Weight cycling, or yo-yo dieting, refers to losing weight and regaining it back again multiple times. Numerous studies highlight the deleterious effects weight cycling inflicts on health. According to the International Journal of Exercise Science, 38% of American women and 24% of American men have been trying to lose weight, while 10% of women and 7% of men are weight cyclers who lose at least 5 kilograms (11 pounds) only to regain the weight on at least 3 different occasions.The health risks of yo-yo diet are becoming more documented, as evidenced by a new study showing that weight cycling may increase the risk of death from heart disease.
Yo-Yo Dieting Has Negative Health Effects Regardless of Size
A new study presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Science Sessions 2016 suggests that even those of normal weight may have an increased risk of death from heart disease after repeatedly and rapidly losing and gaining weight. Previous animal studies show that weight cycling interrupts metabolism and physiology, but until now, scientists were uncertain how the effects manifest in humans. Lead researcher Dr. Somwail Rasla, of the Memorial Hospital of Rhode Island, explains, “Weight cycling is an emerging global health concern associated with attempts of weight loss, but there have been inconsistent results about the health hazards for those who experience weight cycling behavior.”
Rasla and team separated 158,063 postmenopausal women into 4 groups: those who maintained a consistent weight, those who steadily maintained weight loss, those who steadily maintained weight gain, and those who repeatedly and rapidly lost and regained weight. Researchers checked in over 11.4 years. Based on the women’s reports, those of normal weight in the yo-yo dieting group had a 3.5 times higher risk of sudden cardiac death compared to those who maintained a stable weight throughout. Weight cycling did not appear to increase the risk of heart disease-related death among obese women, nor was there any substantial increased risk of death in women who gained weight and kept it on, or in women who lost weight and kept it off.
Researchers concluded that being overweight in midlife can significantly increase your risk of coronary heart disease and sudden cardiac death, although the limitations of the study call into question a definitive cause and effect relationship between the two. The study was observational, relied on self-reporting, and consisted of a limited demographic. Dr. Rasla says, “More research is needed before any recommendations can be made for clinical care regarding the risks of weight cycling, since these results apply only to postmenopausal women and not to younger-aged women or men.”
How to Lose Weight Safely and Keep It Off
It’s not easy to stop the cycle of yo-yo dieting, but it is entirely possible. One way to end weight cycling is to stop looking at dieting as a project that lasts a few weeks or months, and start looking at your nutrition and exercises choices as long-term lifestyle adjustments. The adjustments you make shouldn’t be too strict or entail too much sacrifice. Otherwise, it’s just too hard to commit. Dieting, or rather eating healthfully over the long term, shouldn’t involve pain or deprivation. Give yourself 20% leeway and allow yourself to indulge every now and again. Be moderate with your goals and release expectations so your weight loss and maintenance become easier to stick with.
When you are losing weight, plateaus are inevitable. What worked for the first 10 pounds, may not work for the next. Be flexible in body and mind, and willing to try different eating regimens and workouts to push past weight-loss plateaus. Be gentle and easy on your mind and body, practicing radical self-care to keep yo-yo dieting at bay.