Weight cycling is losing weight by dieting, regaining that weight and possibly more within a few months to a year, dieting and losing weight again, then putting the weight back on. Weight cycling is also called yo-yo dieting. It is the opposite of weight maintenance. Health expert and nutritionist Hitaf Zwein will define weight cycling and its effects on the body, especially on women’s health.
The constant cultural pressure to be thin, both for social and health reasons, leads to a cycle of dieting and weight loss followed by weight gain, and then more dieting. Weight cycling is not a disease but is a sign of repeated attempts and failures to maintain weight. Its cause is simple—a period during which the individual takes in fewer calories than he uses that results in weight loss, followed by a period when the individual eats more calories than he uses that results in a weight gain.
What are the main causes of weight cycling?
The most common reasons why weight cycling occurs in adult men and women and among youths include the following:
- Food environment: Dieting and restriction increase the reward value of food, leading to overeating or even binge eating—a common vulnerability in our modern food environment.
- Weight overshooting: Weight loss reduces both fat and fat-free (lean) body mass while producing metabolic shifts that favor lipid storage, so fat overshooting (when fat regain exceeds the amount lost) is necessary to allow complete recovery of lean mass during the weight regain. Overshooting after each cycle of weight loss and regain can contribute to future weight gain and possibly obesity.
What are the long-term results of weight cycling?
Researchers found weight cycling was associated with a higher risk of death. Interestingly, people with obesity who experienced more weight cycling were less likely to develop diabetes than other study participants. The health benefits of weight loss overshadowed the adverse effects of weight cycling for individuals with obesity looking to lower their diabetes risk.
Some studies suggest that weight cycling may increase the risk for certain health problems. These include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and gallbladder disease. For adults who are not obese and do not have weight-related health problems, experts recommend maintaining a stable weight to avoid any potential health risks associated with weight cycling. Obese adults, however, should continue to try to achieve modest weight loss to improve overall health and reduce the risk of developing obesity-related diseases.
Losing and regaining weight may have a negative psychological effect if you let yourself become discouraged or depressed. Weight cycling should not be a reason to "feel like a failure." Instead, it is a reason to refocus on making long-term changes in your diet and level of physical activity to help you keep off the pounds you lose.
How to stop weight cycling?
Hitaf urges you to forget about your weight and focus on your lifestyle. Start shifting into healthier habits such as mindful eating. Being mindful of the food you eat can promote better digestion, keep you full with less food, and influence wiser choices about what you eat in the future. It can also help you free yourself from unhealthy habits around food and eating. It can take up to six months, but repeating the mindful process over and over will eventually train your mind, making it easier to change the numbers on your scale. Ultimately, the process gives you the power to control your thoughts and feelings about food, instead of unwittingly allowing them to control you.
Being mindful allows your body and mind to let go of stress, negative thought patterns, and associated behaviors. When you toss aside those patterns and distractions, you liberate yourself. You're likely to find more creativity, productivity, and energy. In turn, you will have more control over your emotions, be less susceptible to stress triggers, and stop binge-eating after an emotional day; which ultimately leads to a healthier lifestyle.
So Hitaf’s advice is to focus on adopting healthy and mindful eating habits and enjoying regular physical activity to manage weight and promote health for life especially women who are more susceptible to weight changes than men.