By Lydia Jade Turner
Biggest Loser trainer Michelle Bridges claims weight loss ‘success’ is a case of mind over matter.
“[Being a contestant on] The Biggest Loser… is a bit like winning the lottery. You can either spend all the prizemoney and return to your original financial state, or you can invest it wisely and set yourself up for life,” she wrote in her Sunday Life column.
Despite research demonstrating ninety-five per cent of people who lose weight will regain it within two to five years, Bridges stuck to her guns.
“…Biggest Loser contestants return to reality with all the tools they need for the best long term outcome.”
Side-stepping the fact that many past contestants have regained the weight or are now weight cycling, Bridges insists weight regain is the fault of the individual.
Bridges can be confident it is the contestants who are to blame, because she knows The Biggest Loser approach works. She knows this – despite no studies to support this view – simply by assuming this is the case.
In an attempt to support her argument, she described a 2004 study  misattributing it to a 2008 study conducted by Professor Susan Byrne.
The 2004 study Bridges described looked at the impact of ‘dichotomous’ or ‘black-and-white’ thinking on weight loss.
The findings showed those who began their weight loss journey with unrealistic expectations were more likely to engage in rigid weight loss attempts, setting themselves up to fail. However those with less ‘dichotomous thinking’ were more likely to be content with a modest amount of weight loss and thus kept the weight off for longer.
Bridges concluded that “…long term outcome is likely to be affected by the mindset in which losing weight is approached…”
The problem with this conclusion is that the study did not even qualify as ‘long term’ research. What wasn’t revealed is that the participants were tracked for only one year. It does not make sense to extrapolate data at one year and assume this informs what is likely to happen at five years. That’s just bad science.
Interestingly a more recent study by the same author finding weight loss failure at three years concluded “…it is ethically questionable to claim that psychological treatments for obesity ‘work’ in the absence of data on their longer term effects” .
Bridges further reported that studies since the 1960s demonstrate that the few who are able to keep weight off long term, manage to keep only a modest amount off – approximately five to ten per cent of their starting weight.
If Bridges is aware of this research, why does she continue to promote significant and rapid weight loss on The Biggest Loser?
Why does she sell workout DVDs that promise to get you “tight toned and terrific” when most ‘obese’ people who successfully maintain weight loss will still be… ‘obese’?
Is she not aware of the overwhelming amount of literature demonstrating the harms of weight cycling- a common result of weight loss failure? [4-8]
Bridges signed off with a ‘tip’ informing that those who make sustainable nutrition and lifestyle changes successfully keep the weight off. She finished by telling readers not to diet.
There are undoubtedly benefits to making healthy nutrition and lifestyle choices, whatever one’s size. But Bridges’ claim that this will keep the weight off is simply not supported by research. Biological safeguards often underlie weight resistance.
And isn’t it hypocritical to tell readers not to diet when the entire Biggest Loser show is one extreme diet designed for public entertainment?
Bridges is regularly featured in the SMH health section. She has provided advice on topics ranging from childhood obesity to genetic research.
It seems many Australians are putting in the efforts to improve their health, but knowing who’s advice to trust is proving difficult.
Despite all this focus on weight, what is rarely reported is that several studies demonstrate weight has little impact on health except at statistical extremes[9-11]. In fact those categorized as ‘overweight’ often outlive those in the ‘ideal weight’ category.
Due to significant financial conflicts of interest and bias [13, 14], obesity research typically does not account for numerous variables not limited to history of weight cycling, diet pills, stress levels, nutrient intake, socioeconomic factors .
Emerging studies show weight cycling – a common side effect of attempting weight loss –may be responsible for some of the problems typically attributed to obesity.
Could the solutions prescribed be causing the very problems they are designed to prevent?
Rather than abusing our bodies attempting weight loss solutions that don’t work, we can choose to engage in a process of health. We can choose to engage in life-enhancing physical activity, and balance our nutritional needs with feelings of hunger and satiety.
We can choose to focus on fitness, regardless of whether it brings about weight change. A healthy lifestyle will bring about health improvements, whatever one’s size.
 ALBERT STUNKARD, M.D.; MAVIS McLAREN-HUME, M.S. (1959). AMA Arch Intern Med, 103(1):79-85. Please note this statistic has been reinforced by numerous clinical studies since 1959 and was recognized at the Australian New Zealand Obesity Society conference 2009 and the International Obesity Summit 2010.
 Byrne, S.M., Cooper, Z., & Fairburn, C.G.F. (2004). Psychological predictors of weight regain in obesity. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 42, 1341-1356.
 Byrne, S.M., et. Al., (2010). Testing a new cognitive behavioural treatment for obesity: A randomized controlled trial with three-year follow-up. Behav Res Ther, 48(8): 706–713.
 Wallner S.J., et. al., (2004). Body fat distribution of overweight females with a history of weight cycling. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord., Sep 28(9):1143-8.
 Colditz, G.A., Field, A.E., Manson, J.E., Taylor, C.B., Willett, W.C. (2004). Association of weight change, weight control practices, and weight cycling among women in the Nurses’ Health Study II. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord., Sep 28(9):1134-42.
 Rzehak, P., et.al., (2007). Weight change, weight cycling and mortality in the ERFORT Male Cohort Study. Eur J Epidemiol., 22(10):665-73.
 Amigo I., Fernández C. (2007). Effects of diets and their role in weight control. Psychol Health Med., May;12(3):321-7.
 Saarni, S.E., et.al., (2006). Weight cycling of athletes and subsequent weight gain in middle age. Int J Obes Nov;30(11):1639-44.
 Durazo-Arvizu, R., et al., (1998). Mortality and optimal body mass index in a sample of the US population. American Journal of Epidemiology, 147: p. 739-749.
 Flegal, K.M., et al., (2005). Excess deaths associated with underweight, overweight, and obesity. Journal of the American Medical Association, 293(15): p. 1861-7.
 Troiano, R., et al. (1996). The relationship between body weight and mortality: A quantitative analysis of combined information. Int J Obes, 20: p. 63-75.
 Andres, R., D.C. Muller, and J.D. Sorkin, (1993). Long-term effects of change in body weight on all-cause mortality. A review. Annals of Internal Medicine, 119: p. 737-743.
 Aphramor L (2010). Validity of claims made in weight management research: a narrative review of dietetic articles. Nutrition Journal, 9:30 doi:10.1186/1475-2891-9-30. www.nutritionj.com/content/9/1/30#B36
 Bacon L (2008). Health at every size: The surprising truth about your weight. Benbella: USA.
 Campos, P., et al., (2005). The epidemiology of overweight and obesity: public health crisis or moral panic? International Journal of Epidemiology.
 McFarlin, B.K., & Strohacker, K. (2010). Influence of obesity, physical inactivity, and weight cycling on chronic inflammation. Frontiers in Bioscience E2, 98-104.