Are you ready to train and eat like people on the NBC TV show The Biggest Loser, but without cameras following you around 24-7?
You can do a similar plan at home to lose weight, get stronger, feel better, and help lower your cholesterol and blood pressure. It could transform your life -- if you're ready for the intense commitment.
What You Can Eat and What You Can't
You’ll eat small, frequent meals. Most of your food is lean protein, low-fat dairy or soy, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and nuts.
It’s based on The Biggest Loser's 4-3-2-1 Pyramid: four servings of fruits and vegetables, three servings of lean protein, two servings of whole grains, and 200 calories of “extras.”
The diet recommends drinking 6-8 glasses of water a day and avoiding caffeine.
Level of Effort: Medium
This plan requires a lot of dedication. You'll exercise a lot, and you'll also get good at reading food labels.
Limitations: You can eat from all food groups. Some of the meal plans may go below 1,200 calories per day, making it hard to meet nutritional needs without a supplement.
Cooking and shopping: The foods you'll be eating are widely available in any grocery store. There are Biggest Loser cookbooks you can follow. One former contestant, Amy Wolff, said she researches healthy menu choices before eating out and carries a calorie-counting reference book in her bag. She also advises keeping a food journal, watching that you don’t eat too much carbs, protein, fat, and fiber, and not giving in to food cravings.
Packaged foods or meals: None required.
In-person meetings: No.
Exercise: Required. It's a big time commitment that pays off.
Is It Good for Health Conditions?
The program includes whole foods that are high in fiber and low in saturated fat and salt. The diet is in line with what most major health organizations recommend, including the American Heart Association.
Does It Allow for Dietary Restrictions or Preferences?
Vegetarians and vegans: You'll find plenty of plant-based sources of protein to eat on this diet.
Gluten-free: Foods that include gluten aren't off-limits on this plan. But you should be able to make it work if you're avoiding gluten. In The Biggest Loser Club, meal plans can be adapted for specific food preferences. You'll still need to read food labels to completely avoid gluten.
What Else You Should Know
Costs: If you join The Biggest Loser Club ($39.99, first three months), you’ll follow an express, 6-week weight loss plan. You get meal plans and recipes, workouts featuring the show's trainers, a food and exercise tracker, and online support. You’ll chart your progress online and get weigh-in reminders.
Support: You can follow the diet by reading one of the Biggest Loser books. There are extra tools available at the Biggest Loser web site, including cookbooks, DVDs, equipment, Nintendo Wii and Xbox games, and workout music. You can even go to The Biggest Loser Resort, a destination weight loss program with locations in Utah, California, New York, and Chicago.
What Dr. Arefa Cassoobhoy Says:
Does It Work?
Yes. It makes sense and the research proves it. When you exercise and limit your foods to healthy choices in small portions, you'll lose weight.
The benefit of exercising during weight loss is the ability to lose body fat while maintaining muscle. One study showed that people who followed a biggest loser program maintained more lean body mass than those who went through bariatric surgery. But that didn't stop metabolism from dropping in both groups, likely due to eating so few calories.
Critics say The Biggest Loser diet as seen on the TV show is unreasonable for the average person, because it's extreme. This may be true, but if you have a large amount of weight to lose, an initial focus on getting a lot of weight off quickly may be motivating.
Is It Good for Certain Conditions?
Yes. When you lose the weight you’ll be preventing many medical conditions linked with obesity. You’ll lower your risk of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and stroke. The exercise will increase your core strength, stamina, and flexibility. You’ll be able to get out, live life, and socialize with other people by doing activities like biking and hiking.
To prevent injuries, you may need to pace yourself for slower, steady weight loss over a longer time than the TV show season.
The Final Word
This no-nonsense diet and exercise program works, but it is not for everyone. You have to participate in high levels of exercise and eat many fewer calories to lose weight.
Don’t get frustrated if you’re not losing weight as fast as the TV-show success stories, as research shows the level of activity on the show isn't sustainable in a real life setting. It's more important to make exercise and diet a regular and enjoyable part of your life.