Biggest Loser Diet
The aim: Weight loss, and disease prevention or reversal.
The claim: Six weeks of healthy food and regular exercise not only is a great start to a weight-loss journey, it can also help prevent or reverse diabetes; cut the risk for cancer, dementia and Alzheimer’s; improve your heart health; and boost your immune system. Cut calories, work out and watch the pounds melt off.
The theory: Our diets are out of whack – we eat too many of the wrong foods and not enough of the right ones, and we sit around too much. The not-so-surprising solution: eat regular meals that emphasize filling calories from fruits, vegetables, lean protein sources and whole grains; practice portion control; use a food journal; and get up off the sofa.
Biggest Loser Diet is ranked:
Weight Loss Short-Term4.2
Weight Loss Long-Term2.8
Easy to Follow2.8
Scores are based on experts’ reviews.
How does Biggest Loser Diet work?
Dos & Don’ts
First, you have to choose a Biggest Loser book to follow. They’re all based on the same principles. What’s your appetite for reading? There’s the short-and-sweet 2005 edition, the more bulky “30-Day Jump Start” from 2009, and, midway between the two, 2010’s “6 Weeks to a Healthier You.” Most recently, “The Biggest Loser: The Weight Loss Program to Transform Your Body, Health and Life” was released in 2013. All are heavy on success stories from past contestants of the reality TV show, “The Biggest Loser,” tips for developing your menu based on a special food pyramid and suggestions for sweating out some calories.
“6 Weeks to a Healthier You” is a crash course in nutrition. You’ll learn about foods with “quality calories” (you can guess which ones they’d be) and acquaint yourself with the Biggest Loser diet pyramid. It suggests four servings a day of fruits and vegetables, three of protein foods, two of whole grains and no more than 200 calories of “extras” like desserts. That should make for a menu where 45 percent of your day’s calories come from carbs, 30 percent from protein and 25 percent from fats. You’ll also take a hard look at your risk factors for developing diseases, calculate your calorie allowance, learn about portion control and when to eat, and see why keeping a food journal is important.
The rest of the book is split into thematic chapters – from preventing or reversing diabetes to lowering high blood pressure – and each takes you through a week of meal plans and recommendations for different types of exercise.
How much does it cost?
Fresh fruits, veggies, whole grains and fish are generally more expensive than a cart full of sugary cereal, white bread and sweets. But you’re not paying a membership fee, and you can tweak the suggested meal plans to bring the tab down – buy whatever produce is on sale that day at the grocery store, for example.
You can buy “The Biggest Loser: The Weight Loss Program to Transform Your Body, Health and Life” in paperback and e-book forms.
The Biggest Loser Bootcamp program costs $39.95 for 30 days; it includes eight weeks of daily workout videos, with no equipment necessary.
The Biggest Loser Resort – located in Amelia Island, Florida; Chicago; and Niagara, New York – offers access to registered dietitians, personal coaches and wellness counselors. Each location varies in price, with accommodations starting in the upper $2,000s per week.
Will you lose weight?
It’s likely you will, given the plan’s two foolproof dieting tactics – calorie restriction and exercise. You just have to make sure you stick with it.
Some research has evaluated obese or morbidly obese contestants who have appeared on the show, “The Biggest Loser.” Interpret cautiously: The sample sizes are small, contestants may have had more – or much more – weight to lose than you do, and many had motivation-boosting TV cameras, prize incentives and expert advisers surrounding them throughout the process.
- In one small study, published in the American Journal of Medicine in 2011, researchers reported that 14 “The Biggest Loser” contestants lost an average of 133 pounds (39 percent of their initial weight) after seven months of intense exercise and moderate calorie restriction following a plan where 30 percent of calories came from protein, 25 from fats and 45 from carbs.
- An unpublished study split 62 adults into three groups. The first group consisted of 14 “The Biggest Loser” contestants who exercised four hours a day, six days a week and were encouraged to eat a diet largely of protein sources, fruits and vegetables while avoiding saturated fat, processed grains and added sugar. The second group – 36 “home contestants” – attended a three-day symposium on diet and exercise and were instructed to exercise twice a day for 60 to 90 minutes each session. The third group, the controls, were sent home without any instructions. At eight months, those in the Biggest Loser group typically lost from 31 to 39 percent of their initial weight; for those in the home group, the typical range was from 22 to 28 percent. By comparison, the control-group individuals typically added from 2 to 5 percent of their starting weight. At 20 months, those in the first two groups typically had backslid somewhat, but were still 19 to 31 percent below their starting weight.
- Two additional sets of data on “The Biggest Loser” contestants, published in 2007 in the Journal of Clinical Densitometry and the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, reported similar amounts of weight loss. One reported that on average, 25 women had dropped 25 percent of their initial body weight and 22 men lost 32 percent of their weight after eight months. Another set of data showed nearly identical figures for 27 women and 22 men after eight months.
- A study published in the journal Obesity in 2014 found that calorie restriction along with vigorous exercise in “The Biggest Loser” contestants led to the preservation of fat-free mass – or your total body mass without the fat – and greater adaptations to contestants’ metabolism, compared with those who underwent Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery. The study included 13 pairs of obese people who either participated in the program or had the surgery.
How easy is it to follow?
Because the Biggest Loser diet doesn’t ban entire food groups, you shouldn’t have trouble complying long-term.
Convenience: Recipes, convenience foods and online resources abound. Eating out and drinking alcohol are both OK – be cautious and shrewd and you’ll be fine.
Recipes: You’ve got at least a few cookbooks to choose from, including one for family dinners and another just for your sweet tooth. For those who don’t think healthy meals are flavorful, there’s also Biggest Loser dietitian Cheryl Forberg’s “Flavor First” cookbook. The guidebooks all offer a smattering of recipes, too. You’ll find more free Biggest Loser recipes online.
Eating out: Sure, but make good choices. Figure out what you want before you head out, and don’t let the tempting smells at the restaurant change your mind. Avoid sauteed or pan-fried food; opt for grilled, steamed, baked, broiled or poached, advises Biggest Loser trainer Bob Harper in “6 Weeks to a Healthier You.” Don’t be afraid to ask to create your own dish, either, with chicken breast, broccoli and a side of brown rice. Or make swaps to meals, especially in exchanging anything white for whole grains.
Whatever your diet strategy, you’ve got to master proper portions to lose weight and keep it off.
Alcohol: Consider it a treat. It hikes calories without providing many nutrients, and can impede weight loss by slowing the fat-burning process and stimulating your appetite, tricking you into eating more. If your doctor is OK with it, cap consumption at two drinks a day for men, one a day for women.
Timesavers: In a pinch, Biggest Loser’s “Simply Sensible” packaged entrees of beef tips and gravy or lasagna can keep you on track without your having to fire up the stove. There are also Biggest Loser-emblazoned bars, shakes, protein powder and cream of wheat. And a packaged meal plan is even available through eDiets. (While cooking is preferred, consider the packaged meals a “plan B,” says a company representative.) Dieters can get 21 meals and seven snacks for about $180.
Extras: “The Biggest Loser” name is on just about everything – workout video games, CDs and DVDs; food journals and calorie counters; dumbbells; step ladders; jump ropes; dry-erase boards; digital food scales; calendars; and sporty clothes. For an extra support boost, you can hire a one-on-one coach or join the online community (for a fee).
Fullness: Nutrition experts emphasize the importance of satiety, the satisfied feeling that you’ve had enough. Since a fiber- or protein-packed meal or snack comes every few hours, you should keep hunger pangs at bay.
Taste: You’re making everything, so if something doesn’t taste good, you know who to blame.
Health & Nutrition
Although some experts were concerned that the Biggest Loser diet is too salty and falls short on potassium and vitamin D, they still concluded that it’s a healthy diet.
What is the role of exercise?
If you’re following “6 Weeks to a Healthier You,” each week drills home the importance of exercise in combating and reversing common weight-related conditions, from Type 2 diabetes to high blood pressure and heart disease. You’ll start out with body-weight training (lunges, squats, push-ups), then eventually move into aerobics, strength and resistance training, and even yoga and pilates. What matters most, though, is that you’re moving. Adults are generally encouraged to get at least two and a half hours of moderate-intensity activity (like brisk walking) a week, along with a couple days of muscle-strengthening activities.