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Weight Cycling and Yo-Yo Dieting is Bad for Your Health: Here’s Why

yo-yo dieting

Does your weight fluctuate faster than a bouncing basketball or a yo-yo on a string? If so, your dietary habits have something to do with it. Some people go on a restrictive diet to lose weight.

Although they may be successful, there’s an 80% chance they’ll regain what they lost. What happens then? They go back on a diet, and the cycle repeats itself again and again. Their weight is constantly going up and down like a yo-yo.

How common is yo-yo dieting? According to statistics, 30% of women have engaged in yo-yo dieting and weight cycling, and 10% of men. The cycle of yo-yo dieting is hard to break out of and it doesn’t work for long-term weight control. Repeated weight fluctuations put stress on your body, and according to research, it could increase your risk for health problems and possibly even shorten your life span.

What sort of problems can yo-yo dieting cause?

Weight Cycling Increases the Risk of Gallstones

Ouch! Gallstones are painful, and you may need surgery to remove your gall bladder if you have them. Can yo-yo dieting increase the risk?

A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine showed that men whose weight fluctuated in response to yo-yo dieting were at greater risk for developing gallstones than men who maintained more stable weights. Men who took off and put back on between 10 and 19 pounds over 4 years had a 40% greater risk of gallstones, while guys who fluctuated by 20 or more pounds boosted their risk by a whopping 75%. Being overweight or obese is also a risk factor for gallstones, especially in women.

Gallstones can be painful and cause symptoms such as nausea, belching, indigestion, and gas, particularly after a high-fat meal. In some cases, gallstones can lead to inflammation of the gallbladder or infection in the common bile duct that leads out of the liver and gallbladder into the small intestines.

Why do weight fluctuations increase the risk of gallstones? Researchers believe the rapid increase in body fat stores as the weight is regained triggers insulin resistance and other hormonal changes that increase the risk of gallstones.

Weight Cycling is Harmful to Your Metabolic Health

There’s another reason to avoid yo-yo dieting and weight cycling. Research shows it can cause fluctuations in lipids, insulin, glucose, heart rate, and blood pressure, which adds stress to your metabolic health and cardiovascular system. Studies show weight changes also increase insulin resistance and place added stress on the cardiovascular system. Your body likes to maintain homeostasis. Constant fluctuations mean your body is always in flux and that’s stressful on your system.

Does Yo-Yo Dieting Increase Mortality?

A 2010 study found that weight cycling increased mortality, while other studies don’t show such an association. This study may be an outlier, since the participants were older, and it didn’t take into account whether they intentionally tried to lose weight. Still, it raises red flags.

The evidence that yo-yo dieting increases the risk of dying early isn’t compelling so far. But if repeated cycles of gaining and losing weight stress the cardiovascular system, it raises the possibility that it does.

Other Risks of Yo-Yo Dieting

Yo-yo dieting can also cause psychological distress, particularly when a person loses and regains substantial weight. The endless cycle of weight loss is damaging to self-esteem and can even lead to mental health issues like depression.

This type of weight cycling can even affect the immune system. According to a study carried out at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, rapid weight fluctuations are linked to a decrease in the activity of natural killer cells, immune cells that help protect against viruses and cancer.

The researchers in the study even warn that yo-yo dieting can have a long-term negative effect on immunity. They point out that exercise is a better approach for weight loss, as it offsets the negative effects that weight loss has on immune function.

The Bottom Line?

The key to success with losing weight is consistency. Extreme calorie restriction doesn’t work long term, and it can lead to health problems like gallstones impaired immunity.

Make healthier food choices, but make sure you’re getting appropriate amounts of the major macronutrients, including protein, healthy carbs, and healthy fats – and enough calories too.

Cut back your calories by no more than 500 calories a day. Increase your activity level, and do regular resistance training to boost your lean body mass. This should subtly boost your metabolism.

Extreme dieting only leads to weight regain and potentially health problems like gallstones, and added stress on your cardiovascular system. Make sustainable lifestyle changes that help you maintain a healthy body weight without excessive calorie restriction or “dieting.”

It’s documented in the scientific literature that over an extended time people who engage in low-calorie diets nearly always regain the weight they lost plus some. Don’t look for a fast fix. Your eating plan should be one you can stick with for the long term.

References:

  • Arch Intern Med. 2006 Nov 27;166(21):2369-74.
  • Rhee EJ. Weight Cycling and Its Cardiometabolic Impact. J Obes Metab Syndr. 2017 Dec 30;26(4):237-242. doi: 10.7570/jomes.2017.26.4.237. PMID: 31089525; PMCID: PMC6489475.
  • Mehta T, Smith DL Jr, Muhammad J, Casazza K. Impact of weight cycling on risk of morbidity and mortality. Obes Rev. 2014 Nov;15(11):870-81. doi: 10.1111/obr.12222. Epub 2014 Sep 29. PMID: 25263568; PMCID: PMC4205264.
  • New York Times. “Vital Signs: The Dangers of Yo-Yo Dieting”
  • Arnold AM, Newman AB, Cushman M, Ding J, Kritchevsky S. Body weight dynamics and their association with physical function and mortality in older adults: the Cardiovascular Health Study. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2010;65:63–70.
  • Bird, L. Yo-yo diets hit NK cells. Nat Rev Immunol 4, 490 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1038/nri1404.
  • Strohacker K, Carpenter KC, McFarlin BK. Consequences of Weight Cycling: An Increase in Disease Risk? Int J Exerc Sci. 2009;2(3):191-201. PMID: 25429313; PMCID: PMC4241770.

Related Articles By Cathe:

The Impact of Yo-Yo Dieting on Your Body: It’s Worse Than You Think

Is Yo-Yo Dieting Damaging to Your Healthy?

Is Yo-Yo Dieting Harmful?

Yo-Yo Dieting May Be Toxic to Your Health

Dieting to Lose Weight May Endanger Bone Health

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