You worked hard to shed pounds, but then it crept right back. It happens. In fact, about 80% of people who lose weight regain it all or more, according to some estimates. It’s a term known by industry experts as ‘weight cycling’ — and colloquially as yo-yo dieting. Here, a look at what this yo-yoing means, why it occurs and smart strategies to keep the weight off for good.
WHAT IS WEIGHT CYCLING AND WHY IS IT BAD?
Losing weight then unintentionally regaining it over and over again isn’t just frustrating — it’s also been linked to a higher risk of death, according to a study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.
Overly restricting your caloric intake for a short amount of time (i.e., crash dieting) can drastically slow your metabolism, resulting in weight gain once you’ve returned to your normal diet, says Dr. Charlie Seltzer, a weight-loss specialist based in Philadelphia.
What’s more, when you shed pounds without supplementing with strength training, you lose both fat and muscle — and only regain about half of the muscle you lose (and even more fat) if you wind up gaining weight back, says Seltzer. That means when you swing back up to your pre-diet weight, your body composition worsens, knocking you even further back from your weight-loss goals.
WHY DOES IT HAPPEN?
Weight cycling usually comes down to a diet plan that doesn’t work with your lifestyle or isn’t sustainable, says Seltzer. The more restrictive the diet, the more likely the dieter is to rebound. You might be following the rules of that diet, but you might also be ignoring the bad habits (e.g., mindlessly snacking, overdoing it with portion sizes) that got you in trouble in the first place, he notes.
Issues like hormonal imbalances can derail even the best weight-loss efforts, too, says Robin Foroutan, RD, a New York-based spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Out-of-whack thyroid hormones, stress hormones (like cortisol) and even sex hormones (like testosterone, DHEA and pregnenolone) can make it difficult to lose weight and keep it off, she says.
HOW TO STOP WEIGHT CYCLING FOR GOOD
To prevent the yo-yo swings and lose the weight for good, start with these five simple strategies:
1. Be Patient
Shedding pounds fast might be exciting the first few weeks into a diet but slow and steady wins the race for long-term weight loss, per the Centers for Disease Control. Look at it this way: If you lose a half a pound every week and it never comes back, that’s actually rapid weight loss if you compare it to never losing the weight for good, says Seltzer.
2. Find What Works For You
Instead of hopping from one fad diet to the next, find a personalized eating plan that works for you. If you’re not a breakfast person, don’t force feed yourself every morning, says Seltzer. If you love eggs for breakfast, don’t make yourself eat oatmeal just because a diet tells you to. “The less you change from your natural tendencies, the more likely you are to be successful,” he says. “We’re all slightly different metabolically, genetically and biochemically,” Foroutan adds.
3. Keep a Food Journal
Humans are evolutionarily designed to graze and even eat mindlessly (to store fat in times of famine), says Seltzer. Logging your food with an app like MyFitnessPal can combat this, allowing you to see what you’re actually eating versus what you think you’ve been eating — a difference that shocks most, he says.
4. Stay Strong Through Plateaus
“Weight loss is rarely linear, and plateaus are normal,” says Foroutan. If you feel like you’re making all of the right changes but you’re still not losing weight, remind yourself of why you’re doing this in the first place. “An upbeat attitude and positive self-talk about your body will help you make healthy choices that are sustainable in the long run,” says Foroutan.
5. Consult a Professional
Try working with a registered dietitian who knows your health history, can review your labs, lifestyle and preferences and can help you put together a plan that takes all of your specific information into account, says Foroutan.