The Real Truth Behind Fat Camps and Why They Don’t Work

Losing weight is hard. Whether you want to lose 100 pounds or just a few extra, dieting takes a toll on your body and mind when food feels like the enemy and your body feels like a battleground. 

Your goals are healthy living and healthy eating, but it seems difficult to find long-term success. Maybe you lose weight, and then regain it. Or maybe you’ve been trying to lose weight without what you perceive as success. The question is, why is it so hard to sustain weight loss? And will a weight loss camp help?

What is a fat camp for adults?

Fat camp, also known as a weight loss camp, is a type of residential program where individuals are guided towards achieving weight loss goals. These camps offer a structured environment that combines fitness activities, healthy eating education, and often, behavior change support. While the exact programs can vary, the common aim is promoting healthier lifestyles and sustainable weight loss. It's important to note that while 'fat camps' can provide a kick-start to healthier habits, long-term lifestyle changes are key for maintaining weight loss.

Fat camps for adults are typically residential programs that individuals attend and attempt to lose weight through exercise and other lifestyle, in often extreme quantities in a rapid amount of time. The issue surrounding programs like these often lie within how quickly changes are made to the body, in addition to what this kind of approach is promoting. 

Fat camps do little for the betterment of overall health and well-being. Bullying the body into slimming down and viewing higher body fat percentage as trouble that must be avoided at any and all costs is far from a healing and compassionate approach to weight loss.

One problem is restrictive dieting, whether you participate in a so-called fat camp or fat farm, or whether you restrict on your own. Increasingly, studies like this one here and here show that restrictive dieting does not work for long-term weight loss.

What does restrictive eating look like? It will most likely sound familiar. Restrictive eating requires dieters to undertake a set of rules regarding what they can and cannot eat. This can range from no carbs to low fat and everything in between. You might see results at first, because eliminating entire food groups is likely to leave you in a caloric deficit, but the moment you “bend the rules”, the weight seems to return. And who wants to stay on a diet for the rest of their life?

Do fat camps work?

In a word, no. Fat camps may cause you to lose weight quickly, but the likelihood that the weight will stay off is low. Here's why:

  1. Though it may be maddening, your body looks out for you in the way evolution has taught. The difference is, throughout most of human history, slimming down was the last thing your body needed to do.
  2. When your body senses food restriction, it assumes you are literally starving.
  3. Therefore, when your body thinks you may be starving, it responds by slowing your metabolism and diminishing hormone levels that regulate hunger. Your body is just doing its job: keeping you from starving to death.

The issue lies not in gaining the weight back, but in choosing a restrictive diet in the first place. Recent research shows us how ill-advised rapid weight loss is, and it turns out that slow and steady, along with nourishing meals, are the key.

Why is this? Because weight loss, one of the many benefits of living well, requires a lot less rule-following than we’ve always thought and a lot more education and practice surrounding sustainable healthy habits. Typically, it’s also a lot more intuitive than we might assume. There is no magic trick, diet, gimmick, or pill that knows you better than you know yourself.

Recent obesity research underscores the fact that your body will alter your hormone levels to try to get you back to your original weight. Leptin, an important hormone that regulates hunger, diminishes with dieting. This stems from the body's response to what it perceives as starvation. 

For this reason, sustainable weight loss comes more readily when you eat regularly while gradually cutting back on quantity. As for what foods will help this process, evidence shows that a balanced, nurturing way of eating works better than a limiting, constricting one. Without restriction, opt for less-processed, less-sugary foods that energize and fuel and nourish you. 

Rapid weight loss comes with a price

For example, a study of the participants from season eight of The Biggest Loser reality TV revealed for the first time what harm drastic weight loss can cause: a slower metabolism and diminished hormone levels that regulate hunger.

The consequences of the contestants' extreme weight loss were dramatic and disturbing. After their hard work, they were left with a double whammy: their bodies were certainly thinner, yet they needed far fewer calories just to maintain their new weights, and they were left feeling ravenous. Not a recipe for sustainable weight loss. In fact, almost all of the contestants of Season 8 gained back the weight that they lost. Moreover, some of them ended up even heavier than at the beginning of the show. 

The study with the Season 8 contestants was the first of its kind to measure what actually happens to extreme dieters’ bodies over a six-year period after undergoing this type of weight loss. Their bodies were just not burning enough calories to maintain their smaller sizes. They were thin but predisposed to regain weight. 

Fat farms and programs like the Biggest Loser produce weakened metabolisms. Extreme dieting does the opposite of what people intend, and then some. What remained most surprising to the researchers was how drastically the contestants' metabolisms slowed and were never able to rebound.

By the end of the study, it became clear that not only was the show’s approach to weight loss ineffective, but it caused real harm. That is to say, the contestants were not able to regain their normal metabolic rates, even after six years. To make matters worse, as the contestants had lost their vast amounts of weight, their leptin levels plummeted. 

Since most of us won’t be competing to win 250-thousand dollars for a reality TV show, we’re not likely to experience such drastic weight loss so quickly. That being said, a broader lesson can be learned. Whether you're trying to lose five pounds or 100, if you do it gradually, you will likely be much better off than the Biggest Loser contestants, prize or no prize. Because gradual weight loss won’t upset your hormones and impede your metabolism, you likely won’t regain the weight so easily.

Are fat camps real?

Yes, fat camps exist. But any way you look at it, the quick-fix diet bootcamp approach to losing weight doesn’t work.

Overall, consistent nourishment works better than letting ourselves fall victim to the pressures of the diet and food industries. That said, sometimes we need guidance with sustainable health and wellness in mind, and help finding steady, healthy weight loss that leads to long-term results.

That’s where Skyterra comes in. We are not a fat camp or fat farm. We do not promote “lose weight fast” gimmicks. Weight loss is one of our areas of expertise, but our focus is always on overall health, quality of life, and body composition before the number of the scale. 

Many – but not all – of our guests want to lose weight. For those individuals, we provide comprehensive support for achieving and maintaining a healthy body composition in a safe, encouraging environment. Daily schedules include fitness programming, but also stress management, weight loss and nutrition education, recreation and adventure. Learn how to sleep better, practice mindfulness, and set intentions that stick.

Guests in our program receive a pro-nourishment, anti-diet philosophy when it comes to weight loss. Experienced, compassionate staff help you develop healthy, sustainable eating, fitness, stress-management and healthy habits for life. 

Because of this grounded, holistic view of weight loss, we do not make guarantees about the number of pounds you will lose. Nevertheless, most of our guests lose weight during their time here, or even better, lose pounds of excess fat. According to data derived from our InBody body composition screenings, long-term guests at Skyterra (individuals who stay three weeks or longer) lose an average of 2.2 pounds of fat per week, and are able to maintain a healthy weight when they return home.

LoseSmart: Skyterra's four-week weight loss program

Be the hero of your weight loss through Lose Smart, our structured and highly rated weight loss program.

  • Finally lose the weight and feel better
  • Learn what works for your body
  • Change your life for good.

In addition to our signature program with expert-led educational workshops on what works when it comes to weight loss and a wide array of yoga, fitness and recreation classes, LoseSmart includes weekly personalized coaching, therapy, group fitness, culinary and dietary services. Sustain your weight loss progress with customized nutrition, fitness and self-care plans for home.

Click here for more information about sustainable weight loss at Skyterra.