Body Kindness Podcast Episode 8 – That Biggest Loser Study

Body Kindness with Rebecca Scritchfield, RDNIn today’s episode of Body Kindness we’re talking about That Biggest Loser Study.

Last week the media exploded when the New York Times reported a new study of Biggest Loser Season 8 contestants that found that their bodies had “fought to regain weight”. Six years after the show:

  • all but one contestant had regained a significant portion of their lost weight – an average of 70%
  • their resting metabolisms had permanently slowed, burning an average 500 fewer calories a day than other people their age and size
  • they had significantly lower levels of leptin, the body’s satiety hormone.

You won’t be surprised to discover that Bernie and I have a lot to say about this study. We unpack the findings and talk about what they mean for the rest of us. I’ve also got some great advice for Bernie on how to find a healthy, body kindness way forward.

So if the news of this study made you want to throw your hands in the air with despair ‒ or left you feeling more confused than ever ‒ don’t miss this episode.

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Listen to Episode 8 below…

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Here’s what we talked about…

  • I explained why this study is significant. It’s extremely rare for a study to run for six years – most studies only last a matter of months, usually due to funding. The results are meaningful as six years is long enough to show the potential for weight cycling.
  • We talked about our reactions to the article and its uncanny timing so soon after Bernie’s Loser Letter in Episode 7. Bernie says he was floored by the news and still unsure what to think. There is some hurt and anger, yet some relief to hear that there are biological reasons why he’s struggled with his weight post-Loser despite all his efforts. He sensed something was not right with his body, but carried a personal sense of blame and shame for gaining weight.
  • I expressed my annoyance that the researchers don’t seem to learn anything significant from their own study by concluding that The Biggest Loser results are still better than other methods out there. Their call to action is to “fight” and find a way to turn leptin into medication. Do the researchers realize that they’re not just measuring the impact of doing the show on metabolism but also each contestant’s entire dieting history? We know the more and longer someone has dieted, the higher weight can climb.
  • It’s maddening to see the author and researchers use the same kind of thinking that created all these problems to try to solve them. Deep down society doesn’t want to hear about the existence of fat people! They have been around forever. While there are lots of factors at play, size diversity exists.
  • We talked about the two key findings of the study. The first was the metabolic slowdown of the contestants. Their metabolism was low when they left the show – which is expected as the body needs fewer calories to survive as it loses weight. But what confounded the researchers was as participants regained weight, metabolism did not increase proportionately.
  • This means a person who has lost weight is burning fewer calories and has a slower metabolism than a person of the same size who has not experienced weight loss.
  • Of the Season 8 participants Danny Cahill had the biggest discrepancy in metabolic rate, burning 800 fewer calories per day. In real life terms, this would mean he would have to skip lunch every day of his life in order to prevent weight gain. Accepted scientific wisdom has been that your body will need more calories as you gain weight but the study showed this was not the case.
  • The other significant finding was that contestant’s leptin levels were extremely low after the show. Leptin levels were expected to increase in the following years but only reached 50% of predicted levels. Leptin is the satiety hormone that says “hey, I’m full!” (the opposing hormone is ghrelin which tells you when you’re hungry).
  • I explained that if you engage in extreme weight loss methods like Biggest Loser then shift to more moderate measures, even if you try to tune into your body’s fullness signals your hormones will tell you that you don’t have enough. Bernie says this describes his experience of satiety since leaving the show.
  • The conclusion here is that the body fights back. The weight loss methods on The Biggest Loser are about vanity, and health and wellbeing get hijacked for extreme weight loss.
  • I also expressed my frustration that some “weight loss experts” say this study simply demonstrates the dangers of extreme diets, however many studies point to similar metabolic results in more moderate approaches. We can’t accept that dieting is worse for your body than taking care of it!
  • Bernie asked me what we should do with these findings, worrying that this study might make our listeners feel like giving up.
  • I mentioned Dr. Deb Burgard, a California psychologist and eating disorder specialist who disagrees with the conclusions of the study:
    “People are still talking about ‘solutions’ like medications to eliminate hunger or massive therapeutic teams for life — and I think clinicians do not want to disappoint higher weight people who are desperate to change their weight. We have to grapple with the facts here and open our minds to what we can do to support the wellbeing of people at every weight.”
  • I believe this is where the answer lies – we need to support wellbeing and true health first – physical and mental. You can be healthy and unhealthy at a wide variety of sizes.
  • I encouraged Bernie to find peace with the past and his Biggest Loser experience so he can get to a place of wellbeing. While there may be metabolic impact beyond his control, he is in charge his other choices. I encouraged him and our listeners to not check out of self care, but rather to continue on his Body Kindness path. The three pillars of Body Kindness  – love, connection, and caring – are guides for how we make choices. I believe the answer lies in being kind to his body, eating balanced food and nourishing himself. Being rigid and restrictive won’t help, it will only reduce leptin levels.
  • I encourage people to not give up on taking care of yourself but to start thinking about – what is my value, what does self care look like for me, and commit to that.
  • This is hard in a society that isn’t accepting of different sizes and shapes but we can change society by using our voices and by advocating for ourselves and what health means.
  • I gently challenged Bernie to call a truce with his weight-based approach and try focusing on habits. Is he willing to pursue the idea of being in his current body while taking care of himself?
  • Bernie says while he is feeling he chooses to feel empowered by the news and work towards making peace with the past.
  • We finished with some wisdom from my coffee cup:

Coffee cup wisdom

Links mentioned in the show

What did you think of Bernie’s letter?

Let’s continue the conversation – we’d love to hear your thoughts. You can get in touch here.

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Nothing in this podcast is meant to provide medical diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevent any disease or condition. Individuals should consult a qualified healthcare provider for medical advice and answers to personal health questions.

Body Kindness Podcast Episode 7 “The Loser Letter”

Body Kindness with Rebecca Scritchfield, RDNIn today’s episode of Body Kindness In today’s episode we’re talking about The Loser Letter. As Bernie watched the confetti drop on the recent Biggest Loser finale, he was filled with a complex mix of emotions. This inspired him to write a powerful open letter about all he’s learned in the eight years since his time on the Ranch. His thoughtful advice is not only for his Biggest Loser Alumni – but for all us striving to live a healthier life and practice Body Kindness.

For those who don’t know, Bernie was the At-Home Winner of NBC’s The Biggest Loser, Season 5. His goal was to transform his life and get healthy, but if you know the show at all, you know the focus is on who can lose the most weight through extreme exercise and dieting. Bernie lost a lot of weight on the show, but also lost who he was in the process. He didn’t really become the healthy person he hoped, especially when he obsessed over excessive exercise and rigid food rules in the name of “health.” If you’ve ever been through significant changes in your habits, weight loss or not, you may be able to relate to what Bernie went through in his personal life.

Have a question or comment for us? You can get in touch here.

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Listen to Episode 7 below…

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Here’s what we talked about…

  • Bernie shared his Letter To My Fellow Losers. You can read the full transcript at the end of the show notes, and here’s a summary:
    • Take time to unpack. After the whirlwind of information and emotions on the show, Bernie strongly recommends finding a therapist or other professional to help you understand the full impact of your transformation and ensure your long-term success.
    • Out with the old, in with the new (sort of) – Bernie suggests examining your environment and relationships to identify any changes needed in order to support your new lifestyle. Communicate openly and honestly with your loved ones about how they can support you, or consider if some relationships may need to be redefined.
    • Redefine your definition of health. You’ve gone through an extreme experience – from your pre-weight loss life to an intense TV competition with strict diet and exercise regime. It’s time to decide what sustainable good health will look like for you now.
  • I shared my thoughts about Bernie’s letter. I emphasised that The Biggest Loser is above all an entertainment show, and that the competition and gameplay can overshadow doing what it takes to truly get healthy from the inside out.
  • We talked about inspiration. It is up to you to choose who and what inspires you, but the best inspiration comes from a place of love – you can’t hate yourself healthy. Comparing your efforts to a contestant’s rapid results or weight loss methods can be a harmful brand of inspiration. Make sure you focus on what health means to you, in your life, for the long term.
  • I mentioned that the show often reflects our culture’s problem of stigmatising people based on their size. Studies have shown that we’re less likely to practice self care if we’re bullied or stigmatised.
  • I loved Bernie’s message about taking the time to unpack the Biggest Loser experience. Healing the mind is an important and integral part of taking care of your body.
  • I asked Bernie if he missed anything about his pre-Bigger Loser self. He said Bigger Bernie had a lot of fun and he misses not thinking about everything he eats. He’d love to be in a place where he’s nourishing his body without having to think about every single step. I assured him this will come as he builds more trust in himself – finding balance, practicing body kindness without judgement. Being healthy is fun if you’re doing it right!
  • I challenged Bernie on his point about avoiding difficult “food occasions”. It’s natural to want to run from that discomfort, but avoiding the party doesn’t solve the issue. The way to become the kind of person who says no cake when they don’t want to cake, is to practice being the person who says no to cake when they don’t want cake!
  • This led us beautifully to our current book club selection, The Upside of Stress (you can read more about it here.). As Dr. McGonigal writes, stress is energy. Dealing with food pushers at a party will create stress. If you choose to avoid the party, you’re saying you can’t handle it and you’re not using the energy the stress gives you. If you go to the party and practice tolerating that discomfort, the energy of stress can help you grow stronger.
  • We wrapped up by talking about one of my favourite words… fear. You can choose what this word means to you: Face Everything And Recover, or F*** Everything And Run! Which one will you choose?

What did you think of Bernie’s letter?

Let’s continue the conversation – we’d love to hear your thoughts. You can get in touch here.

We’d love if you could rate us on iTunes – it only takes a few seconds and helps spread the Body Kindness message.

Read Bernie’s Letter To My Fellow Losers in full…

Another season of The Biggest Loser has just wrapped up, and we saw two brothers from the great city of Chicago crowned as both the at-home winner and The Biggest Loser.

Seeing them win reminded me of my experience on the show. The sense of pride and accomplishment that I felt for having dedicated myself to getting healthy and the recognition that came along with it.

In just a few days I‘ll be celebrating my 8-year anniversary of having been crowned the at-home winner on Season 5. I can’t help but look back and think of all the things I wished I knew then that I am just beginning to fully understand about my experience now.

So it’s in that vein that I write this letter of encouragement and advice to the new alumni of the show, in hopes that they will find a sense of peace, balance, and a greater sense of self -understanding. Below are three pointers, that I wish someone would have shared with me as I boarded the plane for home.

1. Take Time to Unpack

The last several months have been a whirlwind and you have been inundated with not only the BL’s version of the “Do’s and Don’ts” of healthy living, but more significantly a wide range of emotions that you haven’t really had time to fully unpack.

I know what you’re probably thinking, “I already talked it over with my trainer or other various staff from the show and I’m good”. Believe me when I say you’re not. I’m sorry to have to tell you but the experiences and emotions that contributed to your past state aren’t going to magically be resolved because of an on-air breakthrough. Although significant, your ability to identify some of those unhealthy contributing factors was just that, a breakthrough, needing further exploration, awareness, and will take time for resolve to be found.

My suggestion is to identify a professional psychologist, psychiatrist, or certified life coach that you can work with to better understand the full impact of the transformation you have just undergone. I’d like to leave you little room for misinterpretation here, this is a professional much like an RD or certified personal trainer that you will need to have continual interaction with if you are going to see results. Please don’t overlook this tip if you are truly wanting long-term success this is just as critical as working out or eating healthy.

2. Out with the Old, In with the New… well, sort of

Upon arriving home you’re going to be subject to all those familiar places and faces that played a part in your past life. Do not put off identifying, which things will serve to enrich your life and which things are better left in the past. I know…this is easier said than done, but take it one small step at a time. For example start with the easy stuff… that buffet style restaurant that you love to go to because it’s such a great deal. Let’s face it – you’ve already tried everything it has to serve up, it’s time to discover a better choice. How about getting rid of old clothes that no longer fit, in exchange for new better fitting ones…not only can that be fun, but it also allows you the chance to personally celebrate how far you’ve come.

Now for some of those not so easy decisions, those personal relationships; you know the ones I’m talking about, that friend or family member who has been waiting to see you, so that they can celebrate your transformation by taking you to an old stomping ground or treating you to your favorite hometown treat. Redefining your relationships with loved ones can be tricky; it all comes down to communication. How would you like to incorporate that person into your new life? What role do you see them playing, that will contribute to the new you? How can you go about communicating that to them in a way that won’t harm the relationship?

If it’s a casual relationship perhaps it won’t be that difficult but if it’s a loved one this can prove more difficult. My advice is to be open and honest with them about what you would like their new role in your life to be. Ask them if they are willing to work on your relationship so that it reflects the new you. If they are up to working with you in achieving your new goals then great, if not don’t be afraid to lessen your interaction with them, or if you have to, let it go altogether.

How about those relationships you can’t simply let go of, a life partner, your kids, parents, a brother, or sister…this can prove extremely difficult. I’ve found some success in being unwavering in your dedication to living healthier. Plan your interactions with them to ensure they involve activities you are comfortable with and sit out those family get-togethers that you know are going to put you in a place that your not ok with. You owe it to yourself to communicate to those around you that this change wasn’t merely for the sake of the show.

3. Redefine Your Definition of Health

Lastly, it is critical that you take the time to redefine what health means to you. Prior to your experience on the show maybe you thought that being healthy meant seeing a certain number on the scale, or seeing a slimmer you in the mirror. On the show, it was all about grueling workouts and a strict diet. You literally went from not completely knowing what it was to be healthy to the total opposite extreme of counting every calorie you consumed and worked off.

I hope by now you have begun to realize that health is more than a number. For me being healthy is a feeling; a state of being (mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically), the ability to be an active participant in my own life.

If you would have asked me to define what it meant to be healthy after my time on the show, I might have given you a similar answer as the one above, but the difference now is that through hard work and careful self-reflection, I have moved past the rhetoric and actually understand and value what I was just sort of spouting off back then. Knowing that working out 3 to 6 hours a day isn’t realistic or that counting every single calorie you consume will eventually get old, how will you choose to define “Health”, so that the definition contributes to your wellbeing rather than stands for something you are in constant fear of not living up to.

Redefining the term “Health” in your life will serve to help you identify and overcome the inevitable barriers you will encounter along your journey. Most importantly knowing what role health plays in your life, should you allow it, will provide you room for true self-reflection, complete self-care, true body kindness and lasting happiness.

So there you are a few pointers from a fellow “Loser”, I hope this brief letter and the contents shared within help to shed light on some of the many things you might encounter along your journey in the years to come. I wish each and every one of you the very best and most of all continued Health.


Bernie Salazar
At-Home Winner Season 5

Get more info to your inbox

If you’ve not joined us already, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter subscribe to my newsletter to get Body Kindness tips and recipes straight to your inbox, along with my free Feel Great Guide and health and happiness journal.

Nothing in this podcast is meant to provide medical diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevent any disease or condition. Individuals should consult a qualified healthcare provider for medical advice and answers to personal health questions.

Biggest Loser: Bernie’s Book

By Carlene Helble-Elite Nutrition Intern

We are sending a big “Congratulations!” to Rebecca’s Nurture Principles speaking partner, Bernie Salazar! He just completed Monstercise, his first children’s book, which hits stores in 2011.  In an interview with Extra Bernie said “It’s about getting America’s children nice and healthy using their imagination, playing a lot more.” See his interview and get inspired to get you and your little ones moving!

We can’t wait to see more and hope you keep a look out for it in 2011!

Cheryl Forberg Discusses “The Biggest Loser: 6 Weeks to a Healthier You”

I had the great pleasure to sit down with superstar dietitian Cheryl Forberg, RD, who just so happens to be a professional chef and the nutrition expert behind the wildly successful weight loss on NBC’s The Biggest Loser! She talked with me about her latest book, The Biggest Loser: 6 Weeks to a Healthier You, which released yesterday. Plus, read on to see how you can win a copy for yourself!

Rebecca: Cheryl, you’ve authored several wonderful books for Biggest Loser so far and I was personally a big fan of Biggest Loser Simple Swaps, what makes The Biggest Loser: 6 Weeks to a Healthier You different than other books?

Cheryl: There are many books on the market catering to dieting and weight loss. One of the distinctions of The Biggest Loser eating plan is that the quality of the calories is as important as the quantity. Our eating plan has evolved since we began 10 seasons ago, and I’m happy to say that it’s continually improved in terms of including less and less processed food choices.

You won’t find any artificial sweeteners in the Ranch kitchen these days – no fat-free whipped toppings, etc. It’s all about whole foods/whole grains, lots of lean protein and good fats. The recipes in the new book reflect that. The other distinction is that this book includes 6 weeks of menu plans. It’s easy to tell/teach people which foods to choose, but it’s not so easy to put it into practice, especially when you’re busy, as most of us are. We’ve made it easy for you by providing 6 complete weeks of menus and recipes to help you with meal planning as well as shopping.

Rebecca: Wow, Cheryl! It’s like having you for a personal chef for 6 weeks! I see a huge value in that. I agree that it is about the quality of the foods you eat most of the time. I’m sure readers will be excited to know that the book will emphasize high quality whole foods.

I think a lot of people who are fans of the show watch and get inspired, but sometimes may feel like they won’t be as successful as contestants. How does this book help fans on the show with their weight loss journey?

Cheryl: You’re right, people sometimes hope for dramatic results as seen on the show. Though this IS a reality show, it’s NOT realistic to expect similar results at home. The contestants are sequestered away from their families, friends, jobs, school, etc. Their FULL TIME job is losing weight. They have the luxury of time, personal trainers, fabulous food, a registered dietitian, and our occasional guest chef, Curtis Stone, helps provide cooking instruction (as do I when I’m at Ranch for my assessments). This book reminds readers that a slower, more gradual weight loss is perfectly fine and not to expect the same results as what they see on the show.

Rebecca: That’s a good point. Viewers can get the book with the confidence that the meal plans are similar to the show and realistic for healthy weight loss, but they should not feel obligated to focus on nutrition and exercise full time. Slow and steady progress will still get them to their goal.

Is there something special about 6 Weeks to a Healthier You? Why not four or eight weeks?

Cheryl: Most books that provide menu plans may give you a week, 2 weeks, 10 days or a month! Six weeks is really an added dose not only of more menus to help you find your groove to stick with it, but each week also provides additional health tips and info. Overall, 6 Weeks to a Healthier You focuses on nutrient-dense high quality foods – but we also share the health benefits that these ingredients confer to make your choices and the recipes, even more seductive

Rebecca: Ohhhh…. seductive! I like that. I don’t know why people sometimes think eating healthy is boring! I also like that you give the education in weekly “bits” so they don’t have to take on too much, too fast.

As a successful chef and Biggest Loser nutritionist, what words of wisdom do you have for anyone who is struggling with healthy lifestyle changes?

Cheryl: Most people have fallen into an unhealthy rut over time, not overnight. Don’t place high expectations on yourself to reach your goals overnight either. Start with small approachable steps and build week by week. There’s less chance you’ll get overwhelmed and more chance that you’ll see slow, steady results making this plan seductive
and easy to stick with.

Rebecca: Excellent advice! Thanks for taking the time to chat with me and best wishes with this book and The Biggest Loser!

Eat Like Bernie: Southwest Turkey Burger with Avocado

Bernie Salazar, at-home winner of The Biggest Loser (season 5) delivers this guest blog and video. Together with our resident nutrition guru, Rebecca Scritchfield, Bernie motivates audiences to make positive changes through The Nurture Principles.

Hey, hey! Bernie Salazar here… I’m so excited to share this video blog with you on one of my favorite foods I’ve been eating since losing 130 pounds on The Biggest Loser, The Amazing Avocado!

Watch me turn one of my old meals – burger and fries – into a delicious and nutritious Southwest Turkey Burger.

I love the creamy texture of avocados on my burger. Three slices have only 50 calories! Find out how else I incorporate avocados into my well-balanced eating plan in this video. Then, leave a comment and tell me how you like your avocado

Read more: Eat Like Bernie: Southwest Turkey Burger with Avocado