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February 05, 2014

Biggest Loser "Winner" Starves Herself to Oblivion


Even Bob and Jillian were horrified


So lets talk about that - what went wrong?

Obviously, she lost too much weight.  And, on a show where the only measure of success is scale weight, that was bound to happen at some point.

Unlike many today, I'm actually a big fan of measureing scale weight with my clients - it tells us some very valuable information - how much food my client is eating, relative to how much they burn.

In fact, I use this handy scale to figure out calories for my clients:

Losing 3+ pounds per week: Calories are too low

Losing 1-2 pounds per week: Calories are right for fat loss

Scale weight stays the same: Calories are at maintenence

Gaining pounds: Calories are too high

On the biggest loser ranch she lost 110 pounds in 14 weeks, meaning she was losing just about 8 pounds per week.  This is actually pretty normal for biggest loser contestants, being starved and over-trained the entire time.

This may sound odd - but I'd actually rather she lost that 110 pounds in 37-55 weeks.  I'd rather she made smaller, lifestyle oriented changes in her diet, and created for herself a really steady, life-style oriented weight loss.

Workout wise, I would have made sure she got stronger the whole time, little by little.  At the end of 55 weeks, she'd be doing pull-ups for reps and deadlifting her bodyweight for reps.

Weak, Starving and Skinny Fat

For starters, she looks sick.

But secondly, it looks like her fitness level has decreased.  Barring the obvious impact on health and metabolism, I have another reason for wanting to make sure she gets strong and fit - she would look ten times better.

Man.  With her looking that sick, it's actually hard to ignore the obvious health consequences - both mental and physical.  But I'm going to try to stick to how it looks, because that's what my clients pay me for.

She'd look awesome if she had 15 pounds more muscle.  Now, for a perspective on how much muscle she starved off of herself, it would probably take her 15 months solid to gain that muscle back if she wanted to.

Unfortunately, we've seen guys lose The Biggest Loser because they got lean and muscular, instead of just continuing to lose scale weight and get weirdly skinny.

Why BMI Makes Sense, Even Though I Always Talk about Body Fat Percentage

Again, there is a lot of good information you can get from someone's scale weight.

As trainers, we always talk about how body fat percentage is a more important number - But for anyone with less than a year of working out under their belts, BMI is going to be pretty accurate also.

In this case, it tells us a couple things:

Rachel leaving the ranch at 150 pounds: BMI of 25 - meaning she was still overweight.

Rachel at the finale at 105 pounds: BMI of 18 - meaning she was underweight

Again, going back to the 15 pounds more muscle point - with 15 pounds more muscle, at 120 pounds, she'd be at a healthy BMI of 20.

She really could have left the ranch and lost another 20 pounds, instead of 45 pounds.  She might not have won the show, but she would have been healthy and looked awesome.

Don't Lose Muscle, Don't Get Skinny-Fat, Don't Look Gross

Scale weight tells us how much total food you've been eating, but that's it.

Body fat percentage is how lean, hot, sexy, and fit you look.  Body fat percentage is a little more complicated than scale weight, and there are three factors that influence body fat percentage, at any given scale weight:

1.) How strong you are in your workouts

2.) How much protein you are eating

3.) The quality of carbohydrates and fat you are eating

I love getting body fat percentage readings for my clients, because it tells me if we have good news: They are losing fat and gaining or holding on to muscle.  Or bad news: They lost fat and muscle.  

If a client loses fat, the first thing we do is add protein.  Next thing we might do is increase calories, especially if they've lost muscle from losing weight too fast (more than 3 pounds per week).

When I don't have their body fat percentage to work from, I use an even easier measure: Are they getting stronger?  Are they doing more pull-ups than they were a month ago?  Are they deadlifting heavier than they were a month ago?  I can't imagine someone losing muscle and getting stronger....  so if you're getting stronger it's a pretty safe bet that you haven't lost muscle.

You've got to have enough protein to hold on to muscle.  You've got to get stronger in your workouts.  That's how you look hotter, leaner, and sexier.

The Biggest Loser is Broken

The shows premise is intrinsicly flawed for two reasons:

1.) It only measures winning by one metric: Weight loss. 

2.) More weight loss isn't always better.  There is a time to stop.

We know that a smart trainer takes a look at scale weight, body fat percentage, strength in basic barbell movements, even BMI.  

And, a good trainer will tell clients when it's time to stop losing weight and focus on something else.  Like a fun movement skill, or a strength goal, or a mud run.  Or even just chill out and focus on other parts of their life.

It's ok to be done.

by Josh Hillis 
Author of the upcoming Fat Loss Happens on Monday, with Dan John 
Head Coach at PowerHour Group Personal Training in Denver.

P.S. Do me a favor: If you liked this post, pease share it.  Besides just knocking The Biggest Loser, we can use this as an opportunity to educate people.


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