The Biggest Loser: A Love/Hate Relationship


So if you’re like me and millions of other Americans, you’ve seen at least a few episodes (or seasons) of The Biggest Loser and drawn some parallels to your own situation. For me, this has ranged from “thank God I’m not that big” to “well damn, food does have an emotional hold on me.” Pre-Paleo I used to watch the show while gorging on a few slices of pizza as if to gloat the fact that I didn’t weigh 300+ pounds. But the truth is, I had the same mindset as a lot of the folks on the show: struggling with weight loss and being unable to break free from body image issues. Now that I’m eating right, training smart and getting plenty of sleep (still working on quality), I’ve have a few more critiques of a show I used to enjoy so much.


The show is an amazing motivational tool. Obesity is a rapidly growing epidemic in this country and world-wide and I would still put The Biggest Loser in the “trying to help” category. It’s good to see not only the people in the show taking an interest in their health, but also all the folks who watch the show. The trainers also do a great job of tackling the emotional problems surrounding food and body image.


Everything comes down to calories and weight. As Gary Taubes taught us in Good Calories, Bad Calories, not all calories are created equal and those coming from sugars and starches are damaging compared to those coming from good fat and lean protein. The entire Calories In – Calories Out hypothesis for losing fat is inadequate for describing what actually happens in the body. If 3500 calories equals one pound of fat then it should be super easy to eat 500 fewer calories every day and easily lose a pound a week. Or eat the same and exercise to burn those 500 calories. But how many of you have tried that to minimal or no success? I know I have. You body is far more complicated than that, and fat loss comes down to food intake, metabolism, and most important of all, hormones.


No fast food advertising during commercial breaks. Did you even notice this one? Probably not since you all have TiVo’s or watch the show online, but NBC doesn’t allow any “unhealthy” fast food advertising (Subway excluded). With the inundation of Double-Downs, $5 pizzas and beer commercials, it’s refreshing to see a network actually put some thought in the content that is reaching viewers.


Contestants come out over-trained, under-fed and stressed out. In the quest for fat loss, the Biggest Loser system falls victim to the traditional bad science that we’ve been bombarded with over the decades. In addition to the Calories in-Calories out hypothesis, there are the false assumptions that: whole grains are an important and beneficial part of a balanced diet; the more time you spend doing cardio, the more fat you will lose; multiple small meals a day are better than a few large ones; or that you can completely restrict calories without adverse side effects. These are all just plain wrong and it hurts me to see that the show is delivering the message that the only way people can lose large amounts of fat is to prescribe to these inane ideals.

If you watched Season 10, you saw Adam Hurtado lose some serious weight in not a lot of time. He came off the show completely beat up, eating only 800 calories a day, not sleeping enough and doing 4+ hours of cardio. He reached out to LEAF Fitness to help him lose the rest of his weight before returning for the final weigh-in, and they did some pretty amazing stuff that is totally in line with what I recommend here. You can read the full story here but the short version is that he went Paleo, (giving up Jillian’s beloved whole grains and Bob’s vegan fake meat), exercise a few times a week for no more than an hour each session, and SLEPT! It’s not surprising that food and sleep affect your body composition more than the work you put in the gym – after all there are 23 other hours in a day that you aren’t working out.

Here’s a video about Adam’s story:

Dude lost 33 pounds in 35 days. That is on par with Biggest Loser results.


Focus on paying it forward. I don’t like to end with hate, so I’ll admit that even though the show gives out a lot of really bad info, they are trying to do the right thing by spreading the message of fitness and health. It’s hard to find fault with that and while I continue to cringe, I understand what they’re trying to accomplish.

So what should you do differently than these folks if you want to have you own Biggest Loser reveal? It’s not too difficult actually.

  • Eat quality meat, veggies, and some healthy fat at every meal
  • Avoid grains, dairy and sugars
  • Move or exercise in some way for 3-5 hours a week
  • Sleep 8-10 hours a night in a pitch black room
  • Reduce the stress in your life
  • Image courtesy of:

    The Lazy Caveman
    • Hildy

      Hey Badier, I'm a fan of Biggest Loser too, and I like the things you add.

      However, as a licensed psychologist, I cringe at the way that Bob and Jillian try to approach the numerous issues that many of the patients are dealing with. I really, really, really hope there are licensed and skilled therapists behind the scenes, because I worry about what will happen to people when their (admittedly flawed) coping strategy of overeating is taken from them. Just as I cringed when Jillian had someone with spinal issues do a backbend last week, I cringe when they try to have people process a lifelong issue in 5 minutes at the gym. It's my belief that, if you don't seriously deal with the problems, they'll come back–whether as a return to the old habits, or to new issues.

      • The Lazy Caveman

        I completely agree with you, Hildy. I tried not to focus on some of the more sensationalist moments on the show like all the temptations, challenges, confrontations, obsession with excessive weight loss, etc. I have heard they have excellent medical care at all times, and I hope that it covers therapy as well. Thanks for reading!

    • Erin

      Hi Badier,

      I really like your post. I totally agree with the calorie in and calorie out solution. I AM one of those people who watched every single calorie that I put in my mouth. Buying something called the BodyBugg to track it all. I worked out for an hour 6day/week on the treadmill and the elliptical. I spent lots of money on a trainer who I saw once a week and still was not losing the weight. Then I went on the Atkins diet and lost 25lbs. I also loss muscle. I agree with you 100%. Sever calorie restriction and excess exercise is not the answer. At least it's not the answer for me. This is why I joined CFPA. Thanks for the great resource.

      • The Lazy Caveman

        Hi Erin!
        Welcome to CFPA and thanks for reading the blog! Believe me when I say that I've been there with all the failed diets, the weighing and measuring and the personal trainers that couldn't help me. I'm now confident that Paleo is the right way of eating for everyone to run optimally, and combining it with CrossFit will get you amazing results. Feel free to ask questions any time, and hope to see you at the orientation on the 19th!

    • Erin

      Thanks for the encouraging words. You will definitely see me on the 19th.

    • Emily

      Great review! The article on Adam is especially motivating. I keep doubting my efforts since I'm eating so many more calories and the scale isn't really moving (but the body is slowly looking better…a bit). I used to drop weight super fast on the traditional methods of calorie counting and Slim-Fast (never again on the latter!). But reading Adam's progress is great encouragement to plow forward.

      I just need to get more sleep. 7 hours at best is all I have been able to schedule in so far.

      • The Lazy Caveman

        Hi Emily!

        Sleep is so critical for fat loss it's not even funny. I've suffered from an inability to get quality sleep for years, and it's really slowed my own weight loss quite a bit. My recommendations are to focus on both quality and quantity. Here are some quick tips that might help:

        Sleep in a cool, pitch black room
        Limit caffeine intake to 10 hours before bed
        Establish a pre-bedtime ritual
        No electronics should be on in your bedroom overnight. Turn your cellphone off or to airplane mode (the waves can interfere with melatonin conversion)
        No TV or computer 1-2 hours before bed. Instead, read some light fiction
        Use meditation and relaxation techniques before getting into bed
        Never work in bed.
        If you're still having trouble, products like Natural Calm or a melatonin supplement may help.

        If 7 hours is all you can get, make sure it's the best it can possibly be!

    • Bryan

      I disagree that the meats have to be lean

      • The Lazy Caveman

        Good find, the lean meat recommendation was an artifact from my early Paleo days. This piece I wrote for the CrossFit Palo Alto Nutrition Blog sums up my feelings on the matter:

    • V

      This is the first season I've watched since starting crossfit back in April; it's nice to finally be able to relate to a lot of the exercises they're doing on the show – granted I now find the use of so many machines weird!

      The food info is definitely the one that grates on my nerves…this week they did one of their "obviously paid for" bits for Yoplait Light Fat-Free yogurt….oy vey…only 100 calories!! **rolls eyes**