Yo-Yo Dieting: What Is It and Why Is it Unhealthy for My Body?

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You know what it’s like. You make a commitment to go on a diet to take off a few pounds. Perhaps you do so because of a New Year’s resolution, the result of a health scare, or an upcoming beach vacation. And, you dedicate yourself to accomplishing your weight loss goals.

Yet, once you’ve accomplished your goals, your dedication fades and you find that your bathroom scale is telling you that the pounds you lost for your “event” have slowly crept back on.

This is called yo-yo dieting, and can be disheartening for many people. It can also play havoc with your wardrobe and your wallet.

But, new research reveals weight cycling isn’t just detrimental to your closet or your bank account — it can spell trouble for your health too. In fact, it can be downright dangerous for your heart – especially among people who fall within normal weight ranges to begin with.

What is Yo-Yo Dieting?

Yo-yo dieting refers to a cycle of weight loss and gain in which both women and men lose and then regain 10 or more pounds.

For some people, it’s a constant struggle. The battle of the bulge they wage with the same ten pounds from college into menopause or middle age and beyond is a recurring fight. They lose them, then gain them back. Lose them again, and gain them back again.

For others, it’s a long, hard-fought struggle for 50 pounds or more they constantly work to get rid of — only to watch the weight creep back up again.

Why is Yo-Yo Dieting Unhealthy for Your Body?

Today, we’re learning more about the negative consequences yo-yo dieting can have on your health, and your heart health in particular.

Women who fall within normal weight ranges, to begin with, are especially vulnerable to the impact yo-yo dieting can have on their heart health. How big is the risk?

According to one study, women with histories of yo-yo dieting who are of normal weight have a three and a half time greater risk of sudden cardiac death than women who maintain stable weights. They also have a 66 percent greater risk for death related to coronary heart disease than their peers who maintain stable weights.

CBS News reports that women with histories of yo-yo dieting who participated in the study with the largest weight fluctuations experienced greater risks of the following:

  • Death (124 percent increase)

  • Heart attacks (117 percent increase)

  • Strokes (136 percent increase)

Researchers believe that the link between heart disease and yo-yo dieting involves the endothelial cells that line the blood vessels. When individuals gain and lose weight over and over again, their blood cannot flow freely because their endothelial cells have become damaged. When the flow of blood to the heart is restricted, it increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, is the first of its kind to evaluate the impact of weight fluctuations and their impact on coronary disease among people who did not already have coronary artery disease.

This study involved 9,509 participants and determined that participants who had the highest fluctuations in body weight also experienced higher mortality rates and higher rates of cardiovascular events.

What Can You Do to End Yo-Yo Dieting?

We all know by now that obesity is associated with a host of negative health outcomes, including diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. For many people, dieting is an important first step in eliminating the pounds that are weighing them down and affecting their health. However, a yo-yo diet isn’t the answer.

Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to reduce your chances of having the weight you’ve lost, creep back on. These include:

Making Lifestyle Changes

It’s important to focus on making sustainable lifestyle changes that allow you to live a healthier life. The key is to focus on long-term health goals rather than a short-term goal of fitting into a dress for your high school reunion or wearing a bikini to the beach for your island vacation.

Take baby steps and make long-lasting changes in unhealthy habits to make them have staying power.

Eating Satisfying Portions and Embracing Healthy Substitutions

Focus on satisfying portions and healthier substitutions that can give you the sensation of indulging without the calories. Nutrient-dense foods can help stave off your cravings and reduce feelings of deprivation that are often associated with dieting. There are many examples of nutrient-dense foods that taste great, including:

  • White meat, grain-fed chicken

  • Leafy green vegetables

  • Brussel sprouts

  • Artichokes

  • Bell peppers

  • Berries

  • Beans

  • Wild-caught fish

  • Cage-free eggs

  • Nuts and seeds

Dealing with Life’s Ups and Downs Without Resorting to Food

Commiserating heartbreak or disappointment with a half gallon of rocky road ice cream straight out of the carton isn’t going to help you to end your yo-yo dieting cycle. Neither is eating a entire casserole of creamy mac n’ cheese.

Instead of relying on comfort food to soothe you, consider going outside for a jog, taking the dog for a walk, or even getting a massage. Having a support system to talk to is highly beneficial as well.

Stopping Sweating Over a Few Vanity Pounds

Finally, quit waging war with a few vanity pounds. Five or ten pounds might make a slight difference in the mirror, but is it worth the damage it does to your heart? The risks, it seems, far outweigh the potential rewards of eliminating a few pounds temporarily.

Foregoing the “Dieting” Mentality

One of the best ways to end the cycle of yo-yo dieting once and for all is to change your mindset. Don’t think “diet”, think “health”.

Shift your focus to better overall health by making healthier lifestyle choices, and you may just find that your weight stabilizes itself.

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