Obesity, the quick fix and why it’s counterproductive.

I read an interesting article written by Gina Kolata in the New York Times a couple of weeks ago about the popular TV show “The Biggest Loser.”  Like many, I watched in awe as morbidly obese people lost extreme weight in a short amount of time.  During the dramatic finales, many contestants donned six pack abs and vowed never to go back to their former lives.  Hindsight is priceless.

The Times article followed the story of Danny Cahill, the 2009 winner. Cahill lost 239 pounds in seven months. That’s over 6 pounds a week – with the biggest weight lost at the beginning of his journey.

The reality is, he has gained back 100 pounds since the show.  According to Kolata, most of that season’s 16 contestants regained much if not all of their weight.  Some are even heavier now.

Why and what does this have to do with Workers’ Compensation and what I do here at The WorkPlace Solution.  Quite a bit.  Obesity is one of the driving causes of injury and rate pain for businesses today.  As our society becomes “larger”, quick fix drugs, surgeries and yes, even TV shows have become popular and big business.

Business owners have a vested interest in helping their employees stay fit.  It makes financial sense to do so – but with realistic expectations.  Those who struggle with obesity can never be “cured” with diet or surgery or running marathons.  It’s a forever lifestyle change and yes, slow and steady does win the race.

Kolata interviewed Kevin Hall, an expert on metabolism at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases part of the National Institute of Health, for her article on Cahill.  According to Hall, the issue is with “Resting Metabolism”.

Anyone who has been on a weight loss journey has been given a number for how many calories you burn when at rest.  If you didn’t get out of bed all day, you still burn calories – this is your Resting Metabolism.

According to Hall, the Biggest Loser and then the biggest regain happens because the morbidly obese contestants had a normal resting metabolism for their weight when they began the show.  When the show ended, their metabolisms had slowed radically, and their bodies were not burning enough calories for their smaller size. Seems logical – right?

What was shocking to me was that Hall discovered that as the years went on and contestants like Cahill gained back significant weight – their metabolisms didn’t increase.  It was a battle they were doomed to lose – and they are.  In Cahill’s case according to the article – his metabolism slowed so much that he now has to eat 800 calories LESS per day than a normal person his size just to maintain his current weight of 295.

The article goes on to state that there is always a weight a person’s body maintains without effort – think of it as the body’s comfort zone.   It’s not known completely why your metabolism shifts over the years and weight changes, but there is a weight that is easy to maintain and your body will work like heck to stay there.

Let’s be honest – it isn’t all about metabolism. The average person has a life and can’t spend all day at the gym, doesn’t have doctors, nutritionists, and boot camp trainers at their beck and call 24/7.  That’s simply not reality.   Most people are lucky to exercise an average of a couple of hours per WEEK not per day.

So what’s the answer?  Obviously not getting to an obese state in the first place would avoid stories such as Cahill’s – but again, that’s not the reality of our American lifestyle.  We work more than individuals in most countries; we eat more processed foods, and we get less exercise – and don’t forget stress.  All contribute to our every expanding waistlines.  I do think as a society we are beginning to realize the error of our ways, and shows like The Biggest Loser have taught us a lot.

As a business owner, the struggle is real.  Being part of the solution and not the problem is a start.

  • Maintain an active Workplace Wellness program to encourage healthy eating & exercise
  • Walk the Walk. Healthy leaders will encourage healthy employees
  • Get rid of the vending machines loaded with sugar
  • If you can – have a workout room on site or offer gym memberships to employees as part of their benefits packages.

I encourage you to read the Times article in full –it was fascinating, to say the least.  The topic of “why we are an obese society” is volatile – almost as much as our political arena today!

What do you think of the research and shows like the Biggest Loser?     What do you think the solution is?  Perhaps it’s bringing back daily gym class in schools and encouraging recess for adults?  I would love to hear your point of view!

Dave Sinclair, CEO The WorkPlace Solution


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About the author

David Sinclair is the CEO of The WorkPlace Solutions and Sinclair Risk & Financial Management.

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The goal of The WorkPlace Solution is to provide our exclusive group of members a solid program to reduce claims and turn what once was a large draw on their P&L statement into a profit center.

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