Biggest Loser Medical Director Claims Results Better than Surgery

The weight loss methods implemented on the reality television show “Biggest Loser” produce better results than weight loss surgery, claims the show’s medical director, Dr. Robert Huizenga.  Contestants on Biggest Loser are put on calorie-restricted diets, ranging from 1000-1400 calories per day for women and 1600-2000 for men. They exercise for 4 hours each day, which consists of an hour of intense aerobic exercise, two hours of moderate aerobic activity, and an hour of intense resistance exercise. Huizenga said in a meeting with the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists that this combination “yields bigger health gains, more cheaply and with fewer complications, than weight loss surgery.”

The methods have sparked controversy in the medical world, with many experts denouncing “Biggest Loser” for promoting rapid and unsustainable weight loss and unrealistic expectations for exercise.  Most people in modern society would find it completely unrealistic to get in 4 hours of exercise daily, and effectively balance the demands of work, family, and other commitments. Additionally, as Dr. Christine Ren Fielding of NYU explains, “long term calorie restriction is extremely difficult to do because the individual is fighting against the body’s natural primitive instinct to EAT”. She said, “Try holding your breath for an hour. Why is it impossible? Because the survival mechanism to breathe is in a very primitive part of the brain and will not allow us to die from holding our breath. This is the same part of the brain where the survival mechanism to eat – and not starve to death – is located.”

Dr. Huizenga argues that the methods used on “Biggest Loser” result in better changes in body composition. He said that slow weight loss routinely results in muscle loss, which leaves patients with a higher proportion of fat-to-lean muscle tissue, while Biggest Loser”participants end with a higher ratio of lean muscle and bone to fat than they had had at the outset. He cites that the average percentage of body fat in the show’s participant decreased from 48.9 percent to 30.4 percent at week 24. Additionally, Huizenga said that he’s seen “absolutely unprecedented” drops in measures of metabolic dysfunction within five weeks of patients starting the program, as well as improvements in subjects’ fasting glucose levels, insulin levels and adiponectin levels after just one week. Dr Huizenga has applied to the National Institutes of Health for a study grant that would allow him to compare the health benefits of “Biggest Loser” methods with those of weight loss surgery.

Dr. Greg Walton, bariatric surgeon in Oklahoma disagrees with Huizenga’s claim, saying: “We want to believe morbidly obese people can lose weight and keep it off by means outside of surgery.  But anyone who looks into the data available can only come to one conclusion – weight loss surgery is not only the most effective treatment… it is the only treatment with any long term success rate.  Any other conclusion is a matter of opinion, not data.  From a public health standpoint our efforts must be put into prevention, because effective nonsurgical treatments in the current scientific milieu are nonexistent.”

Dr. Mark Fusco of Lifeshape Advanced Bariatric Center refutes the validity of the claim further by pointing out short-comings in Huizenga’s data: “The speaker presented data for just 35 patients that were cherry picked from over double that number that were (mis)treated. The weight loss is reported at the end of just 26 weeks of treatment with no subsequent follow up – forget the five year follow up like we strive for with weight loss surgery results.” For more about experts’ thoughts on The Biggest Loser, read 5 Takes on The Biggest Loser.

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