Health Hub

Breaking free from yo-yo dieting: Strategies for sustainable weight loss

How to embark on a healthier weight loss journey.

Escape Yo-Yo Dieting: Sustainable Weight Loss Strategies | Juniper

Embarking on a weight loss journey can be daunting and confusing.

There's so much you need to consider: finding the diet for your body, building an exercise routine that you can stick to as well as creating a healthy lifestyle and daily routine.

That's why you might find yourself caught in the frustrating cycle of yo-yo dieting, where weight loss is followed by weight regain.

But how do you break free from the cycle to embrace a more balanced approach that focuses on building healthy habits and unlocking sustainable weight loss? Let's take a deep dive into what yo-yo dieting is, why it's not the healthiest choice and a stack of practical strategies to help you find a more sustainable approach.

What is considered yo-yo dieting?

Yo-yo dieting, also known as weight cycling, refers to a pattern of repeatedly losing weight and regaining weight, resulting in constant fluctuations in a person's weight. This cycle is typically achieved through frequent changes in eating habits and engaging in short-term weight loss diets.

When a diet is hard to maintain, you might slip up and experience unintentional weight gain and subsequently turn to a new diet as a response or 'quick fix' [1]. This frustrating cycle can lead you to embark on yet another weight loss diet, perpetuating the yo-yo dieting pattern.

Initially, you might experience weight loss success, only to slip out of these restrictive diets and regain the weight you had previously shed. This repetitive cycle continues, creating a frustrating pattern if you're striving to achieve lasting weight loss.

Why is it called yo-yo dieting?

While you might see some initial success, weight loss diets can be really tricky to maintain the loss long-term. In fact, you might end up experiencing weight gain shortly after. Then, you might look for alternative ways to lose weight again, often through dieting, and the cycle repeats.

Yo-yo dieting describes the pattern of losing weight, regaining it, and then dieting again, which causes weight to go up and down like a yo-yo.

The term "weight cycling" is derived from the visual analogy of the up-and-down motion of a yo-yo, symbolising the cyclical nature of the process.

Is yo-yo dieting bad for your health?

In short, yes, yo-yo dieting can be bad for your health. Let's look at some reasons why:

  • Yo-yo dieting can lead to the development of disordered eating habits and long-term struggles with weight management [2]
  • Engaging in the cycle of yo-yo dieting poses health risks, increasing the likelihood of heart disease (particularly for women) and maintaining a high body mass index (BMI) [3]
  • Unhealthy eating behaviours associated with yo-yo dieting can have serious consequences, including fostering an unhealthy relationship with food
  • Yo-yo dieting can contribute to the development of insulin resistance, a condition that may lead to type 2 diabetes [4]
  • The repeated fluctuations in weight gain and loss associated with yo-yo dieting can result in a loss of muscle mass, which can affect resting metabolic rates and make it even harder to maintain a healthy weight in the long term [5]

Yo-yo dieting doesn't just impact your long-term physical health, but it can have negative effects on mental health, too [6].

Low self-esteem, diminished motivation, feelings of hopelessness, and the development of unhealthy dietary habits are commonly experienced during yo-yo dieting, leading to increased levels of depression and anxiety.

Plus, the rollercoaster nature of yo-yo dieting can leave you feeling depressed or deflated about your weight and any struggles you might be facing with disordered eating patterns. Hormonal imbalances can also occur as a result of yo-yo dieting, contributing to a weakened immune system, gastrointestinal conditions, and high blood pressure [7].

Yo-yo dieting can be taxing on both the body and mind. So, it's important to eat healthily and sustainably to stop yo-yo dieting and maintain a healthy weight in the long run.

Can yo-yo dieting affect your metabolism?

Some research suggests that yo-yo dieting can affect your metabolism. When you engage in yo-yo dieting, which involves repetitive cycles of weight loss followed by weight regain, it can have several impacts on your metabolism due to the body weight fluctuations:

  • Slowed metabolic rate: Yo-yo dieting can lead to a decrease in your metabolic rate. During the weight loss phase, your body senses the calorie deficit and tries to conserve energy by slowing down various metabolic processes. However, when you experience weight regain during the subsequent phase, your metabolism may not fully readjust, resulting in a lower metabolic rate than before [8].
  • Muscle loss: Yo-yo dieting often involves rapid weight loss, which can lead to the loss of fat and muscle mass. Since muscle tissue is metabolically active and contributes to a higher resting metabolic rate, the loss of muscle can further slow down your metabolism, essentially meaning your body may naturally burn fewer calories [9].
  • Hormonal changes: Yo-yo dieting can disrupt hormonal balance, specifically affecting hormones involved in regulating appetite, metabolism, and energy expenditure. These hormonal imbalances can influence your metabolic rate and make it more difficult to maintain weight loss in the long term.
  • Fat storage: The fluctuations in weight associated with yo-yo dieting can lead to a higher chance of body fat storage. When you regain weight after a period of restriction, your body may prioritise storing fat as a protective mechanism against future periods of food scarcity. This can make it more challenging to achieve sustainable weight loss and maintain a healthy weight [10].

Repeated body weight fluctuations during yo-yo dieting can negatively impact your metabolism, making it harder to lose weight, keep off the lost weight, and achieve optimal metabolic health.

Instead, it's important to adopt sustainable and balanced eating habits to support a healthy metabolism in the long term.

What are the downsides of yo-yo dieting?

Yo-yo dieting can cause feelings of frustration and even lead to a loss of motivation. This can make the tasks of losing weight and achieving weight maintenance difficult. Let's take a look at the key downsides to yo-yo dieting.

Nutritional deficiencies

Strict or extreme diets often associated with yo-yo dieting can lead to inadequate nutrient intake and nutritional deficiencies [11]. Rapid and frequent changes in dietary patterns may result in missing out on essential vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients, which can negatively impact your overall health and well-being.

Impact on mental health

Yo-yo dieting can take a toll on your mental health and well-being. The constant cycle of weight loss and regain, along with feelings of failure, can lead to decreased self-esteem, poor body image, and a negative relationship with food [12]. It can also contribute to the development or exacerbation of eating disorders.

Increased health risks

This approach to weight loss is also linked with an increased risk of certain health issues. Research suggests that weight cycling may raise the risk of cardiovascular diseases, such as heart disease and high blood pressure. It can also lead to hormonal imbalances, insulin resistance, and other metabolic disturbances [13].

How to approach weight loss sustainably

When it comes to weight loss, taking a sustainable approach is key. Rather than looking for quick-fix solutions or extreme measures, it's important to prioritise long-term health and well-being.

Sustainable weight loss involves making gradual, healthy changes to your lifestyle that you can maintain over time. Focus on adopting a balanced and nutritious eating plan and incorporate regular physical activity that you enjoy and that fits into your daily routine.

Taking a sustainable approach to weight loss is key. If you've exhausted dieting, changes to eating habits and exercise, it might be time for a helping hand.

Ready to make yo-yo dieting a thing of the past and build healthy eating habits?

Juniper’s Weight Reset Programme takes a holistic approach to weight loss backed by science. With access to healthcare professionals, weight loss medication, and a community of like-minded women, you'll be able to lose the weight, and maintain a lower, healthier weight for good.