Why Weight Cycling Is Bad for Your Health

weight cycling
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Weight cycling, also known as yo-yo dieting, refers to the process of losing weight, only to gain it back and repeat the cycle again shortly thereafter. Weight cycling is often called yo-yo dieting because the person's weight goes up and down numerous times. A single weight cycle is defined as one instance of weight loss, followed by weight regain. Certain health risks have been linked to weight cycling.

What Is Weight Cycling?

Weight cycling usually occurs when a person repeatedly starts and stops restrictive dieting. This cycle generally results in gaining and losing a similar amount of weight over and over again. Researchers have defined weight cycling as the loss and regain of at least 20 pounds three or more times. The risks and issues associated with yo-yo dieting go beyond just this definition, however. Going on and off weight-loss diets can become a destructive habit, for both your physical and mental health. Yo-yo dieting may be harmful to self-esteem and promote a negative relationship with food.

Weight cycling is often the result of crash dieting. During a crash diet, a person follows a very low-calorie diet that often results in rapid, but unsustainable, weight loss.

After following a crash diet, it's common to regain some or all of the weight that was lost on the diet. This weight regain happens because the often extreme calorie deficit responsible for the initial weight loss is too difficult to sustain long term. Very few people can maintain the restrictive eating that is so often at the foundation of diets aimed at rapid weight loss. To compound the issue, many crash dieters can become preoccupied with food and disconnected from their internal hunger and fullness cues, which can lead to weight regain and sometimes putting on additional weight beyond the starting point.

The Health Risks Associated With Yo-Yo Dieting

There is not a clear consensus as to whether weight cycling in itself directly causes health problems. Research has raised concerns that fast weight loss through weight cycling is linked to an increased risk of gallstones.

Other concerns about yo-yo dieting have been evidenced by studies demonstrating its impact on mental health. Reduced body satisfaction, higher drive for thinness, and lower self-esteem have been found in weight cyclers. The ups and downs of weight cycling can make you feel depressed about your weight and even lead to disordered eating patterns in some individuals.

Does Weight Cycling Change Your Metabolism?

Many people believe that weight cycling may make weight loss harder over time. It's possible that the process of losing and regaining weight can slow your metabolism resulting in future weight loss attempts that are increasingly difficult. A large 2013 study, however, found that yo-yo dieting had no effect on metabolism and no impact on future attempts at weight loss or metabolic improvements. The study provides hope for those who have a history of yo-yo dieting but are ready to commit to a more sustainable eating plan. It's never too late to make positive changes.

How to Avoid Weight Cycling

The main way to avoid yo-yo dieting is to find a sustainable weight loss plan that combines mindful, balanced eating with exercise and aims for slow and steady weight loss. Developing a transition program for the long-term is also an important step for healthy weight maintenance. The bottom line is that crash diets are not healthy and often lead to weight regain. Finding a sustainable eating plan that works for you will help you develop a healthy mindset around food. 

Once you've reached your goal weight, continue to exercise and be mindful of what you eat. At some point after following a weight loss diet, you will gradually increase your calorie intake. Weight loss and weight maintenance are all about making permanent lifestyle changes to benefit your health and wellness.

A Word From ​Verywell

It's easy to fall prey to fad diets. The promise of rapid weight loss can make crash dieting especially tempting. Perhaps a special event or an upcoming vacation has you feeling pressure to lose weight quickly. Unfortunately, you're likely to experience weight cycling as a result of diets that are too restrictive.

Long term weight loss takes time. Rather than looking to crash diets for immediate results, discover ways to feel good about your body right now while you make changes that support healthy weight loss.

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