Yo-Yo Dieting: Avoid the Ups and Downs

Though losing weight has many positive health benefits, could the rapid weight cycling of yo-yo dieting be harmful to your health in the long run?

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You’ve seen many people do it: celebrities, friends, relatives. Yo-yo dieting, also known as weight cycling, refers to the repeated loss and regain of body weight, which can vary from 5-10 pounds to more than 50 pounds. This can occur over a period of several months to several years and can be harmful for your heart and your health.

Why Is Yo-Yo Dieting Dangerous? 
Research shows it’s better for your health not to diet at all than to say you’re dieting and steal spoonfuls of crème brûlée during every commercial break. That’s because diets typically promote weight cycling and yo-yo dieting, which is actually more hazardous to your health than keeping a steady overweight weight. Most weight cyclers eventually gain back more weight than they had initially lost because the shame and stress involved with gaining weight can lead to eating more.

Weight cycling may also have negative psychological and behavioral consequences; studies have reported increased risk for mental distress, life dissatisfaction, and binge eating. Some studies have shown that extreme weight cycling can even damage the heart.

One study found that women who were weight cyclers – especially if it occurred five or more times during their life had a great risk of heart disease beginning shortly after menopause. The researchers believe that the link between weight cycling and heart disease involves the cells that line the blood vessels called endothelial cells. When people gain and lose weight repeatedly, these cells become damaged so blood can’t flow freely. When blood flow to the heart becomes restricted, the stage is set for heart attack and stroke.

Diets and the Power of the Mind

When most of us try to lose weight, we pull out the most powerful weapon we’d like to think we have – our brains – and launch a psychological attack on food. However, the truth is that there are very strong emotional triggers that make us eat and can make most diets fail. Researchers theorize that overeating may act like a drug addiction and trigger the reward centers in our brain. Hence, at points of stress, your brain's neurons may be programmed to combat the stress with food. 

Some dieters psychologically treat diets as an all-or-nothing ordeal. Once they deviate even slightly from a diet or healthy eating plan, they figure they might as well drop the whole thing. This starts a cycle of weight gain and weight loss that’s hard to escape: We’re fat. We try to lose weight. We deviate just a little. We fear rejection for the perceived failure. We isolate ourselves from people. We stop talking about it. We mow through a pound of cheesecake, and we get fat again. The cycle continues. 

What Should I Do About It?
If you’re a yo-yo dieter and consistently struggle with weight, keep trying. Don’t give up. Trying to achieve a lower weight and reaping the potential health benefits from diet and exercise outweigh the possible risks of weight cycling. However, the trick is to avoid weight cycling altogether and lose weight for good. Here are some tips to accomplish that:

  • Lose Weight Gradually: The best way to lose weight and keep it off is through a gradual, consistent loss of weight of around two pounds per week. Not only does it help keep the weight off, it’s healthier for you.
  • Diet Just for You: One crux to dieting involves the societal disdain for obesity. Many yo-yo dieters stop dieting after many attempts in order to avoid the shame of failure. They calculate that it’s better to not be on a diet and be overweight than to be on a diet and eventually prove to the world that they can’t succeed.
  • Be Positive: If you blame yourself for your weight, if you are depressed about your weight, or if your mood is low because of your weight, then your first job is to refocus. You’ll need to think about what you can do, how you can do it, why it’s good for you, and how you’ll succeed.
  • Add Some Support: Develop a support system of people who know your goals, know your weaknesses, and know your strengths. You can even find support buddies online. This person will be your sounding board, your comfort system and your measure of accountability. With a positive support system, you’re more likely to make a permanent change.