Like a yo-yo, some people’s weight bounces around in an up and down manner. Weight cycling or yo-yo dieting becomes a problem when people use unhealthy means of taking weight off fast and then gradually or quickly put it back on, only to repeat the cycle again. Needless to see, this is an unhealthy habit, and there may be health risks to yo-yo dieting that you’re not even aware of. Research even suggests that weight cycling can be toxic.
The Toxicity of Yo-Yo Dieting
According to research published in Environmental Nutrition, weight cycling releases toxic substances into the bloodstream that can be harmful to health. Fat cells are a storage site for unhealthy toxins that can play a role in health problems such as cancer. These toxins aren’t necessarily a health threat when they’re sequestered inside fat cells, but what happens when you lose large amounts of weight or lose it too rapidly? The toxins are released into the bloodstream where they can affect other cells and potentially increase the risk of cancer.
When researchers took blood samples from people who lost a large amount of weight, they discovered levels of toxins in their bloodstream that were up to 5 times greater than expected. Fortunately, the levels of these harmful chemicals gradually go down as weight loss stabilizes, but yo-yo dieters might lose large amounts of weight many times over a lifetime. This exposes them to unnecessary toxins.
Other Health Risks of Yo-Yo Dieting
As if bloodstream toxins aren’t bad enough, weight cycling may damage the immune system too. Research carried out at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle showed that women who weight cycled had lower levels of natural killer cells, cells that help to keep viruses and cancer at bay.
There’s also evidence that yo-yo dieting contributes to serious health problems such as heart disease and diabetes. Repeatedly gaining and losing weight is also damaging to self-esteem and can contribute to depression. The yo-yo dieter frequently feels like a failure when he or she can’t maintain their weight loss.
The Bottom Line?
Weight cycling and yo-yo dieting can have serious health consequences. Fad diets and quick weight loss plans aren’t the way to achieve long-lasting weight control. Practice healthy eating habits, so you can take the weight off safely and permanently, and don’t fall for the latest fad diets. Like get rich quick schemes, they rarely work.
Environmental Nutrition 22(5): 3. (1999)
The New York Times. “The Dangers of Yo-Yo Dieting”
Wellness: Concepts and Applications. Fifth edition. 2003.