Editor & Fact Checker
Let's set the scene for a moment:
You’ve painstakingly followed a calorie-restricted diet for months and have had your hard work rewarded with some awesome weight loss results.
You’re thrilled, full of self-confidence and life couldn’t seem any better! You vow never to return to your old weight, ever.
But, as time goes on and despite your best effects, you ever-so-slowly start reverting back to your old, negative eating habits.
With each passing day the thought of eating healthy slowly becomes less of a priority, and the weight you had lost gradually starts returning until you’re back to square one.
You're yo-yoing, or weight cycling as the dietitians would call it; it's unhealthy and you need to stop.
Weight Cycling, or Yo-yo dieting, is the pattern of losing weight via a calorie restricted diet, regaining it gradually as you slowly revert back to overeating, and then dieting again in order to lose the weight you have regained.
What Are The Causes Of Weight Cycling?
Weight cycling is typically caused by unsustainable diets, and treating weight loss as a project with an end date.
Those who are desperate to lose weight quickly will often place themselves on a very low calorie diet and intense exercise regime until they hit their goal bodyweight.
While there is no denying that this is an excellent way to quickly lose weight, dieters are typically unable to sustainable such a diet.
It's all too common for a dieter to revert back to their old eating habits once they achieve their weight loss targets, which routinely results in the weight lost being slowly regained over a number of weeks or months.
Is Yo-Yo Dieting Bad For Your Health?
There’s an ongoing debate on whether yo-yo dieting is bad for your health, with many studies showing that it is.
Here are the ways in which repeatedly losing and gaining weight can be bad for you:
- It becomes easier to gain more fat: Some studies have shown that during the weight regain phase, it is easier to put on fat than muscle mass. This means that your body could end up gaining even more fat than it previously had. In a review of studies, it was found that a history of weight cycling resulted in more body fat and belly fat. 
- It could lead to muscle loss: Since weight loss diets often lead to muscle loss and putting on fat is easier than muscle, weight cycling could lead to muscle loss over time. 
- Recurring weight gain leads to a fatty liver: Research suggests that gaining weight puts people at risk of developing a fatty liver, i.e., the body storing excess fat inside your liver cells. 
- Increased risk of diabetes: Some studies have found a link between yo-yo dieting and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. 
- It increases the risk of heart disease: Research has shown that weight cycling could increase the risk of heart disease. The more weight is regained, the higher the risk.  One study has even shown that weight fluctuations over time made people twice as likely to die from heart disease. 
- It has been linked to higher blood pressure. If you’re overweight, losing weight can significantly improve your heart health. However, one study suggests that having a history of yo-yo dieting could lead to less improvement in blood pressure when losing weight. 
5 Ways To Stop The Cycle Of Yo-Yo Dieting
The good news is that you can end the cycle of yo-yo dieting by changing the way you view weight loss.
The main reason people regain the weight they had lost is falling into the trap of short-term thinking and choosing a diet that just isn't going to work over the longterm.
Many diets only prescribe rules on what to eat until you reach your weight goal, without focusing much on how to keep those pounds off. While some diet programs also focus on the maintenance of healthy weight as their last stage – many leave you on your own once your weight loss goal has been achieved.
Treating your weight loss like a “project” will not bring long-lasting results – and is more likely to result in weight cycling down the line.
Think about your weight loss not as "following a diet until I shed the unwanted weight" – but as changing your lifestyle permanently.
Committing to long-term changes may sound intimidating at first, but it is worth it if you wish to achieve and maintain the weight you are happy with.
1. Don’t Make It Too Hard For Yourself
While it is good to be ambitious when aiming to lose weight, the all-or-nothing mentality isn’t always the best approach. If you’ve never even set foot in the gym, setting yourself a goal to jump out of bed at 5 am and hit the gym each morning would most likely end in "failure."
Radically changing your lifestyle and diet will make it difficult to stick to a routine, meaning that you are more likely to give up when there’s an obstacle in your way. Feeling like you’re failing when you’ve set yourself overly ambitious goals could be very demotivating – and could be the reason you give up altogether.
There’s no need to completely overhaul your life when it comes to achieving weight loss. You should begin by making changes in your life and diet that you know you could stick to – and not all at once, but gradually. It takes time to make something a habit. Introduce changes in your diet each week (for example, not eating after a particular time in the day), and focus on turning them into habits.
2. Set Realistic Expectations
Having realistic expectations is particularly important. If you’re starting a weight loss plan thinking you’ll lose 30 pounds in 30 days, you’re probably going to be disappointed with yourself and the program.
The feeling of bitterness will not work in your favor or make it any easier to lose weight and keep it off long-term.
It’s best to go in not having expectations on how quickly you’ll be able to lose weight – and how much weight.
Try and approach weight loss as an experiment without deadlines – and go in expecting to start feeling better and healthier. Not rushing to the scale every morning – but focusing on how a healthier diet and more exercise make you feel will make it easier to stick to the lifestyle changes you're making in the long run.
3. Accept That It Won’t Always Go As Planned
In life, things don’t always go as planned – and same can be applied to weight loss. There will be days when you find it too hard - or things get out of hand. You may not always do what your diet consultant tells you – and you may even feel like you’re “failing.”
But having such an attitude will only harm the process in the long run. “Failing” is part of progress – mainly if you’re aiming to introduce changes into your life that stick.
When you’re attempting to change eating and lifestyle habits that have been part of your life for many years, experiencing setbacks is perfectly normal. You have to accept them as part of your journey – and to carry on, even when things don’t go as planned. Not giving up is already a massive improvement!
When we say, “things don’t go as planned,” we don’t only mean not sticking to the weight loss rules your dietician has given you. We also mean things like making plenty of effort for a week or more – but not seeing any improvement. There may be days when things aren’t going smoothly – but the most important thing is to stay committed to changing your lifestyle for the better, and not to let yourself give up.
4. Make Sure That You Still Have A Social Life!
Deciding to lose weight doesn’t have to be about not having a life anymore. It shouldn’t stand in your way – nor be a painful activity. Making gradual changes rather than going for a radical life overhaul will make it easier to have a life still when you’ve decided to lose weight.
It’s essential to make such changes that still allow you to be yourself and to continue doing the things you love, whether that’s eating out regularly – or traveling to new places.
5. Treat Weight Loss Like A Permanent Commitment To Healthier Living
Think about achieving healthier weight and lifestyle long-term – and make that your primary aim. Only by making a long-term commitment to healthier eating habits and lifestyle can you achieve results that last.
Achieving and maintaining healthy weight is about forming new habits that help you not only to lose weight, but also to become a healthier, happier person. Without ingraining those habits into your life, you’re risking re-gaining the weight you’ve lost.
Positive Eating Habits You Should Develop
Incorporating some of these healthier habits into your everyday life will help you end put an end to yo-yo dieting:
- Avoiding junk foods. When aiming to lose weight for good, you have to make a commitment to limit your consumption of junk foods (e.g., potato chips, sugary beverages, foods that are deep fried, etc.). The comfort foods we often turn to may be harmless when enjoyed every now and then – but you should be ready to give up their regular consumption for good.
- Eating healthy foods. Adding more healthy foods (e.g. fruits and vegetables, yogurt and tree nuts) into your everyday diet is a sure way to help maintain healthy weight.
- Limiting starchy foods. You should commit to consuming starchy foods like potatoes, bread and pasta in moderation.
- Exercising and staying active. Staying active doesn’t only improve our health, but also has a number of other benefits – from improving our mood to boosting our energy levels. Find something active that you enjoy doing – and make it a regular activity.
- Getting enough good sleep. Giving your body enough rest is essential in achieving and maintaining healthy weight. Sleep deprivation can cause your metabolic rate to slow down – therefore make sure you get enough sleep daily to manage your weight more easily.
- Limit TV watching time. While there’s nothing wrong with catching up on a TV show you love, we’re often physically inactive when we’re watching TV. Try and limit your TV time so that you burn more calories during the day – or exercise while you watch TV.
Yo-yo dieting is a common experience among those who aim to lose weight quickly. Research has shown that it can harm the body in a number of ways - from increasing the risk of diabetes to raising blood pressure.
The best way to stop yo-yo dieting is to approach weight loss as a long-term lifestyle change, rather than a project with an end date.
Losing weight quickly by overhauling your life often doesn’t help create long-lasting habits and sustainable lifestyle changes needed to keep the weight off. Achieving healthy weight loss and maintaining your ideal weight is about making permanent lifestyle and diet changes in your life.