Weight Cycling...Facts About "Yo-Yo" Dieting
What is Weight Cycling? Weight cycling is the repeated loss and regain of body weight. When weight cycling is the result of dieting, it is often called "yo-yo" dieting. 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).
Some research links weight cycling with certain health risks. 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.
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
- Type 2 diabetes
- Certain types of cancer
- Gallbladder disease.
Not every adult who is overweight or obese has the same risk for disease. Whether you are a man or woman, the amount and location of your fat, and your family history of disease all play a role in determining your disease risk. Experts agree, however, that even a modest weight loss of 10 percent of body weight over a period of six months or more can improve the health of an adult who is overweight or obese.
Conclusions Further research on the effects of weight cycling is needed. In the meantime, if you are obese or are overweight and suffer from weight-related health problems, try to improve your health by achieving a modest weight loss. Although weight cycling may have some effect on disease risk, the serious health problems resulting from obesity are clearly understood. If you need to lose weight, you should be ready to commit to lifelong changes in your eating and physical activity behaviors. If you are not obese or overweight with weight-related health problems, maintain your weight. Focus on adopting healthful eating habits and enjoying regular physical activity to manage weight and promote health for life. For additional information, please visit the Obesity Center. Portions of the above information has been provided with the kind permission of the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive & Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health (www.niddk.nih.gov).
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Medically reviewed by John A. Daller, MD; American Board of Surgery with subspecialty certification in surgical critical care June 22, 2017