The Skinny on Yo-Yo Dieting

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Published on June 20, 2018

The Skinny on Yo-Yo Dieting

Image of a yo-yo on a scale

image of a yo-yo on a scaleWe all see the fad diets: Paleo, Zone, Ketogenic, Atkins, Vegan, South Beach and Weight Watchers. The list goes on and on. But do fad diets that promise quick weight reduction really work? What’s going on in your body when you lose weight quickly and then gain it back—over and over again in what’s called weight cycling or yo-yo dieting?

  • As you lose weight, you feel hungrier. As you lose weight, your body’s fat cells stop producing a hormone called leptin that lets your brain know when there’s enough fat stored up, according to WebMD. So with less fat, there’s less leptin produced, which makes you hungry. Your body’s metabolism also slows down to conserve energy. After yo-yo dieting a few times, you might end up weighing more than when you started because your appetite has increased and you begin eating more.
  • Lost pounds may mean lost muscle. “As you lose weight, you also lose muscle,” explained PIH Health physician Mehwish Khan MD. “When you start to gain weight back, fat builds up first, and as you bounce from one diet to the next, you begin to collect more weight in the form of fat, rather than lean muscle.”
  • The stress of dieting may contribute to more weight gain. Let’s face it: dieting can be stressful and lonely as you focus on restricting your food intake and watch numbers on a scale. There is a link between dieting and higher levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. High cortisol may mean that you gain weight around your belly, further increasing your risk of heart disease.
  • Weight cycling can affect your mood. Going through cycles of losing weight only to gain it back again can really affect your mood. If you try one diet that promises quick and easy results and it doesn’t work for you, you can wind up feeling like a failure. This can be especially difficult for someone who already struggles with depression and poor body image.
  • Yo-yo dieting weakens bone density. As you age, women are at risk for losing bone density, especially during and after menopause, due to lowered levels of estrogen. In a National Institute on Health (NIH) study, post-menopausal women who lost weight only to regain it later did not regain lost bone density ( This may contribute to a heightened risk of bone fracture later in life. The NIH study concluded that for the older women involved in the research project, weight maintenance and fitness, rather than weight loss, were more important to their overall health and to the preservation of bone density.

While yo-yo dieting may not be a weight loss strategy, losing even a few pounds can help when you’re obese. What are better strategies for weight loss?

Create a calorie deficit. Exercise to burn more calories than you’re consuming through food. Light to moderate exercise each day such as walking, swimming, bike riding or jogging can increase your heart rate and burn significant calories. Then, help your body recover by paying attention to good nutrition and portion size.

Avoid “drinking your calories.” Our favorite blended coffee treats, sports drinks, sodas, alcoholic beverages and juices are full of sugar and calories. Take a break from them and limit your beverages to some nonfat milk and mostly water. In fact, develop a water habit. Your body will thank you!

Learn weight loss nutrition. Some general tips from WebMD for eating healthy to lose weight include: drinking nonfat milk instead of 1% or 2% milk; choosing lean meats; eating breads and cereals made with whole grains; balancing a high-calorie meal by cutting back on high-calorie foods for the rest of the day; and checking labels on foods to budget your intake of fats, cholesterol and sodium throughout the day.

To choose a PIH Healthy Family Medicine doctor call our Bloomfield Medical Office Building at 562.789.5434.

The information in Healthy Living Online is for educational purposes only.  It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.  The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation, or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.