Intermission (Update): A Case For Crash Dieting

It has been brought to my attention that, within the context of “The Biggest Loser,” crash dieting was shown to be “most effective” at keeping weight off in comparison to other lifestyle interventions. This is in contrast to the below statement I’ve previously made which has supposedly been shown to be a “common misconception:”

For example, we see this with the former contestants on “The Biggest Loser.” On the show “The Biggest Loser,” the contestants restrict calories, sometimes in extreme, abrupt ways, for extended periods of time. They ended up losing the weight but after the show ended they would gain the weight back and then some!

Check this study out. It presents the case for crash dieting as a way to improve long-term weight loss with using former “The Biggest Loser” contestants. Despite regaining a SUBSTANTIAL amount of their lost weight during the 6 years after their competition, the competitors “fared better” in keeping the weight off in comparison to those who used a long-term weight loss approach. Let’s investigate to find out how much weight they actually kept off.

Quite frankly, it seems that it would be in the best interest of those who have a high body fat percentage to lose as much weight as quickly possible while they can benefit from the higher energy expenditure they have access to when they are at a higher body weight, right? Wrong.

It seems that crash dieting might be a better “brand” of weight loss, but what many skeptics are over looking is the fact that despite losing all of that weight quickly and “getting results,” they ended up with long-term suppressed resting metabolic rate for short-term results. In other words, they’ve only succeeded in dropping and keeping off 17kg in the time that they’ve started the show until 6 years later. Congratulations.

Let me break this down further. If you look at this study you’ll see that the contestants started(in the beginning of the show) at an average resting metabolic rate of about 2607 calories per day with an average weight of the contestants at 148.9kg.

By week 30, the end of the show, it dropped to 1996 calories per day at which time their average weight was 90.6kg.

6 years later, at the time of the follow up, the average weight of the contestants that participated in the study was 131.6kg with a 1903 calorie per day diet! This means that they started at 148.9kg in the beginning of the competition then dropped down to 90.6kg at 1996 calories per day as you would expect but ballooned back up to 131.6kg at 1903 calories which means at this point they are eating less calories but HEAVIER than when they ended the competition.

They’ll have to work HARDER than when they originally started the competition in order for them to lose weight. Not to mention that they’re not going to be happy that they regained all that weight only having to work harder than before to lose it.

All of that tussle to keep 17kg off and not register any discernible difference. And it seems as if RMR is trending downwards.

With this new information, I’m still bullish on the idea that gradual weight loss is the most psychologically practical method to take. We always have to take into account the human element of interventions and lifestyle changes that extends beyond the scope of a study of 14 participants.

Also, with this new information: What are the real-world implications? Outside of this reality TV show setting, how effective is crash dieting? Is it a method that most people would stand to benefit from? Is it a method that would suit the psychological disposition of the majority of people looking to lose weight? Crash dieting is simply not sustainable and neither are the results.

Again, what I want to emphasize here is that just because something is effective, doesn’t mean that it is psychologically optimal or even effective in the long run. Dr. Eric Helms talks about three important facts when it comes to training but it is also applicable to dieting: realistic, enjoyable and flexible.

You have to ask yourself if the methods you’re choosing to take are realistic, enjoyable and flexible enough for you to adhere to it. This is an important component that many data driven people seem to leave out.

Any study you pull up that emphasizes effectiveness of a specific method, especially on a short-term basis, is indicative of the disposition of the sample size and not necessarily indicative of the palatability and long-term effectiveness of the method itself.

For the people who are looking to lose weight, the above is an example that you need to be compassionate and empathetic with yourself when working on weight loss. Do what’s effective AND psychologically palatable. You have to work in alignment with your disposition.

Take a gradual, compassionate approach to weight loss. Not an aggressive, purely data-driven method that will scar you metabolically and leave you less happy than before.

I write at the intersection of self-improvement, psychology and leadership development from the perspective of a union steward. |