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Yo-Yo Dieting - It's Back With a Shiny New Name.

Weight cycling is the new yo-yo dieting.

I’m sure you’ve heard of ‘yo-yo dieting’. It makes it sounds like some kind of fun activity, ooh look now I’m light, now I’m heavy again, ooh light again, and back to big again. But anyone caught in this cycle knows it’s about as far from an enjoyable experience as you can get, the term 'yo-yo' trivializes something that can play havoc with your waistline and your self-esteem.

Just as the health industry has repackaged veganism as ‘plant-based’ to make it literally more palatable, so yo-yo dieting has now been termed ‘weight cycling’ or the process of losing weight and regaining it over and over. Weight cycles can be big (50 pounds or more) or small (5-10 pounds).

I have definitely weight-cycled in my life albeit at the lower end of the scale, I’m sure many of you are familiar with the half stone shuffle! But apart from the psychological toll that weight cycling takes, how does it affect us on a purely physical level? Is it true that see-sawing weight ‘messes up your metabolism’ which then makes it even harder to shift the pounds?

In short there’s no credible evidence to suggest it does, in fact the most recent study I could find from 2012 concluded that a history of yo-yo dieting does not negatively affect metabolism (for full study click here ). Contrary to popular belief there’s not much you can do to increase or decrease your metabolic rate permanently, it’s controlled by your hormones, so if you suspect you may have metabolic issues the first stop should be your GP for some testing.

However, that doesn’t mean that weight-cycling has no detrimental effects. Many experimental studies have indicated that weight-cycling may cause fluctuations in cardiovascular risk factors, such as blood pressure, heart rate and circulating levels of glucose, lipids and insulin. So, whilst a history of weight cycling won’t necessarily affect your chances of successful weight loss in the future the longer the pattern continues the greater the possible impact on your future health.

Let’s say then that you’ve ditched the diets, got busy with healthy eating and have managed to shift the pounds, hopefully for the last time. What’s the best way to stay there and not repeat the cycle? The key findings from a study by the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) of more than 10,000 people who lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for at least a year were:

  • 78% eat breakfast every day

  • 75% weigh themselves at least once a week

  • 62% watch less than 10 hours of TV per week

  • 90% exercise, on average, about 1 hour per day

Interestingly, since I lost 10kg seven years ago these are all things that I now do and I’d agree that they have been key to keeping the weight off. I always eat a healthy breakfast (see here), I weigh myself most weeks, I don’t watch much telly (I assume this implies that people who watch a ton of TV tend to be pretty inactive generally) and I try and do something active every day – admittedly I don’t do a whole hour but it’s definitely something I try and plan in to my day, even if it’s just a long walk (see here).

What’s abundantly clear is that prescriptive, unsustainable diets get us nowhere. In fact, far from improving our health this damaging cycle of weight gain and loss can worsen our long term health prospects. It is possible to lose weight without ‘being on a diet’, the trick is to seek out healthy foods you love, put some structure around your exercise and don’t beat yourself up if you have the odd slice of cake or glass of wine – it’s all about balance.


If you’d like to know more about my 28 Day StealthHealth Programme click here

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