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Posts Tagged ‘The Biggest Loser’

Wrong Diet and Too Much Exercise Can Sabotage Weight Loss

January 23rd, 2013 at 1:24 pm by timigustafson

You think you do everything right. You stick to a lean diet and you go for runs and workouts in the gym. Still, the numbers on the scale won’t budge. It’s a frustrating experience many Americans go through during ‘resolution season’ when the damage from the holidays is supposed to get undone.

There can be multiple reasons for unsuccessful attempts at weight loss. Surprisingly, some of the most logical measures such as calorie restriction and fitness training can be among them. How is that possible?

“A healthy diet and consistent exercise are a safe bet at dropping pounds, yet research and evidence suggests that other factors may contribute to how easy it is for you to gain and lose weight,” says Jenna Morris, a personal trainer and writer for

Of course, making changes to eating habits that resulted in weight gain may be necessary. But you should proceed with caution, warns Morris. “If you dip too far below your recommended daily intake, then you risk actually slowing your metabolism and making weight loss even more challenging.”

If your weight loss efforts are too aggressive, you may deprive your body in unhealthy ways. A simultaneous reduction in calorie intake and increase in expenditure can cause you to burn valuable, metabolic-boosting muscle, which can make it harder to lose weight, warns Dr. Melina Jampolis, a physician nutrition specialist and contributor to

Studies on the effects of different levels of exercising on weight loss have found that high-intensity training may not always produce the desired (or imagined) results. People who watch weight loss shows like “The Biggest Loser” on NBC often come to believe that exhausting workouts are the answer, when in fact moderate but consistent exercise routines have shown greater long-term success.

“People who exercise less may end up burning just enough calories to lose weight, but not enough to feel compelled to replace them, either by eating more or remain sedentary otherwise,” said Dr. Mads Rosenkilde of the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, the lead researcher in one of the studies. “Those who exercise a lot […] may feel more drained, which prompts them to compensate.”

There can also be other factors involved such as interference from medications or medical conditions like an underactive thyroid gland or Cushing’s syndrome. Or genetic components to weight and metabolism may play a role. There are hundreds of genes that are responsible for weight regulation, says Dr. Jampolis, many of which are designed for survival by preventing starvation. In our modern environment where food is plentiful, they still function, but often in the wrong way.

For healthy, lasting weight loss, she recommends introducing smaller changes over time. If you still can’t lose weight, it might be better to just accept your current weight for the time being and focus on the prevention of more weight gain, which is for many a hard task in itself. But don’t give up on your regular exercise routine, she advises. “It is much healthier to be fit and overweight than to be thin and inactive.”

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.”, and at You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.


More Realistic Goals, Longer Lasting Results

January 16th, 2013 at 10:58 am by timigustafson

The NBC hit show, “The Biggest Loser,” now in its 14th season, is well known for its rigorous (to put it mildly) workout sessions where contestants are regularly driven to the brink of collapse in the pursuit of rapid weight loss. Of course, all the huffing and puffing during the exercising also adds drama and entertainment without which the show would probably not have lasted this long.

Although the participants come from all age groups, this year’s focus is on obesity among children and adolescents, which is a good idea considering that 17 percent (12.5 million) of Americans age 2 to 19 are now diagnosed as obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Since 1980, obesity rates among the young have tripled, and the latest data show only slight improvements despite of stepped-up efforts by government agencies and advocacy groups to curb the trend.

While it is disheartening to see how much damage the obesity crisis is doing to all generations, programs like “The Biggest Loser” can help convey the message that it is never too early or too late to make positive changes, provided one is willing to put in the hard work. For that they should be applauded. Still, there are some disconcerting elements at play here.

With progressive success in their weight loss efforts, many of the contestants develop a high, if not inflated confidence level. Naturally, a certain amount of faith in one’s abilities is necessary just to stay motivated. However, when I hear a candidate who has still a long way to go to a healthy weight range talk about her plans for running a complete marathon in the near future, I wonder how expectations of what’s possible can sometimes spin so much out of control. Yes, it would be a headline-grabbing sensation if a once morbidly obese person could pull off one of the most challenging athletic performances known to man after just a few month of training – but is that a healthy, even desirable prospect? Why this tendency to swing from one extreme to another?

It is no secret that radical weight loss bouts over short periods of time don’t last in most cases. So-called yo-yo dieting is a well-known phenomenon in the weight loss industry. Many former “The Biggest Loser” contestants have gained at least some of their old weight back. What seems feasible within a controlled environment often doesn’t hold up when people resume their own daily routines.

And there is also no need for that. The intensity and rigor of a concentrated weight loss program cannot and should not continue indefinitely. Studies have shown that most people reap the greatest benefits from light to moderate but consistent exercise such as resistance training, fast walking or jogging for limited distances (up to 20 miles per week). More than that does not produce significantly greater advantages for physical health or longevity, according to Dr. Carl Lavie, medical director of cardiac rehabilitation and prevention at the Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans who conducted extensive research on the subject. “If anything,” he says, “it appears that less running is associated with the best protection from mortality risk. More is not better, and actually, more could be worse.”

His colleague and study report co-author, Dr. James H. O’Keefe, a specialist in preventive cardiovascular medicine, agrees. “In general, it appears that exercise, like any therapy, results in a bell-shaped curve in terms of response and benefits. To date, the data suggest that walking and light jogging are almost uniformly beneficial for health and do increase life span. But with more vigorous or prolonged exercise, the benefits can become questionable,” he said in an interview with the New York Times.

So, instead of going from years of overeating and doing no exercise whatsoever to competitive running, I suggest that the young lady in question finds some middle ground where she can manage her weight and engage in an overall health-promoting lifestyle that can make life so much better for her for the rest of her life. The same goes for the rest of us.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.”, and at You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.


Health Educators Should Learn from the Entertainment Industry

September 15th, 2011 at 12:42 pm by timigustafson

The information age has made the public extremely knowledgeable on almost every topic there is. Whether it’s about politics, business, science, technology or health, most of us have easy access to the information that exists on any given subject.

Before the Internet – if you are old enough to remember that there once was such a time – things were different. You had to go to a bookstore or a library and study up if you wanted to know about something in greater detail. Now, it’s all literally at your fingertips. We are all experts now.

While there is nothing wrong with a better-informed society – to the contrary – these changes have certain consequences we need to be aware of. Expertise and authority are being much more questioned now than they used to be. Not long ago, if you went to the doctor, he told you what to do to cure your ailment – and that was that. Today, it’s more the other way around. My own clients bring me stacks of printouts from websites they’ve browsed through before scheduling their next consulting session.

At the same time, it seems, we are not able to translate this dramatic increase of knowledge into action. We have the data, we receive the instructions, but incorporating them in our daily lives is still another matter.

Take, for example, the government’s “Dietary Guidelines.” Never before in history were we given so much detailed information about our nutritional health. At the same time, the obesity crisis keeps getting worse. Why the disconnect? Obviously the messages are not getting through despite of the fact that they’re being conveyed in the most user-friendly ways.

Communication experts have long known that what they call the “entertainment factor” plays an important role in the learning process. To absorb information – any information ¬– our attention must first be aroused. Then it must be kept stimulated, so our attention span extends long enough for the message to be delivered. The news industry knows that, the advertising industry knows that, the entertainment industry knows that – they all live and die by how well they perform this fine art of keeping us, the audience, interested.

ABC News/Health has recently published a survey of how popular TV shows influence viewers’ behavior in terms of their health. They listed programs that played in a hospital or health care environment, like “Grey’s Anatomy,” a hospital drama. Of course, the “Biggest Loser” on NBC, which is about to start its 12th season, has to be mentioned. A new reality show, titled “Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition,” follows a similar format. “The Last Heart Attack,” an episode of CNN’s health series “Dr. Sanjay Gupta Reports” that included an interview with former President Bill Clinton on his heart condition, made a big splash. Analysts involved in these surveys say these shows do have an impact on the audience beyond viewing time.

When viewers follow a person’s struggle to lose weight and regain their health, they eventually come to think about themselves. “It’s about changing your mindset, [which] is going to be life-changing and personality-changing,” said Dr. Keith Ayoob, professor of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, referring to the participants in “Extreme Makeover.” Some of these effects inevitably rub off on the audience, which, of course, is the point.

Undoubtedly, we are visual creatures. What we see influences us perhaps more than any other factor in our daily learning processes. Often that takes place in a subconscious manner. Here is an example: A few days ago, I saw the movie “Contagion,” a thriller about the outbreak of a lethal virus that ends up killing millions around the globe. As the title indicates, the infection is highly contagious and can be transmitted by coughing, touching and even by indirect contact, like holding on to a railing or pressing an elevator button. The initial symptoms are similar to a severe cold or flu before it gets much worse.

Although the movie theater was quite full, there was not a single cough to be heard throughout the performance – which is unusual, because hearing someone else cough can often result in similar reactions around that person; it’s psychologically contagious, too, if you will. I think it’s not far fetched to think that nobody in that audience dared to cough because of the drama that was unfolding in front of our eyes. And after the film, guess what? That’s right. Bathrooms filled up fast with people wanting to wash their hands as quickly as possible. They don’t do this normally, not to that extent.

So what can health care providers, like myself, learn from all this? For starters, we should certainly not dismiss the value of good entertainment. Despite of increased efforts to make health education more palatable, especially for younger generations, criticism persists that it remains impractical, elitist and out of touch with the real world. Many comments in the press on the newest version of the government’s nutritional guidelines for Americans, “Myplate,” reflect this continuing sentiment. Maybe, we experts should get out of the proverbial ivory tower more often and go the movies instead.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (, and at You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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About timigustafson

Timi Gustafson, RD, LDN, FAND is a registered dietitian, health counselor, book author, syndicated newspaper columnist and blogger. She lectures on nutrition and healthy living to audiences worldwide. She is the founder and president of Solstice Publications LLC, a publishing company specializing in health and lifestyle education. Timi completed her Clinical Dietetic Internship at the University of California Medical Center, San Francisco. She is a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, an active member of the Washington State Dietetic Association, a member of the Diabetes Care and Education, Healthy Aging, Vegetarian Nutrition and the Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition practice groups. For more information, please visit

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