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Ups and Downs – Yo Yo Dieting

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How many times have you successfully lost weight — only to gain it again further down the track?  Some people struggle with this for most of their lives.  This is “yo-yo” dieting – a continuing pattern of gaining and losing weight.  Sometimes it is called “weight cycling”.

What is 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.   Weight cycling is when a person regularly loses weight only to quickly regain it.  This weight cycling or “yo-yo” dieting is the result of poor eating habits.  A weight cycle can range from small weight losses and gains (5-10 lbs. per cycle) to large changes in weight (50 lbs. or more per cycle).

Before I started P90x almost 3 years ago, this was how my weight fluxuated, anywhere between 225 and 250 lbs.  Some research links weight cycling with certain health risks.  Ill get to that in a minute.  To avoid potential risks, most experts recommend that obese adults adopt healthy eating and regular physical activity habits to achieve and maintain a healthier weight for life.  Non-obese adults should try to maintain their weight through healthy eating and regular physical activity.   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.

If I regain lost weight, won’t losing it again be even harder?

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.

Will weight cycling leave me with more fat and less muscle than if I had not dieted at all?

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.

Is weight cycling harmful to my health?

Some studies suggest that weight cycling may increase the risk for certain health problems.  These include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and gallbladder disease. For adults who are not obese and do not have weight-related health problems, experts recommend maintaining a stable weight to avoid any potential health risks associated with weight cycling.  Obese adults, however, should continue to try to achieve modest weight loss to improve overall health and reduce the risk of developing obesity -related diseases.

Losing and regaining weight may have a negative psychological effect if you let yourself become discouraged or depressed. Weight cycling should not be a reason to “feel like a failure.” Instead it is a reason to refocus on making long-term changes in your diet and level of physical activity to help you keep off the pounds you lose.

Is staying overweight healthier than weight cycling?

It is not known for certain whether weight cycling causes health problems.  The diseases associated with being obese, however, are well known.  These include: High Blood Pressure, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer, arthritis and gallbladder disease.


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).  When I started to lose weight I was losing 3 lbs per week.
  • If lowering calories do it slowly (i.e. don’t suddenly drop 1000 calories per day).  If after a period of a few days to a few weeks and you’re not seeing results try dropping your calorie intake down 100 lbs. until you start noticing the transformation.
  • Think of your diet as a healthy eating plan.  Once you really start eating healthy on a daily basis you will start to feel stronger and more motivated.
  • Look to change your lifestyle (activity levels and what and when and why you eat).  Its better to make a lifestyle change than for your weight to go up and down like a yo-yo.
  • 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, and don’t skip any meals or snacks for that matter.  When you skip a meal you maybe reducing your calorie intake but your metabolism begins to slow and you are depriving your body of nutrients that it needs to survive.
  • Can you imagine still being on your “current” diet 1 year from now?  Once I started a new eating lifestyle I decided I never wanted to go back.


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