Biggest Loser Diet Guide: Dissecting the TV Weight Loss Sensation

Is the Biggest Loser diet a healthy way to lose weight? Let's check it out!

For many years, “The Biggest Loser” was one of the most popular American reality TV shows on NBC, and it still has an active viewership today for reruns.

Viewers from home get to see the inspirational and transformative experiences of people suffering from obesity put through the wringer of physical challenges and a weight loss diet to see who can lose the most weight as quickly as possible in order to remain in the competition.

Because contestants on “The Biggest Loser” TV show certainly lost weight, it’s not all surprising that the extreme weight loss diet and exercise plan used in the TV show was modified and “packaged“ into a weight loss diet for everyday individuals at home.

The Biggest Loser diet is an intense weight loss diet fashioned from some of the concepts used on the reality weight loss competition show.

But, is the Biggest Loser diet safe?

In this diet guide, we will discuss the Biggest Loser diet plan, how to follow it for weight loss, and its potential benefits and drawbacks.

Let’s jump in!

A weight loss transformation.

What Is the Biggest Loser Diet?

The Biggest Loser diet is a weight loss diet plan designed to help people lose weight through diet and exercise.

Although the weight loss program used on “The Biggest Loser” television show is an extreme version for rapid weight loss, the Biggest Loser diet plan for household use is more of a tamed-down Biggest Loser weight loss diet.

This is because most of the contestants who appear on the weight-loss reality TV show suffer from morbid obesity.

This means that they often have upwards of 50 pounds or more to lose, and they are working under the guidance of medical professionals, certified personal trainers, and registered dietitians 24/7 while they stay at The Biggest Loser Ranch.

These contestants undergo hours of intense exercise daily and follow an extremely restrictive, low-calorie diet for rapid weight loss.

The Biggest Loser diet plan for home dieters is still a low-calorie weight loss diet and requires exercise most days of the week.

A person who has lost weight on the biggest loser diet.

How to Follow the Biggest Loser Diet Plan

The Biggest Loser weight loss diet limits the calories and types of foods you can eat in hopes of achieving a caloric deficit for weight loss.

Unique to the Biggest Loser diet plan is what is known as the “Biggest Loser diet food pyramid,” also known as “The Biggest Loser 4-3-2-1 pyramid.”

These numbers represent the servings of foods to eat per day on the Biggest Loser diet plan: 

  • 4 servings of fruits or veggies
  • 3 servings of protein
  • 2 servings of whole grains (carbohydrates)
  • 1 “extra” of no more than 200 calories. This is a treat food like a serving of ice cream

One important point is that the serving sizes here refer to the USDA serving sizes, which are much smaller than the typical portion sizes that we might put on our plates.

Serving sizes are those found on the nutrition facts panel of a food product or USDA serving sizes for vegetables, fruits, etc.

To determine the number of calories you should eat per day on the Biggest Loser meal plan, you are supposed to multiply your current body weight in pounds by 7.

A person who has lost weight on the biggest loser diet.

For example, if you weigh 190 pounds, 190 pounds x 7 = 1,330 calories per day.

The Biggest Loser diet calorie targets are quite low, especially considering that you should be exercising about 60 minutes daily.

While a caloric deficit is required for weight loss, according to Harvard Health, the minimum calories a day adults should be eating unless otherwise guided by a healthcare professional is 1200 calories a day for a woman and 1500 calories a day for a man.1Publishing, H. H. (n.d.). Calorie counting made easy. Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/calorie-counting-made-easy#:~:text=However%2C%20calorie%20intake%20should%20not

‌Thus, even for most women, the Biggest Loser diet calorie recommendations may not be enough.

Furthermore, remember that these are the daily caloric minimums to prevent nutritional deficiencies and are insufficient for maintaining weight or optimizing health.

According to the NHS, women’s recommended daily calorie intake is 2,000, and men’s is 2,500 calories daily.2NHS. (2018, June 27). What Should My Daily Intake of Calories be? Nhs.uk; NHS. https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/food-and-diet/what-should-my-daily-intake-of-calories-be/#:~:text=Generally%2C%20the%20recommended%20daily%20calorie

‌Even if you want to lose weight, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends creating a caloric deficit of no more than 3,500-7,000 calories per week—which would yield 1-2 pounds of fat loss—for effective and sustainable weight loss.3Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, September 19). Losing Weight . Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/losing_weight/index.html

‌This works out to a total daily caloric deficit of a maximum of 500 to 1000 calories per day, which can be generated through cutting calories in your diet, increasing your physical activity, or a combination of both.

The Biggest Loser workout program can burn upwards of 500 calories per day for some individuals, which would mean you would want no more than a 500-calorie deficit from your diet.

A person on a scale.

What Can You Eat On the Biggest Loser Meal Plan?

Your diet should focus on whole, natural, filling foods with lean protein, healthy fat, and fiber. 

The Biggest Loser diet plan suggests three small meals and two small snacks per day to control appetite while keeping portions small.

While there are some specific foods to avoid on the Biggest Loser diet meal plan, the main restrictions you will find pertain to the Biggest Loser diet calories per day rather than the specific food choices.

This concept is similar to the Weight Watchers diet in that there are not many foods that are off-limits, but it makes sense to be strategic in your food choices by opting for low-calorie, nutrient-dense foods for satiety since you only have a limited number of calories per day to work with.

Here is what you can eat on the Biggest Loser diet meal plan:

The Biggest Loser Diet Food List

  • Fruits and vegetables: You can have four servings per day. Leafy green vegetables such as spinach, kale, arugula, and chard are recommended. Non-starchy vegetables are also encouraged. Examples include bell peppers, mushrooms, asparagus, zucchini, cucumbers, green beans, celery, artichokes, and radishes. Fruits to focus on include low-sugar fruits such as raspberries, melons, and citrus.
  • Whole Grains: While the Biggest Loser diet for weight loss isn’t necessarily low-carb, starches, and grains are limited to only two servings per day. You should consume whole grains rather than refined grains. Examples include steel-cut oats or rolled oats, quinoa, brown rice, whole-grain bread products, and farro.
  • Lean Protein: Although you can have three servings of lean protein daily, specific lean proteins are recommended in the Biggest Loser meal plan. These include skinless chicken breast, lean pork tenderloin, lean sirloin steak, white fish such as halibut, and tofu.
  • Low-Fat Diary: You can have low-fat dairy products such as skim milk or low-fat milk, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, and kefir.
  • Nuts and seeds as condiments.

There are two main types of foods and beverages you cannot eat on the Biggest Loser weight loss meal plan:

  • Refined Grains: You cannot have any refined grains. Whole grains contain more fiber and nutrients.
  • Caffeine: Caffeine of all types must be removed from the diet since it can increase heart rate and blood pressure, which the diet creators suggest is a dangerous combination with intense exercise. This means you cannot have coffee, energy drinks, black tea, green tea, matcha tea, other caffeinated tea, caffeinated soda, chocolate, etc.
A person celebrating looking at a scale.

Exercise

On “The Biggest Loser” TV program, contestants exercise up to 3 hours per day by performing intense cardio exercises along with strength training.4Hall, K. D. (2013). Diet versus exercise in “the biggest loser” weight loss competition. Obesity21(5), 957–959. https://doi.org/10.1002/oby.20065

‌The Biggest Loser home diet program does have an exercise component, though it is not as vigorous or time-consuming.

For one, that amount of exercise is generally not logistically practical for people at home working full-time jobs or taking care of a family rather than living at the Biggest Loser resort.

Secondly, doing too much exercise can lead to overtraining, injuries, burnout, and fatigue, especially when the exercise program is not led by a fitness professional.

The Biggest Loser workout program for home dieters involves following workout videos at home or at the gym or performing other types of exercise such as running and walking.

You start with 30 minutes of exercise per day and build up to 60 minutes per day.

A person showing weight loss by pulling out the sides of their pants.

Is the Biggest Loser Diet Good for Weight Loss and Health?

The Biggest Loser diet plan uses sensible principles such as reducing portion sizes and eating small frequent meals, and it is a much safer and more realistic weight loss plan for everyday individuals trying to lose weight on their own through diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes than the TV version.

The Biggest Loser diet food list focuses on relatively healthy foods and removes processed foods, and the fact that exercise is built into the infrastructure of the plan supports not only potential weight loss but also overall health.5Fock, K. M., & Khoo, J. (2013). Diet and Exercise in Management of Obesity and Overweight. Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology28(4), 59–63. https://doi.org/10.1111/jgh.12407

That said, the Biggest Loser diet plan is still very low in calories and may be too extreme and restrictive for some individuals, particularly if you have a larger body size, do not have much weight to lose, or are very physically active.6Gibson, A., & Sainsbury, A. (2017). Strategies to Improve Adherence to Dietary Weight Loss Interventions in Research and Real-World Settings. Behavioral Sciences7(4), 44. https://doi.org/10.3390/bs7030044

‌Weight loss results will also not be as fast or dramatic as seen on TV, which is actually a good thing. Rapid weight loss is often unsafe and difficult to maintain.

If you are trying to lose weight or reduce your risk of diseases, consider working with a registered dietitian, nutritionist, and doctor to find the best diet and exercise program for your needs.

If you are interested in starting out with some clean eating for a healthy lifestyle, check out our guide here.

A person making a salad.

References

Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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