Maintaining Weight Loss: Lessons from “The Biggest Loser” study

Maintaining weight loss can be challenging but with the right attitude, commitment and willingness to discover what works for you it is possible and rewarding.


Dr. Kevin D. Hall, lead author of the study and a scientist at the National Institutes of Health, published a study in the journal Obesity this week that has made the news. If you haven’t already seen it, you can read it here, and you should. It’s a great example of how important news can be taken out of context to create discomfort and doubt.
Click here to read the NY Times article.


The study provided some important and additional insight into what we know intuitively. Losing weight can be hard and keeping it off is often harder. He has demonstrated that metabolism slows with extreme weight loss, and for some, remains lower than expected even if we regain weight. That coupled with decreased Leptin levels, a hormone that normally signals when we’ve eaten enough, leads to increased hunger.

There are several things that the article does not state clearly.

Fourteen extremely obese people lost 75-225 pounds over a 6-7 month period of time. They exercised 7-9 hours a day and after the first 12 weeks were left to their own devices, competing to lose the most weight and win the $250,000 prize. For some, this meant extreme calorie restriction with no nutritional oversight. Likewise, they were revisited after 6 years and although many retained parts of a healthy lifestyle, none could sustain the restrictions and activity levels of the competition. They typically did not have continued support or instruction.

Most distressing is the suggestion that maintaining a significant weight loss is nearly impossible. I know many people read the article and considered throwing up their hands and giving up, or worse, not trying at all.


But I, for one, hate resignation. The study helps explain why it’s hard, but we already know that. To suggest that it’s impossible is not a service to anyone. I tell all my patients that it takes as much work to keep the weight off, but it’s a different set of skills.


I’m the first patient. I can tell the same story and describe the same trail of weight up and down as many of my patients. I love the way I look and feel since losing 50 pounds 10 years ago and my commitment to continue to care for myself keeps me learning how my body works and how to maintain my weight. This is what I’ve learned.


We know that approximately 85% of people who lose significant amounts of weight, gain all or part back. For me, that has meant waking up each day and asking “how will I beat those statistics?”.


To maintain weight loss, here are a few tips and strategies I use daily.


The body is primed for survival, not for abundance. It is very good at keeping you from wasting away, but not for coping in a world of plenty.

“Diets” may not work, but many people lose weight and keep it off. Many people learn to manage their weight. Many people transform their relationship to their food, their health and their life. In the end, all that matters is our willingness to discover what works for us and do what we need to do to be happy and healthy.


You can be happy and healthy!

Dr. Gail Altschuler

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