Yo-Yo Dieting

Yo-Yo Dieting

Christmas is now a distant memory and the focus is now on our aspirations for the new year. For many people this aspiration is to lose weight.

Last year over 60% of the UK population attempted to lose weight. With many people having several attempts throughout the year. When this happens repeatedly over several years this leads to a phenomenon known as weight cycling or yo-yo dieting.  This is often defined as an individual losing 4.5kg (10lb) or more only to regain the lost weight, or often exceed it.

Yo-yo dieting occurs for two main reasons, firstly to hit specific goals e.g. wedding, holidays etc… and once the goal is achieved the old habits return and weight is put back on. A new goal is then set and the cycle continues. The second reason is many dieters go for the all-or-nothing approach which places them under a lot of pressure. This pressure can only be tolerated for so long, causing deviations from the diet. When these lapses occur feelings of failure and shame set in, the diet is dropped and the weight is regained.

There are a number of health risks associated with yo-yo dieting. This includes heart disease because the endothelial cells in the blood vessels and arteries become damaged so that blood can’t flow freely. When blood flow gets restricted this can lead to heart attack and stoke. The frequent changes in blood sugar levels can then lead to insulin resistance followed by the onset of type 2 diabetes.

When the body receives insufficient fuel it makes adjustments to compensate, as a consequence yo-yo dieting also slows metabolism making weight loss harder to achieve. Reduced energy intake can also lead to muscle wasting over time because the muscle cells are not being properly replenished. Finally, there are a number of negative psychological and behavioural consequences that can appear including increased mental distress, life dissatisfaction, irritability, tiredness and low self-esteem.

One of the main reasons many diets don’t work is because they are overly focused on tactics e.g. not eating carbohydrates after 6pm, consuming a set number of points or calories per day etc… These are of course useful for most people to be able to act but they are not the solution – otherwise why would 90% of diets fail to be sustained?

There is no silver bullet to weight loss but there are certain strategies that can be adopted to ensure a gradual weight loss that can be sustained. These focus around individual lifestyles and goals, sleeping patterns, behavioural patterns and triggers, attitudes towards nutrition, exercise and overall mindset. When all these factors are fully understood and combined with the gradual progression towards a permanent lifestyle change, the chances of success are greatly increased.

By Adrian Massey PhD.

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