What Is the Biggest Loser Diet?

biggest loser diet

Verywell / Debbie Burkhoff

At Verywell, we believe there is no one-size-fits-all approach to a healthy lifestyle. Successful eating plans need to be individualized and take the whole person into consideration. Prior to starting a new diet plan, consult with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian, especially if you have an underlying health condition.

The whole point of "The Biggest Loser" television show is to lose large amounts of weight as fast as possible, through both a low-calorie diet and a lot of exercise. This makes for great TV, but outside the strictly regulated environment of the Biggest Loser Ranch, it may not be as effective.

"The Biggest Loser" first aired in 2004. It continued for 17 seasons until early 2016. Each season featured 12 to 16 contestants who lived together and competed to see who could lose the most weight by the season's end. To achieve this dramatic weight loss, the participants ate a strict portion- and calorie-controlled diet and exercised a lot—sometimes for hours a day. The 2021 U.S. News and World Report Best Diets ranks the Biggest Loser diet number 20 in Best Diets Overall and gives it an overall score of 3/5.

What Experts Say

"The Biggest Loser diet focuses on small portions and regular exercise to promote weight loss. Experts agree these age-old concepts should lead to pounds shed. However, they warn that the diet may cause you to occasionally dip below 1200 calories, which is not recommended."
Chrissy Carroll, RD, MPH

What Can You Eat?

The main premise of the Biggest Loser diet is calorie restriction, which is achieved by limiting the amount and kinds of foods included. The diet has its own "food pyramid," called the 4-3-2-1 pyramid. It stands for:

  • 4 servings of fruits or vegetables
  • 3 servings of protein
  • 2 servings of whole grains
  • 1 "extra" of no more than 200 calories

If that doesn't sound like much food for an entire day, you're right; this diet is calorie-restricted. But if you have a particular dietary need or preference, such as vegetarian or gluten-free, it's relatively easy to adapt the Biggest Loser diet to work for you.

What You Need to Know

Eating several times throughout the day may help you feel more full. The Biggest Loser diet allows for three meals and two snacks per day. The portions are small, but each meal or snack should contain protein and/or fiber to help defeat hunger.

As for exercise, the Biggest Loser show has participants performing vigorous exercise for three hours per day under the supervision of fitness experts that includes cardiovascular and strength training. This level of activity is not likely to be possible for most people and is likely to lead to overtraining when combined with a low-calorie diet.

The at-home program features workout videos by the Biggest Loser trainers and instructions for beginning a workout program with as few as two training sessions per week at first. You can perform exercise at home or in the gym. There is also an optional run-walk program to follow that can help you train for a 5-K or 10-K race.

What to Eat
  • Fruits, vegetables, beans, and nuts

  • Lean protein

  • Whole grains

  • Low-fat dairy products

What Not to Eat
  • Refined carbohydrates

  • Caffeine

  • Alcohol (in excess)

Whole Grains

This diet limits carbs and calories by reducing whole grains to two servings per day and eliminating refined carbs. Whole grains serve up more nutrients and fiber than refined carbohydrates, so refined carbs (such as white bread and white rice) are not included in the diet.

Caffeine

The Biggest Loser diet recommends avoiding caffeine completely. Since it can increase heart rate, caffeine doesn't pair well with strenuous exercise.

Alcohol

People on this diet can choose to use their "extra" calories on an alcoholic drink, as long as they choose that drink wisely. It must be 200 calories or less.

Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Includes all food groups

  • Resources available

  • Incorporates exercise

Cons
  • Restrictive diet

  • Strict exercise routine

Pros

Nutrition

This diet includes all major food groups, and its 4-3-2-1 pyramid may help users shift their daily menus to a healthier mix.

Resources

No special foods are required, but help in following this diet is readily available. The Biggest Loser Resort has a website with recipes and tips, and you can find books, cookbooks, food journals, exercise videos, and fitness equipment for sale. You can even watch old episodes of the TV show if you find that motivating. But you also don't have to use these tools if you don't feel they benefit you.

Exercise

The need for exercise sets this diet apart from many others. The Biggest Loser books suggest following the diet for six weeks and include exercise plans for those six weeks as well.

Cons

Restrictive Diet

Although there are no food groups completely eliminated from the Biggest Loser diet, the restrictive amount of calories and servings of certain food groups each day might make following this diet feel like deprivation. The 200-calorie allowance for "other" foods is quite small.

Strict Exercise

While exercise is always a good idea, especially if you are trying to lose weight, this diet makes it a requirement. If you cannot exercise or are not ready to, this makes the Biggest Loser diet inaccessible for you.

Is the Biggest Loser Diet a Healthy Choice for You?

The Biggest Loser diet made for great drama on TV, but in real-life practice, it is a fairly simple concept that is similar to other weight-loss plans. Like other diets, the Biggest Loser diet creates a calorie deficit designed to bring on weight loss. Then it revs up that deficit with extra exercise.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's MyPlate guidelines suggests getting a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins, and low-fat dairy products. This is similar to the Biggest Loser diet's recommendations.

The USDA suggests a basic figure of 2000 calories per day for weight maintenance, although this number varies based on age, sex, weight, and activity level. For weight loss, the USDA suggests reducing calories from your maintenance amount based on your activity level. The Biggest Loser diet generally goes beyond that number. A healthier (but perhaps slower) way to lose weight is to use this calculator to determine your daily calorie need for weight loss.

The Biggest Loser diet is based on smart weight-loss principles and is readily accessible. But it is not for everyone. Its calorie restrictions and emphasis on vigorous exercise may be too extreme for some.

Health Benefits

Although the Biggest Loser diet may be too low in calories for many people, it does recommend some dietary components that may improve overall health.

May Meet Daily Nutrient Needs

The Biggest Loser diet does not cut out any major foods or food groups. Everything is included, so with careful planning (to account for portion size and calorie count), those on this diet should be able to get the nutrients they need. This will mean choosing nutrient-dense foods, like whole grains, lean proteins, and vegetables that are recommended.

May Improve Body Composition

Since the Biggest Loser diet emphasizes protein and includes strength training, it may help preserve muscle often lost during low-calorie weight-loss diets. Improved body composition may help prevent health conditions and all-cause mortality.

Health Risks

The Biggest Loser diet recommends extreme calorie restriction and so leads to some health risks. For that reason, the diet isn't recommended and may lead to mental and physical detriments.

May Lead to Weight Regain

Especially as depicted on the TV show, the Biggest Loser diet would be very difficult to sustain due to low-calorie levels. The franchise's resort stays, and the plans outlined in its books are also short-term solutions. But you could use the Biggest Loser diet to kick off a weight-loss plan and then modify it (by increasing calories and fat) to make it a longer-term option.

Restricted Calories and Fat

Some Biggest Loser diet menus total just 1100 calories per day, with only 12% to 16% of those calories from fat. Both of these figures are low—probably too low to be either healthy or sustainable, especially if you are adding in a lot of exercise for the first time.

Lowered Metabolism

Any time you lose weight, your body needs fewer calories than it did at your prior weight. So you have to get used to eating less to maintain your weight. Sometimes, especially if you lose weight quickly (as is the goal with this diet), it's easy to lapse and regain that weight right back.

A Word From Verywell

For most people, this diet would not be sustainable, as after a while hunger will assert itself forcefully into the equation. Low-calorie diets tend to set people up for failure in the long run. At the very least, the number of calories should be customized to the individual.

Still, the Biggest Loser diet could be the basis for a workable diet, especially for the way it introduces the importance of portion control and exercise. Anyone who tries it and has difficulty may wish to supplement with healthy fats, such as avocado, nuts, olive oil, coconut oil and flax seeds.

Remember, following a long-term or short-term diet may not be necessary for you and many diets out there simply don’t work, especially long-term. While we do not endorse fad diet trends or unsustainable weight loss methods, we present the facts so you can make an informed decision that works best for your nutritional needs, genetic blueprint, budget, and goals.

If your goal is weight loss, remember that losing weight isn’t necessarily the same as being your healthiest self, and there are many other ways to pursue health. Exercise, sleep, and other lifestyle factors also play a major role in your overall health. The best diet is always the one that is balanced and fits your lifestyle.

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5 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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