The thrill of losing weight fast with a diet is amazing. But when that weight creeps back on and you find yourself having to diet all over again to lose it – it isn’t that much fun anymore. You’re falling into the trap of yo-yo dieting.
What Is Yo-Yo Dieting?
Like its famous namesake, the yo-yo dieter swings between extremes. Losing weight and getting to their ideal number only to put it all back on again and fill out completely. This tends to happen to those who use fad diets or other extreme diets to lose weight fast in a short span of time. Because these diets are based on unrealistic diet plans and sometimes on very low calorie intake, they aren’t sustainable. Sound familiar? If that’s exactly what you’ve experienced then you’ll also know that once you go back to your old style of eating, it is inevitable that those lost pounds come right back too.
Weight Cycling And What It Does
This movement of constant weight gain and loss in cycles is known as weight cycling. It is something that the yo-yo dieter is more than familiar with. This pattern is positively synonymous with such dieting. And it isn’t restricted just to those who are obese or overweight. Even if you are of normal weight, you could be susceptible to this pattern. According to research some people are especially prone. Like young women who feel dissatisfied with how they look due to very high personal standards and expectations from their peer group, bolstered by images of the slim ideal in the media.1 And as one CNN report on the subject explains, as many as 20 to 55 percent of the women in the United States have reported instances of weight cycling. Men on the other hand, see this pattern among just 10 to 20 percent of their cohort.2
Health Risks Of Yo-Yo Dieting
There have been dire warnings issued from time to time by those who believe yo-yo dieting is bad news. But is there any solid evidence to back up these claims? As it turns out, research has pinpointed a few areas that you should be concerned about if you count yourself a yo-yo dieter or have gone through repeated cycles of weight gain and loss.
1. Bad News For Your Heart
There has been research in the past that suggested weight variability could mean higher total as well as cardiovascular mortality making dieting potentially hazardous to your health.3
An extensive study on the impact of weight cycling and yo-yo dieting on the cardiac health of postmenopausal women was presented to the American Heart Association. The researchers found that while overweight and obese women did not see any impact from weight cycling on heart disease linked death, the problems arose for normal weight women. For this healthy weight group, those who weight cycled had 3.5 times more risk of sudden cardiac death compared to those with stable weights. Yo-yo dieting itself was also linked to 66 percent more risk of coronary heart disease death.4 As to the “why” of it, some researchers suggest that weight cycling could cause your heart rate, blood pressure, lipid, and blood glucose levels to fluctuate above normal levels as you regain weight, taxing your cardiovascular system.
In addition, weight cycling may also be linked to visceral fat accumulation, insulin resistance, dyslipidemia, hypertension and changes in fatty acid composition of adipose tissue.5
2. Weight Gain
Ironically, a fallout of yo-yo dieting is weight gain. When you constantly subject your body to repeat diets, your body begins to believe it is starving. And during this diet which your brain sees as a short famine, it gets your body to store up fat reserves in case it has to deal with further shortages in future. Which is why researchers have found that those who don’t diet at all actually gain less weight on an average than those who diet regularly. That’s because the non-dieter’s system never perceives a shortfall of food and sees its supply as reliable. So it doesn’t need to “store up” fat “just in case”.6 Which is why experts suggest cutting down a little on your normal calorie intake and adding in regular exercise to lose weight instead of going on an extremely low calorie diet.
3. Gut Dysfunction
Yo-yo dieting can also mess with the hearth of good bacteria in your gut. The good gut flora or bacteria that your body needs to maintain healthy immune function among other things, can be adversely impacted by yo-yo diets. Because of all the calorie and food restriction, the healthy balance gets disrupted and you become more prone to problems like inflammatory bowel disease.7 Which is why one study found that whether you were being good all week long and binging on junk food just a few days a week or were constantly eating junk food, the effects on your gut health were similar.8
|↑1, ↑5||Montani, Jean-Pierre, A. K. Viecelli, Anne Prévot, and Abdul G. Dulloo. “Weight cycling during growth and beyond as a risk factor for later cardiovascular diseases: the ‘repeated overshoot’theory.” International Journal of Obesity 30 (2006): S58-S66.|
|↑2||Yo-yo dieting dangerous for women’s hearts, study says. CNN.|
|↑3||Jeffery, Robert W. “Does weight cycling present a health risk?.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 63, no. 3 (1996): 452S-455S.|
|↑4||Yo-yo dieting dangerous even if not overweight. American Heart Association.|
|↑6||Higginson, A. D., and J. M. McNamara. “An adaptive response to uncertainty can lead to weight gain during dieting attempts.” Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health 2016, no. 1 (2016): 369-380.|
|↑7||Weekend binge just as bad for the gut as regular junk food diet, study suggests. University of New South Wales Sydney.|
|↑8||Kaakoush, Nadeem O., Sarah I. Martire, Mukesh Raipuria, Hazel M. Mitchell, Shaun Nielsen, R. Fred Westbrook, and Margaret J. Morris. “Alternating or continuous exposure to cafeteria diet leads to similar shifts in gut microbiota compared to chow diet.” Molecular nutrition & food research 61, no. 1 (2017).|