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The Biggest Loser Before and After: A Study of Drastic Weight Loss

May 29, 2015

Very shortly on this blog, I will be introducing a series on the nine psychological stages of weight loss that I identified in my groundbreaking research study involving contestants on NBC’s hit show The Biggest Loser. Before I introduce that series, I would like to share with you the story of how I was able to do that research, and what the experience was like for me.

The Biggest Idea

As part of the process of getting my Doctorate and becoming a Licensed Therapist, I wanted to do a dissertation on drastic weight loss and obesity. Part of the reason I wanted to do this was that it was a problem I had personally struggled with, but it was also because there really was very little research about drastic weight loss.

There were, and are, many studies that explore the problem of obesity, which is now rampant in our society. For the first time, there are very large numbers of people who are extremely overweight, but this means that there are also now large numbers of people who are losing large amounts of weight. The process of losing 50 lbs or more—what amounts to an entire person’s worth of weight—presents challenges and problems that simply don’t occur when losing 40 or 50 lbs. Before now, there really hasn’t been the opportunity or the need to study these challenges, so hardly anybody did so. The few studies that had been done involved drastic weight loss that had occurred after bariatric surgery (more commonly known as lap-band surgery)—not through diet and exercise. I wanted to use my dissertation to change that.

I wanted to address the following questions in my dissertation:

  • What are the common stages people go through when they lose a drastic amount of weight?
  • How do their lives change?
  • How do they view themselves differently as they go through the process?
  • How do their relationships shift?
  • What are the common roadblocks they hit?
  • How do they navigate those roadblocks?

My initial plan was to just use people in local weight loss programs and try to track them as they went through their program or interview them after they had lost the weight. However, as I started thinking about it, I realized that so many people get their ideas about weight loss from the show The Biggest Loser on NBC. How amazing would it be, I wondered, to be able to use the contestants on that show—essentially, the superstars of the drastic weight loss world—for my research study?

Getting my foot in the door

As it turns out—and perhaps not surprisingly–this was easier said than done. NBC was very guarded and protective of the contestants on The Biggest Loser, and had never allowed them to participate in any kind of study. I had to jump through an amazing number of hoops just to get my foot in the door, and then submit a number of different proposals in order to present them with a plan that made sense from their perspective. I was eventually granted access to the contestants, and to this day—as far as I am aware—I am the only researcher who has been given that access.

Working with the contestants

Actually doing the research over a two-and-a-half year period and working with the contestants from The Biggest Loser was a very emotional experience for me. There were times as I reviewed transcripts from the interviews that I had done where I would literally shed tears. Other times, I would be motivated and inspired by the stories the contestants had to share.

All in all, it was very validating to learn that all the people I interviewed had gone through a similar experience to the one I had when I lost weight. The initial reaction I’ve had from people as I start sharing the results of my research has further validated that we are moving in the right direction, and makes me even more excited about unveiling the nine psychological stages of weight loss.

The purpose of the nine stages

The goal of my upcoming series about the nine stages of weight loss is to give you a road map of what to expect if you haven’t yet gone through a weight loss transformation. If you have gone through a weight loss transformation, I hope it’s a validation of your experience. I hope it gives you encouragement to start speaking out about your experience within the drmando.org community, and gives you the courage to seek support from either me or another therapist who can help make this journey not just about weight loss but about really transforming your entire lives.

Be sure and subscribe to the blog so that you can follow along as we begin our journey through the nine stages, starting with Stage 1: Anchor to Change, which is all about looking at why we want to lose weight to begin with.