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Lessons from The Biggest Loser - Part 2

By Matt O'Neill, MSc(Nut&Diet), APD

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In Australia we've just finished the 2007 instalment of Australia's Biggest Loser competition. Chris, the winner almost halved his body weight, dropping an amazing 70 kg down from 149 to 79 kg in twelve short weeks. Is it really possible to get results like these?

Chris's 70 kg weight loss is more than impressive. If everyone could achieve his success, we'd eliminate obesity. But remember, the environment the Biggest Loser contestants are training, eating and sleeping in is not the usual slimming experience.

The challenge is to lift from The Biggest Loser the key diet and exercise elements of success and translate them into what you can realistically achieve.


Specifics of the Biggest Loser diet are sketchy, at least on the television. We see contestants eating lots of fruit and vegetables, but are given little idea of what makes up their diet.

The Biggest Loser contestant diets may be as low as 1200 calories, with the larger contestants up around 1800 calories.

So how do the numbers add up in terms of expected weight loss? For example, a sedentary 100 kg man has a predicted daily metabolic rate of around 2400 calories. Cutting this back by the generally recommended 500 calories a day deficit, to 1900 calories would place him on track for a ˝ kg weekly fat loss. Half a kilo (actually a pound) of fat has 3500 calories (500 calories x 7 days).

However, the dramatic results achieved by Biggest Loser contestants come from a much greater daily energy deficit. Firstly, by the fact that most contestants have a starting weight well above 100 kg, and in some cases closer to 200 kg. Their predicted daily metabolic rate is much greater as metabolic rate is closely related to weight.

Secondly, they may knock off more than 500 calories from their diet, even getting down to 1200-1500 calories. Their energy deficit (how much less they eat than the energy they burn up) may be as much as 1500 calories per day even before they take their first step into the gym.

At this rate you'd expect a 1 ˝ kg fat loss per week… But they still lose more!


The figures and expected fat loss above are calculated before we add any exercise to the daily routine of contestants. So, now let's add four hours of moderate-to-strenuous physical activity each day. Four hours a day is the amount most commonly quoted for contestants during their 12-week stint on the program.

During four hours of brisk walking a 100 kg man would burn 1500 calories. Spending part of the four hours at a higher intensity could boost daily energy expenditure from exercise up to around 2000-2500 calories. And if we crunched the numbers for a 150 kg Biggest Loser contestant, you would expect total energy expenditure over four hours to be up around 3500 calories. So in theory, a single four-hour workout would burn off ˝ kg of body fat.

Considering the 1500 calorie shortfall we already have from the calorie controlled diet, the total energy deficit is now up to 5000 calories a day or 35000 calories a week. That's close to 5 kg of body fat loss in just seven days. Wow!


Although The Biggest Loser is a reality TV program, it doesn't portray reality. The real situation for many people could be something like this.

Let's say you weigh 70 kg and just want to “shape-up”. You are doing 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous training with your Personal Trainer or by yourself at the gym. This activity burns around 300 calories, which you are very happy with when you leave the gym.

Unfortunately, because you are not on a calorie controlled diet, don't have all your food provided and don't have the 24-7 motivation offered in The Biggest Loser house, you pick up a chocolate muffin on the way home from the gym. This muffin contains 400 calories, which cancels out the calories burned during their exercise session and adds 100 calories. Instead of losing body fat you end up gaining it!

This example shows how important it is to control calories when you want to get into shape. Success will come, but with patience and a good plan.

Lessons from The Biggest Loser

Here's how you can use Biggest Loser concepts to get better results.

Diet Lessons

  • Unless you control calories it's harder to get results and you may not get results in some cases.
  • Be careful not to compensate for calories burned during exercise by eating more snacks, particularly after training sessions.
  • Eating more protein may help you feel fuller for longer and limit calories.
  • Cutting energy intake to around 1200 calories will result in fat loss for most people.
Exercise Lessons
  • The energy cost of exercise is greater when you weigh more, so your best calorie burning will occur when you start your program and before you lose any weight.
  • You may need to commit to more than 30 minutes a day to burn the calories you need to get results.
  • The more time you commit to physical activity then the more calories you will burn.
  • You need to be realistic about how quickly you expect to see results and the magnitude of your overall results.
The Biggest Loser programs show very graphically how the calories in - calories out energy equation works. And they did it without any slimming supplements or pills!

Creating a calorie deficit is the bottom line for getting fat loss results. If you are not covering both sides of the equation start looking at how you can do this.



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