What is Yo-Yo Dieting? Consequence of Yo-Yo Effect & How to Stop It

Lose weight.

Gain it back.

Lose the weight again.

Gain it back again, plus a little more.

This repeated loss and gain is referred to as yo-yo dieting or in more scientific terms, weight cycling. The term was coined by Kelly D. Brownell at Yale University, as a reference to the weight going up and down resembling the motion of a yo-yo.

In yo-yo dieting, the dieter initially gains success in losing weight but fails to maintain the loss or optimum weight in the long term and starts regaining the lost weight. The dieter then tries to lose the weight he has regained, and the cycle begins once again.

Whether you call it yo-yo diet or weight loss cycling, seeing your weight decrease and then rebound and increase can be a never-ending, demoralizing cycle for you.

However, this is actually common with 30% of women and 10% of men having to face it. Moreover, most people who go for a short-term weight loss diet, regain 30 to 65% of that lost weight just within one year.

Watching your weight go up and down can be very frustrating. Thankfully, you can put a stop to the yo-yo weight loss cycle by looking for an effective diet solution. After all, you already know how to take the weight off and have done it over and over again.

Hence, by now, you should know that losing weight is just 50% of the battle and you must learn how to keep it off.

What Causes the Yo-Yo Cycle?

While yo-yo dieting is caused by various factors, it is often attributed to resorting to an extremely hypocaloric diet or a weight loss plan that was just unsustainable.

Let’s break it down.

You are starting on a low-carb diet that severely limits carbohydrates, including fruits and fiber-rich foods. In the beginning days, you will experience the delight of initial weight loss and are able to resist food urges.

However, over a few weeks, the restrictions of such an extreme diet lead to depression, fatigue, or boredom, and your initial keenness begins to wear off. Combined together, the diet becomes impossible to sustain for the long term.

Ultimately, you get back to the old habits and are now engulfed with feelings of guilt and failure. To deal with these emotions, you resort to the obvious choice of succor – Food! Comfort foods that are full of sugar and spices but nill of nutrient value.

After the restrictions of a diet, you are re-enjoying the freedom of food and now you are eating more to treat the taste buds — causing a rapid weight regain.

This regaining of weight and especially the body fat is further accelerated by the high metabolic plasticity of your skeletal muscle as it had reduced energy expenditure during dieting and is now back in the game.

Moreover, the diet probably had been accompanied by increased physical activity, which also leads to further weight loss initially. Now that you have relaxed and possibly gone off the exercise regime (which is the case most times), weight gain is now on the surge.

But, when you realize what switching off the diet has cost you, you will once again plunge into the weight loss conquest — start another restrictive diet — the cycle goes on, and you are yo-yoing.

The Consequences of the Yo-Yo Dieting

Regaining weight after you have lost it is a frustrating experience itself. 9 of the most dreadful consequence of the yo-yo diet are:

1. Gaining More Weight – More Fat Storage

In a recent study, the University of Exeter and Bristol revealed that yo-yo dieting can result in the opposite of what a diet is meant to do – leading to more weight gain.

This is actually caused by your brain’s interpretation of such extreme changes in eating habits, which the brain sees as “periodic, short-time famines.” Make note that this is different from a calculated fast.

Easy to understand where this is leading. Your body switches to survival mode and induces fat storage for such future shortages. This is also quite common with people who try to stick to super low-calorie diets.

No surprise – downfall is imminent in both cases.

Moreover, yo-yo dieting leads to an increased tendency of binging and overeating.

Many animals, like birds, have learned to gain weight in response to food shortages – an evolutionary survival tactic. Unfortunately, the research says, the human body is rather hardwired to adhere to this model.

Sadly, our body’s smart survival instinct actually sabotages our efforts to keep weight off.

2. Yo-Yo Can Lead to Muscle Loss

The body not only loses body fat but also muscle mass while you’re on a weight loss diet. As fat regain after weight loss is easier than muscle gain, it can cause further muscle loss as you keep yo-yoing.

Moreover, muscle loss in dieting means a decrease in your physical strength.

These effects can be reduced with exercise, including strength training. Exercising signals the body to grow muscle, even when the rest of the body is slimming down.

During weight loss, the body’s dietary protein requirement also increases. Eating enough quality protein sources can help reduce muscle loss.

One research revealed that 114 adult candidates who took protein supplements while losing weight, lost less muscle mass.

3. Weight Regain Can Lead to Fatty Liver

You develop fatty liver when your body conserves extra fat in the cells of the liver. Obesity and weight regain are frequently attributed risk factors for developing fatty liver. Fatty liver is also linked to variations of how the liver metabolizes fats and sugars, which raises type 2 diabetes risks.

A fatty liver can also lead to cirrhosis in times – a form of chronic liver failure.

In an interesting study done in mice, researchers found that multiple weight gain and loss cycles led to fatty liver. Another study of weight-cycling (also on mice) showed fatty liver leading to liver damage.

4. Dysfunction of Gut Environment and Microbiome

According to a study conducted by the University of New South Wales, constantly switching from high-calorie foods to a restrictive, low-carb, nutrient-deficient diet is a bad omen for the healthy balance of gut bacteria.

Usually, our gut is the home to nearly 100 trillion microbial cells that influence from metabolism to immune function to overall nutrition absorption. But shifts in diet due to yo-yo dieting disrupt the levels and diversity of bacteria, resulting in gastrointestinal symptoms such as inflammatory bowel disease, bloating, constipation, and obesity.

There’s another concerning study done by Israeli researchers. When mice were put through a weight loss and gain cycle, the rodents’ other physiological systems returned to normal save one: Their microbiomes or germ colonies. It sustained an “obese” mode for another six months. It seemed as if the little creature’s guts memorized obesity, and hastened the weight gain process once off the diet.

This study may one day lead to effectively combating yo-yo dieting, but till then, reinforce your gut with abundant probiotics (yogurt, kimchi, kefir) and prebiotic (asparagus, onion, oats, konjac roots, jicama roots) foods.

5. Blood Pressure Increase

Weight gain (whether rebound weight after dieting or yo-yo) is also linked to increased blood pressure. To make things worse, yo-yo dieting can even reduce the healthy effect of weight loss on blood pressure in the future.

One study of 66 adults with a yo-yo dieting history showed less improvement in blood pressure while losing weight.

However, a long-term study found that this effect may go away after 15 years – meaning that weight cycling in younger age may not contribute to heart disease risks in middle age or later. Another long-term study reinforced this research where yo-yo dieting in the recent past was more detrimental compared to weight cycling done decades earlier.

6. Yo-Yo Increases Risks of Diabetes

Yo-yo dieting is also linked to higher possibilities of developing type 2 diabetes. A review of various studies reported that in four out of 17 studies, type 2 diabetes could be predicted in people with a history of yo-yoing. However, further extensive research is required to find solid evidence.

In another study with 15 adult participants who regained weight after 28 days of weight loss, mostly regained abdominal fat. Now, belly fat is more likely to lead to diabetes than fat stored in other locations ( arms, legs, hips).

In a study where rats went through 12 months of weight cycling, it was shown that yo-yo dieters had higher insulin levels compared to those that gained weight consistently. An elevated insulin production is often an early sign of diabetes.

It is possible that people who gain more weight than what they had lost through yo-yo dieting are at more risk of developing diabetes.

7. Puts You at a Greater Risk of Heart Diseases

Regaining weight raises the risks of developing heart disease more than being overweight. It is attributed to coronary artery diseases – a condition where the arteries supplying blood to the heart become narrow.

As per a study conducted on 9,509 adults, increasing heart disease risks co-relate to the amount of weight changes. Another report based on several studies concluded that large changes in weight over a period doubled the chances of death from heart disease. Simply put, the more weight you lose and regain in a yo-yo diet – the greater risk you have.

8. Psychological Damage

A study by Preventive Medicine also found that women who went through weight cycling were 50% more likely to suffer from depressive symptoms. However, researchers still haven’t clarified whether struggling with mental health led to weight gain — or it was the stress of dieting that caused the depressive symptoms.

When most of us try to lose weight, we launch a psychological attack on food, combined with the excitement of starting a new journey. Sadly, it often gets thwarted by the very strong triggers that can deviate us from discipline and make most diets fail.

Moreover, we are prone to cope with stress through food comfort.

Lastly, many dieters often stray from a diet due to increased workload or a weekend get-together and then simply lag to continue further. This pushes them to a cycle of weight gain and weight loss that’s tough to escape from.


A self-inflicted conviction that leads to further demotivation – feeling low – and you guessed it – food comfort.

9. Temporary Diet Leads to Temporary Success and Prevents Long-term Sustainability

As we‘ve discussed earlier, most diets focus on achieving a weight loss goal (or other health goals) and outline practices to be followed for only a particular period of time. Such a diet does not educate dieters on how to keep those weights off after the goal is reached. Needless to say, this setup is not sustainable and quickly leads to weight regain.

Dieters see themselves regaining the weight they had lost so rigorously and the feeling of being defeated greatly tolls their will to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

In order to break free of temporary changes producing temporary success, you need to stop thinking in terms of diet success and begin contemplating lifestyle choices. To back this mentality up, remember that a large study compromising more than 120,000 adults in the United States showed that several habits could actually aid in decreasing and maintaining weight over years.

Here are some of the behaviors it found worked for long-term weight loss:

  • Eat healthy foods such as yogurt, fruits, vegetables, and tree nuts (not peanuts).
  • Avoid junk foods such as potato chips and sugary beverages.
  • Limit starchy foods using starchy foods like potatoes in moderation.
  • Exercise or find something active that you enjoy doing.
  • Get a good 6–8 hours sleep each night.
  • Limit television viewing time or exercise while you watch.

Another study of 439 overweight women showed that a lifestyle modification designed to promote gradual and consistent weight loss over time was equally effective for women who had or had not a history of yo-yo dieting.

Obviously, yo-yo needs to be stopped. How?

Some Helpful Tips to Stop Yo-Yo Dieting Cycle

1. Follow the Science and Physiology of Weight Loss

Deciding how you lose weight may be one of the greatest determining factors for your success in maintaining your weight loss and prevent the yo-yo diet effect.

Let’s face it; weight loss is not a normal function for the body.

Our bodies are programmed for weight gain from a survival perspective and weight loss itself may trigger an alarm signal to the body.

Outside of biochemical states such as ketosis, there is a limit to “how low you can go” when it comes to calories you consume or burn. We can lose weight quickly by cutting our calories too low. You can do so by either reducing the amount of food we eat or doing excessive amounts of exercise.

But, then again, we may end up triggering an alarm in the body by reducing the net calories below the Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR). Your RMR represents the number of calories your body requires to support basic organ function and it is possible to find out your RMR through testing (metabolism test).

Unlike a car that runs out of gas, your body still needs to function, even if it is not getting enough calories. When faced with this dilemma, your body will choose to start burning muscle instead of fat.

This is a smart adaptation by your body. Clearly, you need to keep monitoring your lean mass and body fat while losing weight, and if you are not doing so, then, you may unknowingly be setting yourself up for a rebound in weight gain.

While on a diet, your scale continues to drop. However, as soon as you go off the diet, your body no longer has the same amount of lean mass (the basis for your metabolism) to burn the calories you consume.

2. Try to Be Realistic

A great way to stop the yo-yo diet effect is to choose a weight management plan that divides weight loss and maintenance into different approaches.

You cannot stay on the same diet you followed to lose weight indefinitely. You need to have a different approach as you transition back to your normal lifestyle. Thus, the maintenance plan needs to be realistic and something you can stick to. You’ve seen this scenario before, and so have we. 

Often, we have clients who are former dieters from programs like Nutrisystem and Jenny Craig. They are initially successful in losing weight while they eat the packaged meals that comprise their diet. They enjoy not having to think or cook while on the plan. However, it prevents them from making the lifestyle changes necessary that set healthy habits, such as meal planning, shopping, cooking, and learning how to navigate the real food environment of eating out while on the plan.

Once the deliveries of food stop, so do their diets.

These clients go from feeling proud of their weight loss results to panicked as the weight starts to creep back on. They have no other tools or plans except to go back on a diet to get back in control of their weight. This is the definition of the yo-yo dieting cycle of weight loss.

Selecting the right approach for weight will help you shed those pounds and also help you keep them off – forever. 

3. Believe You Can Do It!

Believe that you can do it.

You need to ask yourself this question:

“Is changing the diet, exercise, and diet worth a healthier you? Do you think these changes will benefit you at the end of the day?”

That little voice of doubt exists in us all, especially when we face situations that can derail us from our goals. 

We find that working with a nutritionist or coach while trying for weight loss, helps you to stay on track and thus prevent the yo-yo diet effect. Also, it can help identify the patterns of self-doubt or sabotage that discourage us. This Self-doubt can set us up for lack of success or, worse, failure after hitting our goal.

At BioIntelligent Wellness, our coaches focus on helping you work with your psyche while losing weight, and when you transition to maintenance. Many clients come to us, feeling they have to lose weight for someone else or to somehow become a perfect vision of themself. We instead focus on body positivity,  self-empowerment, self-care, and self-respect. 

We can do anything we set our minds to, as long as we have a plan, support, and learn how to reset our focus on our capacity to succeed. This is what we should aim for rather than being defeated by focusing on an unattainable, unhealthy image of ourselves.

4. Go for Something New

Make some little changes. They are often easier to do and to continue doing. What you consider a small change can make a big difference in your weight loss journey. Moreover, it can help you sustain your great results.

We all remember the tv show The Biggest Loser. We’ve seen many contestants being successful in losing weight by checking out of their normal lifestyle.

These people focused on nothing but dieting and 4-6 hours of exercise a day. Such diet plans can produce dramatic weight loss results, but these are not sustainable measures.

When these people transition back to their lifestyles, they realize the drastic changes that helped them lose weight, are not maintainable.

Instead, you can go with smaller changes like prepping your meals for the week, increasing your activity with daily exercise, and drinking at least half your body weight in ounces of water. These are all small maintainable changes you can make that support lasting weight loss.

5. Take Care of Yourself

Sure, taking care of yourself is eating healthy foods and doing regular exercise. However, doing things that are not even related to diet and weight loss can also promote your physical, mental, and emotional health.

A little tender loving and self-care help a great deal.

6. Avoid Using Food as a Stress Reliever

Many of us turn to food and/or alcohol when we are under stress and not on a weight loss plan, which leads to the yo-yo dieting cycle.

When we are on a restricted weight loss diet plan, this vice may not be available to us so it’s a great time to work with your habits and tendencies. When we work with our habits while losing weight, we gain tools to manage our stress without turning to food or alcohol.

Let’s face it; stress is an unavoidable part of our lives. Thus, learning to identify when we are tempted to numb and establishing new patterns for how we deal with stress is another key to lasting weight loss.

7. Ask for Assistance When Necessary

Speak with your support system regularly – be it family members, friends, your psychologist, nutritionist, or weight loss coach. It can help you put your weight loss journey into perspective and also allows others to support you when you need it.

We find that clients that try and lose weight alone lack this support or, worse, receive feedback that may not be supportive.

However, not everyone has a scientific background or psychological skillset to be able to support you. That’s why it’s essential to assemble your support team.

Remember how we seek advice from different sources based on the questions we are looking to have answered?

Similarly, we also need to design our support system to provide us what we need. Perhaps your partner isn’t the one you will benefit most from, by sharing your insecurities with. The friend who is also struggling may not be the most effective choice of who to turn to if you are needing support in staying on your diet.

Just like raising a child, weight loss and maintenance also takes a village. Also, establishing your support network makes it easier to have the necessary support in place when you need it.

8. Embody Your New Healthy Behaviors

Improve your chances of sustaining your weight loss and results of the weight loss program.

Be committed to your new healthy lifestyle, and stop the neverending yo-yo dieting cycle of weight loss and regain.

Your goals and plan need to extend beyond the weight loss phase and span into a lifestyle.

In our experience, people look at weight loss as a lifestyle but they fail to realize that all effective weight loss plans need to have a beginning and an end, like with the Ideal Protein diet

Learning to lose weight correctly is only half the battle. Learning how to create a new lifestyle that can be embraced is your key to success.

In our new lifestyle, we learn to love our healthy behaviors and enjoy the way we feel when doing the things that make us feel good. We also believe that having these healthy behaviors in place helps you keep the things that are not-so-healthy in check. We’ve all experienced the contrast of waking up after making less than ideal decisions. It could be drinking too much, overeating, or eating foods that don’t make us feel our best.

Bottom Line

The best part about embracing the new lifestyle with a maintenance plan is that it illuminates a healthy way to recognize the decisions you take one day but doesn’t need to become a pattern to be followed the next day. This is one of the best parts about the lifestyle plan with Ideal Protein.

You can have one day where you can break all of the “rules”, but it stops there. Rather than getting caught up in the self-deprecation that often leads to a run of bad behavior, you can look forward to knowing how to do one day of damage control. You will be able to use the lifestyle to get yourself back on track rather than needing to go back on a diet.

The best way to prevent yo-yo dieting, along with its negative side effects, is to create a plan that addresses both weight loss and real life. 

If you’re interested in learning how to get out of the yo-yo dieting cycle, schedule a complimentary consultation with one of our nutritionists. Learn how to create a plan that gets you off the yo-yo dieting rollercoaster and on track with lasting weight loss.

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