According to most research, the doctor is right: the yo-yo diet can be exhausting for both the body and the mind.
If you’ve ever played with a yo-yo, you know it requires a certain amount of force, so the analogy here is appropriate. Assuming you’re not seriously ill, rapid weight loss requires an energetic change. On the yo-yo diet, people often take extreme measures such as drastically cutting calories or limiting entire categories of foods. It is difficult to maintain because food gives us energy, pleasure and comfort, and taking it out of reach has inevitable physical and psychological repercussions.
Everyone’s body is unique, but repeated phases of celebration and famine have predictable results. Here’s what we know.
Muscle loss and body composition
When you cut back on calories, your body uses both fat stores and muscle mass for fuel. In other words, weight loss isn’t exclusively about fat. You’re probably losing muscle too.
As you may know, muscle burns more calories than fat, so when you have less muscle, your metabolism drops, requiring fewer calories to maintain your current weight. If you start eating more calories after losing that muscle, your body will likely regain fat more easily than muscle tissue. Over time, the yo-yo diet can change your body composition, and with a higher percentage of body fat, sustaining weight loss becomes more difficult.
One thing to keep in mind: if you are losing weight, strength training and adequate protein intake help your body maintain muscle mass. Recommended dietary doses for protein vary according to a person’s age and activity levels. A sedentary adult needs 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight while someone engaged in strength or endurance training may require up to 1.7 grams per kilogram. For someone weighing 180 pounds, the ideal range would be 65 to 138 grams of protein per day. But to keep muscles strong and ready to work, eating protein isn’t enough. You need to exercise too.
Leptin and hunger
Leptin is a hormone that helps signal when you are full and it’s time to stop eating. It comes from fat cells, so when you create a calorie deficit and lose fat, less leptin is released into the blood, leading to a potential increase in appetite.
As unfair as it may be, losing weight makes you hungrier and the lower metabolism mentioned above makes you burn fewer calories. When you are gaining and losing, while on a yo-yo diet, you can see how you may end up being less satisfied and perhaps heavier than you were in the first place.
Diabetes and heart disease
A 2021 meta-analysis of studies involving more than 250,000 people found that people who experienced weight cycling had a 23% higher risk of developing diabetes than those who did not cycle with weights. While the researchers point out that more studies are needed, the evidence suggests this risk could be caused by metabolic disorders, such as insulin resistance, elevated triglycerides, and abdominal fat accumulation.
Weight cycling can also contribute to heart disease. According to a study of over 9,500 people in the New England Journal of Medicinefluctuations in body weight are associated with higher mortality and a higher rate of cardiovascular events independent of traditional cardiovascular risk factors.
At the doctor’s point about the difference between staying overweight and following a yo-yo diet, a study that followed several thousand young people (aged 18 to 30) for 15 years found that those who maintained an stable body mass (BMI) over time experienced minimal progression of risk factors and lower incidence of metabolic syndrome regardless of their initial BMI. Simply put, participants who started heavier but maintained their weight did not have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes than people who gained weight over time.
You probably don’t need me to tell you that dieting can be irritating. And for some, it can trigger depression. A study of 2,700 U.S. adults in the fall of 2020 found that cycling with weight correlates with reported depressive symptoms in both men and women, regardless of a person’s starting weight.
Anyone at any weight can struggle with their body and anyone at any weight can feel confident and strong.
Sometimes I have to remind my clients that being thin doesn’t automatically mean being happy or healthy.
In the above study, weight fluctuations were also related to something the researchers called “internalized weight stigma,” defined as the extent to which a person believes negative stereotypes related to weight (such as people with larger bodies have less willpower, less competent or unattractive) to be true to themselves.
Weight stigma manifests itself repeatedly in research associated with poor body image, lack of confidence in dietary choices, and lower health-related quality of life, as well as a greater likelihood of weight gain, weight cycling, perceived stress, and nutrition to make front.
Feeling bad about our bodies doesn’t make us more likely to treat them well. It makes us more likely to be stressed and to seek coping mechanisms that make us feel better as quickly and efficiently as possible.
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