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Weight Loss

From the effects of the hormone cortisol to the role of genetics in weight loss, this category is packed with everything that you need to know about losing weight the healthy way.

What Is Yo-Yo Dieting? All to Know About Weight Cycling

Up and down, up and down… The rhythm of a yo-yo can also explain the concept of weight cycling. Beyond scale frustrations, learn the consequences of yo-yo dieting here.

What Is Yo-Yo Dieting? All to Know About Weight Cycling


Does this sound familiar? Weight loss happens, but soon after the weight is regained - maybe even more than at the beginning of the weight loss journey. 

Once the weight is regained, weight loss efforts are started again only to have this cycle continue with weight fluctuating. This up and down of weight is referred to as either weight cycling or yo-yo dieting. 

Yo-yo dieting has been shown to increase the risk for more than an up and down number on the scale. So, there is reason to avoid these weight fluctuations if possible.

Learn how to stop exaggerated weight fluctuations and break the cycle of yo-yo dieting once and for all!

What Is Yo-Yo Dieting?

Yo-yo dieting is also known as weight cycling, defined mostly as an umbrella term to describe the repeated "up and down, up and down" weight loss pattern often noticed on a scale. Whether related to severe low-calorie dieting or even bouts of binging that lead to weight fluctuation, yo-yo dieting is simply an inconsistency in dietary patterns. 

Yo-yo dieting can look like following a strict weight loss diet for a while with successful weight loss. However, once off a restrictive eating plan, the weight that was lost comes back and may even go up higher than at the start of following a diet which perpetuates the cycle.

Consequences of Yo-Yo Dieting

Becoming trapped in yo-yo dieting and such fluctuations can cause more than just frustrations with a lack of consistency in the number on the scale. Yo-yo dieting can negatively impact both mental and physical health. 

Research shows weight cycling can promote weight gain around the abdomen/midsection. This extra weight gained is associated with negative health risks like an increased risk for heart disease. 

A 2017 study found fluctuation in body weight was associated with higher mortality and a higher rate of cardiovascular events independent of traditional cardiovascular risk factors. So even if other risk factors for cardiovascular disease are removed, weight fluctuations with weight cycling can still increase the risk for a heart attack or other cardiovascular event.

Individuals who demonstrated high weight fluctuations also increased their risk of developing type 2 diabetes, which may validate additional health concerns and a higher risk of death. Along with gaining weight to the point of being overweight or obese, theorists suggest dropping and regaining weight puts strain and stress on the body. 

But the repercussions of yo-yo dieting are more than impeding on physical health, as dealing with weight fluctuations can be stressful to mental well-being. Gaining weight can be discouraging and overpower the motivation to continue making healthy choices. Falling into such weight control traps can increase the risk of anxiety and depression. 

5 Ways to Break Yo-Yo Dieting Cycle

When it comes to breaking the cycle of yo-yo dieting, there needs to be some sort of mindset shift. The word "diet" is often associated with high standards and impractical dietary practices that are unsustainable. 

Instead of thinking about a restrictive diet for weight loss, a long-term shift in lifestyle needs to happen to avoid the up and down effect of yo-yo dieting. And since health is not a "one size fits all," health practices should be individualized and promoted as a lifestyle change. 

Though changes are encouraged to fit individually, the following are a collective set of tips and skills for anyone looking to break the yo-yo cycle. 

1. Keep Going After Setbacks

Let's be real and honest: We are not perfect and weight loss is not perfect. The path to health goals is not a linear line. 

What's most important is owning and learning from life's hiccups. For example, instead of dwelling about eating that large chocolate cake, move on to make the next choice one that supports health goals. 

Do not ditch goals just because of a temporary derailment. Start fresh with the next choice! 

Partaking in continuous poor practices turns health goals backward and can spiralize into unhealthy ways and choices. On the other hand, continuously making good choices - like healthy eating habits - for your health, even after a setback, can keep you moving closer to health goals.

2. Stick to a Schedule

Life's responsibilities can get in the way of setting time for exercise, stress management, meal planning, and sleep. To combat these interferences, set time aside in your weekly schedule for healthy habits. 

For instance, devote workouts to early mornings, schedule group workout classes on Tuesday evenings, or meal prep on Sunday afternoons. Fostering good habits ultimately promotes structure and, ultimately, health.

It’s important to stick with structure even when it’s not convenient or you do not feel like it. Determine how to get in exercise or healthy meals during the week and prioritize these like any other important events throughout the week. 

Check out more tips for sticking to a workout routine and meal prep ideas for the whole family for more inspiration!

3. Quit Obsessing

People tend to become preoccupied with the number on the scale. Rather than fixating on weight quantity, start tending to your total health. 

Instead of obsessing over the scale, ask yourself "How are my energy levels?" "Do I feel stronger?" or "How are my clothes fitting?" 

The common statement "numbers don't lie" holds some sort of truth. But bodyweight holds many factors and may be influenced by water intake and muscle mass among others.

4. Stay Optimistic

When there is a plateau in lost weight or other health goals, it can feel discouraging and hopeless. However, staying in a negative mental state can ultimately be devastating to mental health and promote stress and even feelings of depression. 

Recurring stress may lead to poor health. Stress can allow the body to hold onto fat more easily and lead to stress eating and food binges.

Find things to be grateful for and focus on these. Write them down. Remember health gains you have already accomplished. Talk with a friend or counselor to help guide negative emotions and thoughts into positive ones.

5. Be in It for the Long Haul

Instead of just focusing on losing weight by any means possible, keep your vision for the long haul. How can health goals become a long-term habit? Recognize changes to shift in daily life that can be sustained beyond a temporary fix.

Focus on eating a balanced, healthy diet instead of turning to a fad diet for weight loss or rigid weight management techniques. Keep in mind that bistroMD delivers well-balanced meals directly to your doorstep, providing heart-healthy and well-balanced entrees and snacks to reduce the risk of yo-yo dieting and weight fluctuations.

Weight Cycling Recap

Weight cycling, or yo-yo dieting, happens when weight constantly goes up and down over a course of time. It can be small or large weight fluctuations. Weight loss happens but then is re-gained - sometimes more than at initial weight loss efforts - and the cycle continues. Not only is this cycle frustrating, but it can also contribute to other negative health effects. 

Weight cycling has been shown to increase the risk for weight gain in the midsection, and increase the risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and mortality. Weight cycling may also negatively affect mental health with anxiety and depression. 

The good news is the cycle of yo-yo dieting can be broken with shifts in habits and mindsets. Instead of looking at weight loss as a short-term fix, it can be sustained with lifestyle changes. Scheduling healthy habits into your schedule, not obsessing with the scale number, staying optimistic, and reminding oneself this is a long-term goal can help break out of the up and down cycle.

Sydney Lappe's Photo
Written By Sydney Lappe, MS, RDN. Published on February 18, 2022. Updated on May 02, 2022.

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