these individuals to keep the pounds at bay.
Since this story broke, I’ve seen floods of comments and reactions online like “Depressing!” and “Guess I should just give up!” But please, don't throw in the towel based on this one study. Here are three reasons it's well worth sticking to your health goals.
Your body may respond differently
This wasn't a definitive study about weight loss and metabolism. For starters, the sample size was very small and there was no control group. Which means the result may have been different for another group of participants who lost weight in another way, or at a different pace. Plus, diet plays a role. A 2012 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that people who stuck with a lower-carb, higher-protein diet experienced less of a drop in metabolism while losing weight compared to those who consumed a low-fat or low-glycemic index plan. So if you're on a weight loss path don't assume you're bound to struggle with the exact same kind of metabolic slow-down.
Healthy habits can affect hunger and metabolism
While hormones do play a key role in appetite regulation, there are plenty of other strategies that help keep hunger in check. Some science-backed tricks include eating lean protein and “good” fats like avocado and nuts; upping your intake of fiber-rich pulses, which include beans, peas, and lentils; eating slower and more mindfully; getting some sunlight in the morning; and listening to relaxing music. Also we now know that metabolism isn’t solely about diet and exercise—other factors like getting enough sleep and practicing meditation can impact our bodies’ ability to burn calories.
There are many success stories
Just because 13 Biggest Loser contestants had trouble keeping off the weight, doesn't mean every weight-loss story has the same ending. In fact, researchers from Brown Medical School and the University of Colorado have maintained a database of “successful losers” since 1994. The list now includes over 10,000 adults, all of which have lost at least 30 pounds and kept the weight off for more than a year. What's even more encouraging is their maintenance habits aren't extreme. A recent report, published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, focused on 3,000 people in the registry who maintained their weight loss for 10 years (an average of 70 pounds) and found their common habits include being regularly active, weighing in often, and eating consistently from day to day. These people are positive proof that you are not doomed to fail. And for even more reassurance, check out the many inspiring weight loss success stories on Health.com.
Cynthia Sass is a nutritionist and registered dietitian with master’s degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she’s Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Yankees, previously consulted for three other professional sports teams, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics. Sass is a three-time New York Times best-selling author, and her newest book is Slim Down Now: Shed Pounds and Inches with Real Food, Real Fast. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.