Diet Detective: The Biggest Loser Diet
In this web-exclusive series, dietician-in-training Erin Reicks examines the good side and the bad side of several popular diets.
Season after season contestants on NBC’s Biggest Loser TV show lose an incredible amount of weight and regain years of their life back. Being a “Biggest Loser” however does not only pertain to those on the show. I found out this week that anyone can eat like a Biggest Loser contestant, even me. Being a fan of the show I was curious as to what The Biggest Loser diet was like and although I wasn’t necessarily interested in losing weight, I wanted to gain some insight about the effectiveness of the diet—so I followed it for 5 days.
The Biggest Loser diet has also been called the “4-3-2-1 diet” because of the basic rules followed. Each day 4 cups of vegetables and fruits are to be consumed, 3 servings of low-fat protein are to be eaten, 2 servings of grains (preferably whole grain), and 1 “extra” food consisting of around 200 calories is taken in. Easy enough to remember this numbered approached, but the question remains: does it work and am I able to follow it?
Well, I was able to follow it—loosely. I found out real fast that the calories were way too low for me as I would wake up in the middle of the night starving. This is where I veered from the diet plan as I began to eat an extra bedtime snack, similar to the snacks that I would eat during the day (a protein and either a fruit or vegetable). The daily calories on the biggest loser diet are between 1400 and 1600 which may be too low for some, especially if someone is exercising in addition to dieting—which is recommended on the Biggest Loser diet. As I mentioned earlier, it was really difficult for me to follow the diet plan exactly. I found myself being very hungry all day long and would actually spend a good portion of the day thinking about food. I definitely felt deprived during my stint as a Biggest Loser and to be honest, I desperately wanted a cookie. I will say that I did lose weight during my 5 days (however minimal) so the plan does cause weight loss.
The main problem I see with this diet however is that it may be a little too extreme for some to stick to. When calorie needs are determined for an individual, typically they are very specific to the person, taking into consideration the individuals’ gender, height, weight, activity level, and age. So a standard 1500 calorie diet may be inadequate for some, and although weight loss is achieved through a calorie deficit (using more calories than you are taking in), sometimes when we consume too low of calories for a period of time we can be doing more harm to our bodies than good. The best way to know your personal calorie level for weight loss would be to speak to your local dietitian.
Some things that I liked about the diet was that it pushed fruits and vegetables, breakfast was emphasized, protein was included at each meal and snack, and there was the promotion of eating real food which Biggest Loser trainer Bob Harper explains “If it’s in the ground or on a tree it’s on the diet plan”. There are also a lot of recipes available, which I think are always of value when on a diet to keep from boredom. Exercise is also a big part of the Biggest Loser diet and before you think you have to jump into the gym like the contestants do, the plan includes a much more gradual approach to exercise. This ensures that Biggest Losers will safely incorporate exercise into their life and keep it there for years to come.
If I had to decide what the best part of this diet is though it would be the support that comes along with it. By picking up one of the Biggest Loser diet books or looking online many of the past contestants are shown and they just re-enforce that “if they can do it, so can you”. Weight loss is hard enough in itself, but doing it without a support system can make it near to impossible. What Biggest Loser has done is they have created a support system for anyone interested in adopting a Biggest Loser lifestyle.
All in all I’m mainly positive towards this 4-3-2-1 diet plan as it encompasses basic healthy eating behaviors. It just may be a bit too extreme right of the bat for those who haven’t been invited to “the ranch” making it difficult to follow and possibly leading to the reality that you are not the Biggest Loser.