As It Happens

Why so many contestants on 'The Biggest Loser' gain back weight they lost

In 2009, Danny Cahill lost 239 pounds in seven months — the most weight any contestant on "The Biggest Loser" had ever lost. Now he's gained more than 100 pounds of that back. And a surprising new study shows that's because his body is working against him.
Danny Cahill was 430 pounds when he joined NBC's reality TV show "The Biggest Loser" six years ago. He lost 239 pounds. Six years later, despite his best efforts, Cahill has gained more than 100 pounds back. (PROVIDED)

Six years ago, Danny Cahill set out on a journey to lose weight. And not just a bit of belly fat. Cahill weighed more than 400 pounds. He applied to be a contestant on The Biggest Loser, an NBC extreme weight-loss reality show and he made the cut.

Jillian Michaels, a personal trainer on NBC's "The Biggest Loser," embraces Danny Cahill, one of the contestants on Season 8. (PROVIDED)

At the end of the show, the scale read 191 pounds — the most weight any contestant on the show had ever lost.

Danny Cahill, holding up his old pair of jeans after losing 239 pounds on NBC's "The Biggest Loser." (PROVIDED)

But despite Cahill's efforts, the pounds came back. Six years after the show, his weight sits just shy of 300 pounds. And a new study — which Cahill participated in — could help explain why so many people find it difficult to keep off the weight they have lost.

"After these folks lost a tremendous amount of weight, they experienced a much greater than expected slowing of metabolism -- several hundred calories a day slower than you would expect for someone of that new body size," Dr. Kevin Hall tells As It Happens host Carol Off. 

Danny Cahill, after shedding hundreds of pounds during NBC's "The Biggest Loser." (Supplied)

"I always chalked it up to a lack of willpower. But this actually shows that there is science to my body, that is fighting against me and making it hard," Cahill tells Off.

Dr. Kevin Hall is a researcher with the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (PROVIDED)

Hall says he was amazed to learn through his research that the more extreme the weight loss and the more dedicated the person was to keeping off the pounds, the harder the body worked to gain back the weight.

"It's the folks that were most successful in maintaining the lost weight, that were continuing to experience the greatest pull back, the greatest slowing of metabolism," says Hall, who studied metabolism with the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

A more recent photo of Danny Cahill. "The Biggest Loser" contestant has gained back more than 100 pounds, six years after appearing on the show. (PROVIDED)

Cahill says the study should send a message to people who think obesity is simply a matter of laziness.

"Overweight obese people aren't lazy, necessarily. If you asked my wife, 'Is Danny a lazy person?' she'd say, 'He is the least lazy person you'd ever meet.' 'So, how'd he get to 585 pounds?' It was a combination of addiction, lifestyle, and now we're finding out — science."

For more on Danny Cahill's story, take a listen to our full interview.