Here’s why you regain weight after dieting. Weight cycling, also known as yo-yo dieting, can feel discouraging. You lost the weight you wanted to, but you’ve gained it all back now that you’ve stopped dieting. Sound familiar? Maybe this has happened a few times. But you lost the weight once, and you know you can do it again.

Yo-yo dieting, also known as weight cycling, is marked by a cycle of losing weight, gaining it back and dieting all over again. With the sometimes severe highs and lows, yo-yo dieting keeps you from achieving your goals. Not to mention the lasting effects it can have on your body.

Thankfully, you can break the cycle, burn any allegiance to fad dieting and get back on track with your wellness goals.

Why you regain weight after dieting

Yo-yo dieting is not something you’re intentionally doing. There’s a physiological reason your body responds to unrealistic dieting. The hormone leptin decreases as you lose weight. Leptin’s job in our body is to tell us when we have enough energy (in the form of fat) stored up in the body. When leptin levels decrease enough, we start experiencing hunger.
In response to restrictive diets that limit what we eat, our bodies slow our metabolism to hang onto those nutrients for as long as they can. This means your weight loss will stall, and you’re at greater risk of gaining it back when you stop that restrictive diet.

How common is weight cycling?

Every time you turn around, it feels like there’s a new diet to try. With the rise and fall of fad dieting, yo-yo dieting is more common than you may think, especially with restrictive diets. A March 2019 study from the Columbia University Irving Medical Center found that 70% of female participants experienced at least one instance of weight cycling. The study included a diverse group of 485 women aged 20 to 76.

Why is yo-yo dieting bad for you?

  • You can lose muscle and gain fat

When you diet and lose weight quickly, you’re losing muscle along with fat. Then, when you are in the phase of yo-yo dieting where you are gaining weight, you will gain fat first, not muscle. In the long run, this can impact your ability to walk, lift things or climb stairs. However, this can be offset with exercise, like weight training to ensure you’re building muscle.

Studies have also found that weight cycling can increase body fat percentage. A review of published research found that 11 out of 19 studies connected the history of yo-yo dieting to higher body fat. Half of the reviewed studies also found that weight cycling is linked to future weight gain.

  • It’s risky for your heart

Weight gain increases your risk of developing heart disease. The same is true for the cycle of gaining and losing weight. A recent study published by the New England Journal of Medicine found that the risk of heart disease is correlated to the change in weight — the greater the swing in weight, the higher the risk.

Some studies have also investigated the relationship between weight cycling and increased blood pressure. Past studies suggest that with enough time between weight cycling, the effects on your blood pressure fade. Not all studies agree on this point, however. A more recent study has suggested that your body mass index will determine if a history of weight cycling contributes to higher blood pressure or not. More research is needed to get the full picture.

  • It can affect your mental health

Various positive mental health benefits are associated with weight loss — greater confidence, a sense of achievement and increased self-esteem. Unfortunately, there can be negative effects as well, especially with yo-yo dieting. Repeated weight shifts are discouraging and can even contribute to anxiety and depression.

A 2020 study showed that a history of weight cycling is a significant predictor of depressive symptoms, with internalized weight stigma as a mediator. When controlled for gender, there was no significant difference, meaning that the effects are similar across men and women. Like the other risk factors on the list, not everyone will experience this.

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