After a massive weight loss, the contestants at the NBC’s hit reality TV show ‘Biggest Loser’ managed to gain all their weight back with some turning out to be even heavier than before. Researchers examined how this happened in a study published on Monday, May 2nd, in the journal Obesity by Dr Kevin Hall, a scientist at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, found that the metabolism rates of the contestants had slowed down over the years making it harder for them to burn down calories while storing whatever they ate as fat.

Before the show, the contestants were huge in size and excessively overweight but had normal metabolic rates and were burning calories at a normal rate but the body’s biology works in such a way that it restores all the weight it has lost due to dieting and exercising and will go back to its ‘normal ideal weight’. And it does this by slowing the metabolism down and not burning as many calories as it otherwise did earlier. Several hormones in the body are also affected such as ghrelin, insulin, peptide YY and particularly leptin, the hunger causing hormone.

Ghrelin sends the brain signals when our body is hungry and secretes this hormone when the stomach is empty and then decreases it when the stomach is filled up. In the case of weight loss ghrelin tends to soar high but does not go down at the same rate as it did before and therefore fooling the brain into thinking it is still hungry. Leptin, the hormone that regulates hunger, also starts to fall down making the individual hungrier than before and unable to stop him/herself from cravings and then eventually acting upon those cravings. Cahill, a contestant, shares his experience and mentions how he ‘blacked out’ and ended up eating an entire bag of chips due to leptin being taken out of his system. This information is highly crucial to understand as many people even outside the realm of this TV show blame themselves when they put on weight after losing it and feel ashamed, humiliated and embarrassed.

The assistant professor of medicine, Dr Holly Lofton, explains this phenomenon by saying that, ‘the body sees weight loss as an illness. The body has mechanisms designed to avoid it happening again’.

Weight loss is always portrayed as a ‘healthy solution’ to an unhealthy problem but this is not the case. Reality TV shows only give us one side of the picture and do not give a fully informed view of what is actually happening behind the scenes. By making the contestants indulge in intense cardio and workout sessions they don’t show what is yet to occur after the fame and glory has disappeared off the screen for a limited period of time. Many contestants have spoken about how the rapid weight loss on the show affected their health in other ways too by causing them severe hair loss, thyroid issues and irregular periods, kidney damage and chronic physical injuries.

Aging too is a factor that causes the body to react the way it is while trying to lose weight. Emma Stone, the famous actress who starred in Amazing Spiderman 2, known for her skinny appearance, says, ‘Keeping weight on is a struggle for me – especially when I’m under stress, and especially as I’ve gotten older.’

When informed about what is happening, many heaved a sigh of relief as they finally understood what was happening to their bodies. One of the contestants noticed how she would instantly gain weight after having a swig of beer yet her friends never managed to do so. Another was reported feeling that there was something wrong with her body when her body was not breaking down calories at the rate that it did.

Obesity is a huge problem in the US with over 35% adults suffering from this problem. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it costs $147 billion per year in medical spending. With such a huge number of the population affected by it, other alternative approaches need to be explored and looked into.

Researchers have found that sticking to exercise regularly in small and short dosages and not exhausting or shocking the body’s internal system by doing rigorous exercise for a few weeks manages to keep the weight in check and is more profitable in the long run. Walking is highly prescribed along with having a suitable breakfast everyday which should not be skipped under any circumstance. Increasing the levels of fruits and vegetables in our daily diet also goes a long way. It goes without saying however that high level of motivation is required to carry out this regime but there is hope for those who feel we are doomed.