Yo-Yo Dieting and Weight Cycling

You've seen Oprah do it ... Kirstie Alley do it .. among many other celebrities and people you know or read about in the news. You may be part of the cycle yourself - weight losses and gains that go up and down. It's about the emotional and physical stresses that control our lives and how we cope with them through eating habits.

Most people have gained and lost weight in their lifetime for any number of reasons, called weight cycling or yoyo dieting. For some it's ten pounds, up and down, while for others it's 50 or more. Health and diet are on the top of the list for most people - from organic foods to drinking lots of water to changing eating patterns.

We have to eat to survive and as with everything else that impacts us daily, eating habits and exercise, take the forefront today. Careers in nutrition are becoming more popular. Everyone is becoming not only a life coach or counselor about humanity's emotional problems, but also about how we can eat and stay fit. When you look good, you feel good and it reflects back to others.

A person who repeatedly loses and gains weight should not have more trouble trying to reach and maintain a healthy weight than a person attempting to lose weight for the first time. Most studies show that weight cycling does not affect one's metabolic rate-the rate at which the body burns fuel (food) for energy. Based on these findings, weight cycling should not affect the success of future weight-loss efforts. Metabolism does, however, slow down as a person ages. In addition, older people are often less physically active than when they were younger. Regardless of your age, making regular physical activity as well as healthy eating habits a part of your life will aid weight loss and improve health overall.

Weight cycling has not been proven to increase the amount of fat tissue in people who lose and regain weight. Researchers have found that after a weight cycle, those who return to their original weights have the same amount of fat and lean tissue (muscle) as they did prior to weight cycling. People who exercise during a weight cycle may actually gain muscle.

Some people are concerned that weight cycling can put more fat around their abdominal (stomach) area. People who tend to carry excess fat in the stomach area (apple-shaped), instead of in the hips, thighs, and buttocks (pear-shaped), are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. Studies have not found, however, that after a weight cycle, people have more fat around their stomachs than they did before weight cycling.

Alternatives to the Yoyo Diet

It is a mental and emotional blow to go through all that dieting, just to be back where you started. Rather than suddenly dieting - hoping for a quick weight loss, it is better to take a more long term sustainable approach.

  • Aim for modest weight loss (even small amounts of lost fat can improve your health)

  • If lowering calories do it slowly (i.e. don't suddenly drop 1000 calories per day).

  • Think of your diet as a healthy eating plan.

  • Look to change your lifestyle (activity levels and what and when and why you eat).

  • To break the weight loss plateau you need to give your metabolism a boost. Aim to increase your levels of physical activity. And if you are missing meals or eating too few calories you need to take a serious look at your diet and aim to eat more often (every 3 hours).

  • Don't skip breakfast.

  • Can you imagine still being on your "current" diet 1 year from now?

    Yo-yo dieting or Yo-yo effect, also known as weight cycling The term "yo-yo dieting" was coined by Kelly D. Brownell, Ph.D., at Yale University, in reference to the cyclical up-down motion of a yo-yo. In this process, the dieter is initially successful in the pursuit of weight loss but is unsuccessful in maintaining the loss long-term and begins to gain the weight back. The dieter then seeks to lose the regained weight, and the cycle begins again.


    The reasons for yo-yo dieting are varied but often include embarking upon a hypocaloric diet that was initially too extreme. At first the dieter may experience elation at the thought of loss and pride of their rejection of food. Over time, however, the limits imposed by such extreme diets cause effects such as depression or fatigue that make the diet impossible to sustain. Ultimately, the dieter reverts to their old eating habits, now with the added emotional effects of failing to lose weight by restrictive diet. Such an emotional state leads many people to eating more than they would have before dieting, causing them to rapidly regain weight.

    Effects on Health

    This kind of diet is associated with extreme food deprivation as a substitute for good diet and exercise techniques. As a result, the dieter may experience loss of both muscle and body fat during the initial weight-loss phase (weight-bearing exercise is required to maintain muscle).

    Yo-yo dieting can have extreme emotional and physical ramifications due to the stress that someone puts on themselves to lose weight quickly. The instant gratification of losing the weight eventually gives way to old eating habits that cause weight gain and emotional distress.

    Since there is no single definition of weight cycling that can be endorsed, it is almost impossible for research to draw specific conclusions about the actual affects of cyclical dieting, until it becomes more definitely defined.

    In the News ...

    Yo-yo dieting better than staying obese   MSNBC - June 7, 2011
    Losing and gaining weight is healthier than no weight loss at all, study finds.

    Losing weight and gaining it right back again is better for your health than remaining obese, according to a new study in mice. The findings suggest so-called yo-yo dieting is not as bad for your health as once thought. Mice in the study that were put on a yo-yo diet lived just as long as mice on a low-fat diet. Mice that ate a high-fat diet, on the other hand, had a shorter lifespan.

    Although maintaining a stable, healthy weight is still ideal, "People should not stop trying to lose weight if they are, like I am, a person who gains weight frequently and tries to lose it," said study researcher Edward List, a scientist at Ohio University's Edison Biotechnology Institute. The study was presented today at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society in Boston.

    Yo-yo dieting

    About two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, and research has shown many are unable to keep their weight off over the long-term.

    List and his colleagues put 30 mice on one of three diets: a high-fat diet, a low-fat diet and a yo-yo diet that fluctuated between high-fat and low-fat for four-week periods.

    Weight-loss benefits

    The findings agree with other research performed with people, said Dr. Louis Aronne, an obesity expert at Weill-Cornell Medical College in New York City, who was not involved with the study. "Given what we're learning about obesity and its impact on disease, it makes sense that yo-yo dieting not only doesnŐt hurt, but could help," Aronne told MyHealthNewsDaily.

    Fat cells produce hormones that can harm the body by increasing inflammation and blood sugar levels. When people lose weight, even for a short time, production of these hormones is reduced as well, he said.

    A 2002 study of people at risk for developing diabetes found that a 7 percent weight loss reduced the chance of developing diabetes by 58 percent, Aronne said. Those in the study initially lost 7 percent of their weight, but only maintained a 4 percent weight loss over a four-year period, he said. "A little bit of weight loss goes a long way when it comes to improving health," Aronne said. "We don't have to get people to their ideal body weight," before they start to see health benefits, he said.