Putting your body through a series of activities such as working out twice a day, having a pantry makeover or juice cleanses to lose weight may just be harsh and too much. Most especially if it’s a monthly or yearly trend for you. (1).
Yo-yo dieting otherwise known as weight cycling is a weight loss method that involves losing weight, regaining it, then dieting to lose it again. Also, the process causes your weight to go up and down just like a yo-yo. (2).
Most women are very familiar with weight cycling, losing weight and gaining it back, shedding it and gaining it and this cycle continues. (5).
How Common Is Yo-yo Dieting?
Yo-yo dieting has become very common just as the number of obese has increased too. Yo-yo dieting is not just limited to the overweight or obese as many grownups, adolescents, and even children with normal or underweight body mass indexes diet. This is because they feel they are overweight or society, social media, family, and friends pressurize them. (14).
Survey data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination shows that the number of individuals with normal weight who have made efforts to lose weight through dieting and other means has increased between the middle 1990s and 2003 to 2008. (14).
About 13.5% of underweight women have at one point or the other tried to control their weight.
Additionally, because there is a need to adhere to beauty standards or weight categories by athletes in some sports, they may yo-yo diet at certain seasons to achieve that. Also, young adolescents are found to experience weight cycling because they start participating in some of these sports at a tender age. (14).
About 30% of women and 10% of men have tried losing weight through yo-yo dieting and it is a common method. (2).
About 80% of people who intentionally lose up to 10% or more of their total body weight will gain it back within one year and weight cycling affects the health of humans especially morbidity and mortality. (8).
How Does Yo-yo Dieting Affect Your Body?
Apart from affecting your ability to permanently maintain your weight, weight cycling has some health consequences among which are
Yo-yo Dieting Causes Weight Gain
Repeated dieting has been shown to do exactly the opposite of what it is intended to do, which is weight gain. The reason for this is when dieting, your body goes into a survival mode, causing fat to be stored for future use.
Similarly, this is what happens to those who go with extremely low energy foods. This resultant weight gain is more for dieters than those who did not diet. (1).
All of this is so because the body of those who do not diet knows that the supply of food is reliable so there is no need to have fat stores. (1).
Although there is a wide claim that weight cycling is more detrimental to health than being overweight or obese, research has produced mixed outcomes though this could be of the lack of consistency in the definition of weight cycling. (7).
Because yo-yo dieting is a short term cycle of changes, it results in only short term weight loss (2) and you find yourself back to where you started or even worse.
Also, when you diet, you lose fat and this reduces the levels of leptin which is a hormone that makes you feel full. This causes your appetite to increase and as a result, you gain more weight than you lost. (2).
Yo-yo Dieting Could Cause Gut Disruption
Your gut houses trillions of diverse microbiota that affect your immunity, metabolism, and nutrition just to mention a few. Yo-yo dieting causes an imbalance in the number and diversity of this microbiota, thereby predisposing you to inflammatory bowel disease and obesity. (1).
Also, because your gut retains the memory of obesity, it makes it easier for you to gain back the lost weight after yo-yo dieting (4).
Yo-yo Dieting Can Cause Psychological Frustration.
Yo-yo dieting surely causes weight loss, though this is only due to loss of water and dehydration. Also, yo-yo dieting is not the same as healthy eating which results in this weight cycling that takes a toll on your emotional and physical well being. (1).
Adults who have a history of yo-yo dieting reported they are not satisfied with their health and lives. This is because, after putting in so much effort into losing weight, you gain it right back after you stop it. (2).
Similarly, it has been reported that African American women are at a risk for yo-yo dieting and this could be due to greater weight and poorer psychological health measures. (9).
Also, it has been shown that there is a strong link between weight recycling and a negative psychological and behavioral outcome, there has been a report on an increased risk for psychopathology, binge eating and life dissatisfaction among yo-yo dieters. (10).
Puts You At Risk Of Developing Diabetes.
When you are dieting, you are more likely to skip meals and or eliminate entire food classes, this causes your blood glucose levels and weight to fluctuate which puts you at risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Also, the more the weight fluctuations you have, the more likely you are to develop type 2 diabetes. (4)
Studies have shown that there is a significant association between weight cycling and insulin resistance and or diabetes. (8).
Because you tend to restrict your calorie intake when dieting, your body reacts by reducing the rate at which you burn it as well as slow down your metabolism. This leads to muscle loss and disruption in your metabolic processes.
Although weight recycling does not permanently disrupt your metabolism, it causes you to lose muscle mass which is not good as your muscle mass helps keep you strong, fit as well as help you burn calories. (3).
To avoid all these, it is advised that cardiometabolic markers should be monitored when yo-yo dieting. (8).
You Risk Developing Heart Disease With Yo-yo Dieting.
Fluctuations in body weight have been reported to be a risk factor for coronary events and death in those with heart disease. When you restrict your diet for a particular time, it increases your craving for sugary and fatty foods.
Also, yo-yo dieting can cause you to lose vital nutrients such as iron which is needed to prevent anemia. (4).
Fluctuations in body weight caused by weight cycling have been strongly linked to negative health outcomes most especially mortality due to coronary heart disease. (10).
Yo-yo dieting disrupts your sleep and increases the production of cortisol, (a stress hormone) by your body. This predisposes you to heart diseases. (4).
The American Heart Foundation reported that women who lost as little as 10 pounds through weight cycling have higher risk factors for heart disease than women who never did. (5).
It is impossible to achieve ideal heart health when you have weight fluctuations. So, it is advised that you maintain a healthy weight to achieve that. (5).
Weight Cycling Can Lead To Muscle Loss
Studies have shown that yo-yo dieting is associated with the loss of lean mass which is most often never regained. (8).
When dieting, your body loses fat and muscle mass. However, body fat is regained far more easily than muscle mass. So, you tend to lose muscle mass with time. (2).
Consequently, you experience a decrease in physical strength. However, to combat this, you can begin to do strength training and exercise to help grow back your muscles. (2).
Yo-yo dieting Affects Your Self Esteem
Most people are not able to maintain the weight loss due to yo-yo dieting, this may cause a feeling of failure and when the weight is regained, their self-esteem begins to diminish.
A study of 167 African American women who were either overweight or obese and seeking treatment revealed that those who were weight cyclers were less satisfied with their body, had a high desire for thinness and less self-esteem about their appearance. (9).
However, it has been advised that instead of dieting to lose weight and then getting frustrated in the end, it is better to cultivate healthy eating habits and hold onto it. (6).
How to Avoid Yo-yo Dieting
Breaking the cycle of yo-yo dieting is something you can do if only you are determined to have a permanent lifestyle modification. Because as long as you continue to diet, lose weight and then go back to your old ways, you are bound to continue wallowing in weight cycling. (13).
Here are a few proven ways to help you avoid weight cycling.
The best way to be free from weight cycling is to stick to a weight loss plan that is sustainable, which combines healthy eating, exercise, and mindfulness which results in gradual and sustainable weight loss.
Avoid fad diets that promise instant weight loss but are not healthy and will instead lead to weight regaining. Also, once you achieve that weight you desire, continue with weight maintenance which is about undergoing permanent lifestyle changes. (12).
What Are The Healthier Alternatives to lose Weight?
The reason yo-yo dieting does not work is that after dieting and losing weight, it is not sustained, you tend to go back doing those things that caused you to gain weight in the first place.
However, to break this cycle of yo-yo dieting, lifestyle and not dieting should be considered as it is only maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle in the long run that could lead to long term weight loss. (2).
To lose and maintain weight in a healthy way, here are a few ways to go about it and here they are.
Stay hydrated Sometimes, what you need is just a glass of water and not a plate of food.
Eat regular meals. Eat your meals regularly to avoid the temptation of eating junk when you are hungry.
Sleep well. When you have poor sleep, it puts you at risk of gaining weight.
Incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet Fruits and vegetables contain low fat and calories as well as high fiber which help keep you full.
Decrease sugary and high-calorie diet When you eat less fat, your body in search of energy burns excess stored fat, also, it lowers your insulin levels causing your kidney to excrete excess sodium and water which reduces water weight and bloating.
Start exercising. Being active helps you burn excess calories which you cannot do away with by only dieting.
Avoid skipping meals especially breakfast Skipping your breakfast makes you lose out on nutrients you need and skipping your meals may make you so hungry that you are likely not to think straight and eat healthy by the time you need to eat. (13).
Increase your fiber intake Fiber containing diets help keep you full, reduce your appetite and slows down the movement of food through the gut which is good for maintaining a good weight.
Other ways are, cutting down on alcohol, planning your meals, avoiding stocking junk foods, using smaller plates, eating high protein breakfast, and eating unprocessed or whole grains among many others.
Finally, avoid punishing yourself by cutting off certain food groups to lose weight. Avoid weight loss plans that promise rapid weight loss because they may not sustain the lost weight. Also, as soon as you stop the plan, you find yourself gaining even more weight than you lost. (1) (5).
When you decide to lose weight, choose methods that are not harmful to your health rather, diet using whole grains, high protein foods, fruits, and vegetables while you remain active and allow your body to gradually shed the weight. This way you get to have a long term result. (5).