Why you can't lose weight and why The Biggest Loser gets it so wrong.

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Very rarely do I have a client that comes into our clinic who is overweight and doesn’t watch their weight on the scales regularly. What is interesting is that the research suggests this is the worst thing you can be doing to begin moving forward and to start losing weight. When I start working with someone who is overweight one of the first things that I’ll ask them is what it is they want, what are their goals? More often than not their response is “to lose weight.” This is a normal response but I don’t accept this as a good answer to achieve effective health outcomes. I’ll begin to work with the client to help turn this response into something far more important to that individual than their weight, and below will tell you why. This blog will also help you to avoid the pitfalls of weight loss and avoid failure.

80% of people who actively lose 10% of their body weight will regain this within a year

Weight loss is hard! No one ever said it was easy but a study published in July of 2015 in the American Journal of Public Health suggests it’s even harder than first thought. The study looked at almost 280 thousand overweight and obese individuals in the UK over a 10-year period. The study examined the likelihood of actually losing weight and maintaining a weight loss and they concluded that “The annual probability of achieving a 5% weight reduction was 1 in 8 for men and 1 in 7 for women with morbid obesity”[1]. Another paper illustrated that 80% of people who actively lose 10% of their body weight will regain this within a year[2]. This has been shown many times over with numerous papers including those who have undergone bariatric surgery[3], or a plethora of various diets[4]. It’s always interesting to have a quick google to find out where biggest loser contestants are now and it’s unfortunate how these people also fit into these statistics.

So if weight loss is so hard and maintenance is even harder than why do we bother? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s not important to consider weight loss and its effect on our physical and psychological health, but rather suggest a change in our mindset to how we can address this.

A paper that performed a meta-analysis of numerous studies looked at fatness verse fitness and to which was the greater determinate of all-cause mortality. What the review showed was that the risk of death was only associated with a decrease in cardiovascular fitness and not BMI (Body Mass Index). It suggested that individuals who are overweight but are fit don’t have an increased risk of death, and in fact in comparison to their normal weight unfit buddies - are better off[5]. This suggests that the primary factor for influencing our general health is fitness and not specifically weight loss. Other studies have shown that weight loss is associated with improvements in specific health outcomes such as cardiovascular health and metabolic health[6], but if we aren’t likely to achieve it and maintain it while focusing on the weight, what’s the point?

In addition to this we also know that if someone is trying to lose weight but doesn’t achieve a loss in the initial months they will stop adhering to their exercise and nutrition changes[7]. So why do we continue to set ourselves up for failure!?

Weight loss may be hard to achieve and it may not be as important as fitness but how we look and feel is something we also have to consider. If we focus on changing our behaviours, learning to enjoy movement, and shift our health goals to be more specific to fitness or functional outcomes we know we are going to be better off. The beauty of this is that it does work. Clients that refocus their goals away from weight loss and to specific activities they want to get back to or be better at such as; playing sport with their kids; completing fun runs; getting back into cycling, often experience far more fantastic and lasting results.

Before you undertake the task of working on your weight have a think about what else you can get out of exercise, nutrition and your lifestyle and help these drive your behavioural change. If you tick these boxes weight loss will follow and you will have all the benefits exercise and good nutrition has to offer with far less stress!

If you’d like any more help with getting started or to develop some new strategies specific to you please give us a call.


1.         Fildes, A., et al., Probability of an Obese Person Attaining Normal Body Weight: Cohort Study Using Electronic Health Records. Am J Public Health, 2015. 105(9): p. e54-9.

2.         Wing, R.R., Behavioral strategies to improve long-term weight loss and maintenance. Med Health R I, 1999. 82(4): p. 123.

3.         Christou, N.V., D. Look, and L.D. Maclean, Weight gain after short- and long-limb gastric bypass in patients followed for longer than 10 years. Ann Surg, 2006. 244(5): p. 734-40.

4.         Dansinger, M.L., et al., Comparison of the Atkins, Ornish, Weight Watchers, and Zone diets for weight loss and heart disease risk reduction: a randomized trial. JAMA, 2005. 293(1): p. 43-53.

5.         Barry, V.W., et al., Fitness vs. fatness on all-cause mortality: a meta-analysis. Prog Cardiovasc Dis, 2014. 56(4): p. 382-90.

6.         Goldstein, D.J., Beneficial health effects of modest weight loss. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord, 1992. 16(6): p. 397-415.

7.         Cooper, Z. and C.G. Fairburn, A new cognitive behavioural approach to the treatment of obesity. Behav Res Ther, 2001. 39(5): p. 499-511.