Thursday, May 20, 2010

Exercise and Weight Gain Go Together Like Daris and Orange Afros

On Tuesday night's episode of "The Biggest Loser," the final four contestants -- Michael, Ashley, Daris and Koli -- were sent home and given a month to train for a marathon.

After shedding 150 pounds (and trimming back his Chia curls), Daris appears to be in the best shape of the bunch. He's under 200 pounds, and can exercise like a maniac. During his training runs, he must have pushed himself harder than anyone expected -- Jillian Michaels circled in a helicopter for what seemed like an eternity before spotting Daris running around the open fields of rural Oklahoma in his orange t-shirt.

But as NBC's eerie-green night camera footage shows, intense training for a 26.2-mile footrace makes Daris hungry. He raids his kitchen late at night (but remembers to turn on the videocamera and aim it at the refrigerator first), and confesses that he can't help himself.

His hardcore training paid off, though: Daris broke the "Biggest Loser Marathon" record by finishing the race in just 4 hours and 2 minutes -- more than 2 hours ahead of second-place finisher Koli, who looked like he was going to seriously fucking die of cardiac arrest when he crossed the finish line. Michael and Ashley strolled in sometime after everyone stopped caring.

At the weigh-in, however, our man Daris was the only contestant to have gained weight, going from 195 to 197 (even after the removal of 65% of his hair)! Cue the flabbergasted stares and accusatory WTFs from Jillian and Bob, whose eyes looked like they were going to shoot across the stage and riddle Daris' naked torso with holes. Daris, you sabotaged yourself! You have no self-control! Stop eating like you're stoned! AAAAAAGH!

But let's take a deep breath and consider: Was Daris' weight gain all that unexpected?
The guy trained for a marathon by busting his ass. You don't go from looking like a life-sized Cabbage Patch Kid to running an almost sub-4:00 marathon by kicking back. And guess what exercise does to your appetite?

As I've mentioned before, intense physical activity makes people hungrier. I know: This isn't rocket science. But for some reason, the "Biggest Loser" trainers appear to pin the blame on Daris' lack of willpower rather than on the physical demands he put on himself in order to kick everyone else's ass in the race. The harder you train, the greater the likelihood you're going to eat more. As Time Magazine put it:
"In general, for weight loss, exercise is pretty useless," says Eric Ravussin, Chair in Diabetes and Metabolism at Louisiana State University and a prominent exercise researcher. Many recent studies have found that exercise isn't as important in helping people lose weight as you hear so regularly in gym advertisements or on shows like "The Biggest Loser" -- or for that matter, from magazines like this one. The basic problem is that while it is true that exercise burns calories and that you must burn calories to lose weight, exercise has another effect: it can stimulate hunger. That causes us to eat more, which in turn can negate the weight loss benefits we just accrued. Exercise, in other words isn't necessarily helping us lose weight. It may even be making it harder.
There are plenty of reasons to squeeze in some vigorous physical activity. But on a show like "The Biggest Loser," where the name of the game is pure weight loss (and not setting marathon records or even achieving optimal health, for that matter), simply cranking up the intensity level of exercise isn't going to do the trick.