Eat less, move more, gain weight

Author: Matt Whitaker, Researcher and Trainer in Public Health/1 November 2017

“A Lesson From the Biggest Losers: Exercise Keeps Off the Weight” is a headline I saw this morning.
This headline and other media coverage so far basically suggests that in order to sustain weight loss you should exercise…. this is of course half of the traditional message of ‘eat less, move more’. If you have read our previous blogs on the matter you will know there are some limitations with this method. This blog aims to further dismiss this over simplified weight loss message!

These headlines are on the back of a new study (published today, 1/11/17) on the infamous ‘Biggest Loser’ results. The paper concludes “Consistent with previous reports, large and persistent increases in PA (physical activity) may be required for long-term maintenance of lost weight.” Okay, so could the key to sustaining weight loss be as simple as keeping up with your exercise routine?

The Biggest Loser is an American televised weight loss competition where participants go through an intensive 30 week diet and exercise intervention. They essentially eat less and move much, much more. However the extent to which they do this is far from realistic! Throughout the 30 week intervention participants had to perform 90 minutes of vigorous circuit training and/or aerobic training six days a week, in addition to this they were encouraged to perform an additional three hours of exercise a day. This translates to THIRTY HOURS OF EXERCISE EVERY WEEK! This is a similar level to professional athletes. In addition to this they consumed a diet consisting of less than 70% of their energy needs, working out on average to be less than 1400kcals every day. This ridiculous regime did of course lead to weight loss; 30kg of it on average!

We have discussed previously how, despite its limitations, ‘eat less, move more’ can work in the short term. As can most diets. However, what is important is whether it leads to sustained weight loss. The key to sustaining weight loss is arguably to lose weight without your metabolism (the rate at which you burn energy) reducing, as this reduction in metabolism is what causes weight loss plateaus and ultimately weight re-gain, as I have previously discussed here. So did this impressive weight loss lead to any reductions in participants’ metabolisms? Of course it did…. On average at the end of the show (30 weeks in) participants had reduced their metabolism by 504kcals, 25% of what we deem in the UK to be the energy requirement for an adult! With this large reduction in energy out participants would need to further decrease energy in to maintain the energy deficit the ‘eat less, move more’ principle is based on.

Since these initial results there has been a period of silence during which we were left wondering whether the weight loss was sustained or whether participants gained any back…. Today’s paper has finally answered these questions and, despite the catchy headlines that come with it and the false conclusions made the ultimate outcome was as expected…. Significant weight re-gain, actually worse than some may have thought!

So let’s talk about today’s paper. Six years on from the initial Biggest Loser competition, how are the participants doing, did they stick to their diets? Did they stick to eat less and move more? Yes, yes they did. In fact on average participants increased exercise from baseline (before the show) by between 35% and 160% and they reduced their dietary intake by 7.4% to 8.7% of total calories. So following the assumption that it is all down to calories and eat less move more is all it takes for weight loss then you would like to think their weight remained stable or even reduced further. Actually what happened when you compare stats to the Biggest Loser end point (30 weeks in) was the following:

Weight INCREASED on average of 40kg
BMI INCREASED by 13.4kg/m2
Fat mass INCREASED by 35kg (88% of total weight gain)
Metabolic rate REDUCED by a further 100 calories

These statistics are shocking! Granted, weight was not regained to what it was before the biggest loser programme for some participants (which resulted some considering the results a success) but you can see they are on a very slippery slope heading that way! One person was eating -1700kcals compared to baseline and exercising 4kcals/kg/day more than they were at baseline yet they gained ~35kg in the six years!

Only one person sustained their weight loss, giving an outstanding failure rate of eat less, move more of….. 93%!!!!

So there we have it, more research that is intended to prove that it is down to calories in versus calories out, ironically shows how oversimplified this message is!

Any questions, feedback and/or suggestions would be most welcomed, please email me at
Matthew.Whitaker@xperthealth.org.uk

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