“Biggest Loser” Contestants Defend Show, Despite Weight Gain Study

Matt Miller competes in a challenge on "The Biggest Loser."
Matt Miller competes in a challenge on “The Biggest Loser.” Keeping weight off is an uphill battle, researchers say.

A follow-up 14 former “The Biggest Loser” contestants found that, six years later, most of them regained a lot of the weight lost on the reality TV show.

But  other former “Biggest Loser” contestants — who were not part of this study —  defend and praise the show for the life-changing opportunity it gave them.

“I will never make a negative comment about the ‘Biggest Loser,’ ” said Matt Miller of Layton, Utah who was on Season 16.  “It  was an amazing opportunity and helped me beyond what you can see on the show. I made life long friends too. There are so many positive things that happened for me.

“You can lose weight no matter where you think your metabolism is, too. Keeping weight off is always a battle. It is not easy,” Miller wrote to me in a Facebook comment. “But if you make the right lifestyle choices and the right nutritional choices, it’s possible.”

Before-and-after shots of "The Biggest Loser" contestant Scott Mitchell.
Before-and-after shots of “The Biggest Loser” contestant Scott Mitchell.

Scott Mitchell, another Utah contestant on Season 16, also “weighed in” with his opinion.

“I’ve gained weight since the show, but I have not felt ashamed or belittled myself, I just saw it as data from my own experience, which has allowed me to assess what has happened and how I could improve from it,” Mitchell wrote in a Facebook comment to me. “I’ve become an ever evolving science experiment, and not some helpless victim.”

The  “Biggest Loser” contestant study was done by  Kevin D. Hall, a scientist at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, and was published Monday in the journal Obesity.

Contestants from Season 8,  were followed up six years after they left the show in 2009. Danny Cahill, proclaimed “The Biggest Loser” that year, has regained 100 of the 239 pounds he lost. All but one contestant had gained some weight, and some had gained even more than their starting point on the show. Many expressed frustration at how hard it was to maintain their amazing weight losses.

But the study really isn’t an indictment of “The Biggest Loser,” as some news reports have implied. The main point seems to be how hard a person’s body will work to hold on to weight, especially when a person loses a lot of it.

Researcher say the weight gain wasn’t due to lack of willpower, but slower metabolisms and lack of  leptin, a hormone that tells your body when it’s had enough to eat.

Jackson Carter became a personal trainer, then a manager, at Planet Fitness after his stint on "The Biggest Loser."
Jackson Carter became a personal trainer at Planet Fitness after his stint on “The Biggest Loser.” Photo by Valerie Phillips

Past contestants Sarah Nitta, Deni Hill and Jackson Carter all told me it’s a struggle to maintain the weight they lost on the show.

“I can only speak to my experience, but I think keeping it off is harder,” said Carter, who made it to the finals of Season 14.  “Anyone can start something, but carrying the torch for life? That’s the really hard thing. Also, I’m not an MD nor was my RMR tested for this study, so there’s not much I can say on the matter of the study.”

When he came home, Carter embraced a fitness lifestyle. He moved out from his parents’ home, and he and his roommate were dedicated to exercise and healthy eating. He got a job as a personal trainer at Planet Fitness. He also became an ambassador for the Biggest Loser RunWalk Race Series, traveling on weekends to different cities to run in a 5K or 10K.

“So basically I work with fitness, I play with fitness, and I live with fitness,” he told me in a past interview.

After maintaining his weight loss for two years, Carter underwent surgery to remove folds of stretched out skin. He’s now a Planet Fitness manager.

Deni Hill chats with fans after a 5K walk in Salt Lake City.
Deni Hill chats with fans after a 5K walk in Salt Lake City. Photo by Valerie Phillips

“Hands down keeping it off is harder,” Deni Hill commented on my Facebook page. The Season 11 at-home winner recently returned from Mongolia, where she and her husband were missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons). “I worked really hard while I was in Mongolia to lose weight and though I finally lost 20 pounds, it was so much harder to lose. It came back on faster,  and another 20 since coming home. It is so frustrating!”

“No question, keeping it off is a billion times harder,” wrote Deni’s daughter, Sarah Nitta, who was also on Season 12.

Scott Mitchell said he learned much more than weight loss on the show. He authored a book about his experiences, titled, “Alive Again.”

“The most important thing I learned from TBL was my greatest success was built on a foundation of failure,” Mitchell said. “I can’t feel joy unless I’ve felt sorrow, I can’t be happy unless I’ve been sad, so I’ve learned to embrace my failure, even when those failures relate to my eating choices, learn from them and move on. This mindset has helped me develop a successful strategy for living a healthy and fulfilled life.”

Matt Miller, who lives in Layton, Utah, is shown competing on "The Biggest Loser."
Matt Miller, who lives in Layton, Utah, is shown competing on “The Biggest Loser.”

Matt Miller offered further explanation about how “The Biggest Loser” helped him in his struggle with obesity. “As a former obese kid, then a fashion model, to a active busy entrepreneur that gained a lot of weight, I’m here to say it doesn’t matter where you’re at in life,” Miller wrote. “You can gain weight and create a slower metabolism by doing the things I did consistently, which were making poor food choices, poor lifestyle choices, not being active, not working out, and making every poor choice there was when it came to my nutrition selection. So I gained weight. Then I would do an extreme diet and drop a little weight only to find the weight again plus some. The show helped push me beyond my own mental barriers though, and got me back into a mindset of ‘I can do it.’ I don’t have to be a victim of my own environment and my own mental battles. It helped me overcome the mental blocks I setup for myself and allowed me to find the old me I use to be.

“I didn’t grow up with a perfect metabolism, or perfect body or perfect anything. I worked hard to become fit from being a obese kid. Then staying fit took work just like gaining weight took work. Meaning both can be easy if you allow it to. Every bite I took to either eat right or to eat wrong took work. I made my own choices and I take responsibility for where I ended up in the end.

“I feel there is a lot of negative perspectives towards the show right now by contestants that chose to be there. I was privileged and honored to be on the show. I had my own personal battles like everyone else, but I’m just here to simply say that whether someone is on the show or not on the show, we all battle our weight. You can put on weight no matter where you think your metabolism is.

“You can lose weight no matter where you think your metabolism is too. Keeping weight off is always a battle. It is not easy. But if you make the right lifestyle choices and the right nutritional choices it’s possible.

“When you lose all the weight fast, you just simply have to go into a
maintenance program to keep the weight from piling back on.

“I have some things that have helped me to move forward in a positive way but I’m just like everyone else. I gain weight and lose it again and gain and lose.

“As a model I was at an extreme low calorie deficit, and then I gained a ton of weight over time because of my choices and certain injuries and such.

“But I still was able to lose the weight again by being on the show. Dr. H, Joel, Kat, Jen, Dr. Cheryl Forberg, Dr. Hogan, and the rest of the team helped get me back on the right path again. I lost the weight and have done my best to move into a maintenance program.

“Now I’ve had my share of emotional eating like we all have, but I’m still much further down in my weight loss lifestyle journey than I would have been if it had not been for the show’s positive push in my life..

“Simply put it is harder to keep the weight off for life than it is to lose it. But if you just keep moving forward trying, and continuing to make better choices, staying more active, then you can do well.”



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