Study: Biggest Loser contestants gain back weight after cameras stop rolling

Coleen McCarthy's largest size pants, that she can now fit both legs in one pant leg. She's lost close to 250 pounds since having gastric sleeve surgery.
Coleen McCarthy's largest size pants, that she can now fit both legs in one pant leg. She's lost close to 250 pounds since having gastric sleeve surgery.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Contestants on NBC’s The Biggest Loser shed hundreds of pounds each season, as America watches from their living rooms. But when the series ends and the cameras stop rolling, the weight comes back for many.

A study conducted by researchers from the National Institutes of Health followed 14 contestants, 13 of which regained the weight back. They found, as they expected, contestants had slower metabolism when the show ended. But as the years went on, their metabolisms didn’t recover, they became even slower and contestants continued to gain weight.

“Diet and exercise doesn’t work very well for most people if they have been overweight for a period of time. The body now assumes the overweight condition is in fact normal,” says Dr. Tim Faulkenberry, Medical Director of St. David’s Bariatric Center. He says the metabolism slows down, and the body isn’t burning enough calories to maintain the thinner size.

“When you do a diet that is intended to get a lot of weight off quickly, your body assumes that you’re being deprived. So if you’re being starved, what it’s going to do when given the opportunity, is going to be try to regain that weight,” said Dr. Faulkenberry. “For most people, any kind of a diet, which is a quick weight loss, is going to be followed up by a great tendency of the body to regain.”

Coleen McCarthy has tried every weight loss plan from A to Z.

“The first diet I went on I was 12 years old, and lost maybe 40-45 pounds, then gained it all back, plus more,” said McCarthy. “I’ve kind of done that all my life.”

She was unhealthy physically and mentally.

“There’s a huge embarrassment factor to it, you feel very defeated, you feel like a failure. It’s very hard and difficult emotionally. You feel like why can’t I conquer this, why can’t I do this,” said McCarthy.

The National Institutes of Health says people affected by severe obesity are resistant to maintaining weight loss achieved by conventional therapies, such as eating fewer calories, exercising more or using weight-loss programs. NIH recognizes bariatric surgery as the only effective treatment to combat severe obesity and maintain weight loss in the long term.

For McCarthy, the solution was gastric sleeve surgery, where doctors remove 70 to 80 percent of the stomach. Dr. Faulkenberry performed the surgery.

“Surgery can actually change that metabolic pathway,” said Dr. Faulkenberry. “We’re able to create a situation where being at a lower weight becomes the new normal.”

The surgery reduces the amount of food that can fit in your stomach, making you feel full sooner. It can also cause hormonal changes, making you less hungry. McCarthy has lost a total of 250 pounds and has been able to keep it off through exercise and healthy eating.

“I feel a whole lot better. I feel healthy, I feel stronger, emotionally I feel happier,” said McCarthy.

Amanda Brandeis has more on the weight loss strategy doctors say may help keep people from gaining back the weight they lost on KXAN on CW Austin at 9 p.m. and 10 p.m.

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