The Biggest Loser Diet
The Biggest Loser television show was first broadcast in the United States in the fall of 2004. Today, in 2012, it is broadcast worldwide and many countries have their own version or adaptation of this program. For instance, in Mexico, it is called ¿Cu ànto quieres perder? This translates literally to ‘How much do you want to lose?’ A reality television program, The Biggest Loser features overweight and obese contestants who agree to undergo an enormous lifestyle change, in front of millions of viewers. Far from a spa-like experience, these individuals leave their homes to film and are divided into two teams who compete to lose the most weight (collectively) each week, earning a bonus. After weeks of grueling workouts and a strict diet not without temptations, only one biggest loser stands and wins the prize of $250,000. Just a few of the dozens of full program features include psychological and behavioral counseling, physician monitoring with blood tests and maintenance training.
Basic Meal Plan
In the fall of 2007, Michael Dansinger, MD, PhD and Cheryl Forberg, RD held a session at the Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo in Philadelphia, PA entitled “The Biggest Loser Show Unplugged.” According to these experts, the diet is based upon two principles: vigorous daily exercise and a modified low-carbohydrate diet. Unlike traditional low-carbohydrate diets, modified low-carbohydrate diets are, most often, within the range (percentage) recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They typically recommend percentages on the lower end of the range for carbohydrate intake and the upper end of the range for protein intake. The Biggest Loser diet is composed of approximately 45 percent of calories from carbohydrates, 30 percent of calories from lean protein and 25 percent of calories from fat, mostly heart healthy unsaturated fat. Total calories are low, ranging from 1,000 to 1,400 per day to create enough of a deficit for participants to lose several pounds every week with exercise. This calorie limit of 1,400 calories comes with the assumption that a certain percentage will go unreported.
Not just any foods are allowed. There are strict guidelines concerning which foods are acceptable. Carbohydrate is found in many foods, from whole-grain breads to Twinkies® but the diet experts in charge of these participants recommend obtaining your carbohydrate from vegetables, fruits and whole grains; specifically, the participant should aim to consume a minimum of four cups of a variety of fruits and minimally cooked or raw non-starchy vegetables daily. Whole grains are allowed, but only those high in fiber and all grains, cereals and other starches should be enjoyed in moderation. There are specifications for breads and cereals (amount of fiber and sugar per serving).
On this diet, you must avoid processed meats. Instead you may consume light meat chicken or turkey breast, egg whites and fish. Red meat is limited to two servings per week. Non- or low-fat dairy products, such as milk, yogurt or soy substitutes are appropriate for this diet. Most of the fat calories come from the other foods you eat so little added fat is necessary except for nuts, seeds and oils on occasion. Participants are to eat three meals and two to three snacks daily and to drink a minimum of eight 8-oz. cups of water daily.
If you have watched this television program, you know that the contestants exercise vigorously and often, pushing past the point of discomfort and engaging in new activities each week. The workouts vary depending upon the participant’s motivation, the trainers’ plans and participation in challenges for the show. According to Jillian Michaels, the hard-core personal trainer featured on this television program, contestants exercise upwards of four to six hours daily. However unrealistic this may seem to regular working folks, the goal of the program is to show dramatic weight loss in a minimal amount of time. Jillian goes on to explain that maintaining this length and intensity while not under the supervision of a team of experts is not possible nor is it safe. If you are on your own, she recommends limiting total time working out (cardiovascular exercise, weight-training and flexibility) to eight to ten hours per week, and this is the absolute maximum.
Behavior Modification and Weight Loss Support
Behavior modification and support, during and after major weight loss, are crucial components for success. During the season of this show, participants are supervised by personal trainers, registered dietitians, chefs, medical doctors, psychologists and other trained health care experts. Counseling and training on adopting healthy habits, such as cooking nutritious meals, are included. The teamwork, camaraderie and rewards help to create a positive and stimulating environment; one which encourages change. Weight loss support extends to home environment modification, home ‘test-runs’ for participants once they finish the program and frequent follow-up visits.
- American Dietetic Association: Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo 2007. Philadelphia, PA “The Biggest Loser Show Unplugged. The Science Behind the Camera” program summary; Dr. Michael Dansinger MD MPH and Cheryl Forberg RD.
- Sharick C. Jillian Michaels: Secrets of The Biggest Loser. “TIME Entertainment.” May 11, 2009.
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