According to the World Health Organization (WHO), since 1975, obesity has nearly tripled. According to data from 2016, the percentage of the world who is overweight or obese is 39% and 13%, respectively. Major threats to human health related to obesity include cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and cancer. Studies demonstrate that losing just 10% of your body weight is enough to improve blood pressure and normalize cholesterol blood levels, while losing 5% is enough to improve glycemic control.

Although losing weight is beneficial, it’s common for people who lose weight to be victims of weight regain, often gaining back almost half of their weight within 1 year and returning to their original weight within three to five years. Many of those who undergo a diet regime once are more prone to need it more than once in their life, condemning them to a continuous variation of body mass. These fluctuations in body weight throughout adult life are known as “yo-yo dieting” or “weight cycling”. Weight regain occurs more often in those who lose a greater percentage of their original weight. This may stem from changes in lifestyle that could be difficult to sustain, and/or to mental or eating disorders.

Yo-yo dieting is linked to future weight gain. By LifeOmic.

Fluctuations in body weight are linked to a series of negative outcomes, such as:

  • Body fat increase
  • Slow rate of weight loss, from second diet regime onward
  • Increased impact of cardiovascular disease 
  • Increased risk factors for diabetes

A 2007 review, one of the most recent on the topic, analyzed 20 years of clinical studies looking at the implications of weight cycling on otherwise healthy adults. Their analysis found that yo-yo dieting was linked to increased body fat and future weight gain in more than 50% of cases. 

Another interesting contribution comes from a 2017 study on patients with coronary artery disease to establish if the cycle of weight loss and regain could be linked to the risk of cardiovascular events and/or to new-onset diabetes. The more fluctuations in weight, the higher the rate of adverse events, from cardiovascular stroke to death.    

A brand-new analysis published this year links, once again, weight cycling with adverse cardiometabolic markers. Data from healthy American adults was collected from 1999 to 2014.  Almost 5000 Americans were asked to report their weight at the ages of 25, 35 and 50. The results show how weight cycling  has a 5 to 10% higher impact on cardiometabolic markers compared to those that have a stable weight: less “good cholesterol” (HDL), more “bad cholesterol” (LDL) and triglycerides, and higher blood pressure. 

Weight cycling is harmful under different points of view, from the cardiovascular (from stroke until death) to the metabolic side. But there are things you can do to avoid the vicious circle of yo-yo dieting. Here are some tips:

Compared to caloric restriction, intermittent fasting might be a more sustainable way to lose weight.

Find a sustainable way to lose weight— practice intermittent fasting!

Although restricting calories is an effective weight loss strategy, it’s not sustainable for most people and adherence typically declines within 1-4 months. Studies have shown that those who lose weight through calorie restriction gain most of their weight back within 1 year. In contrast, intermittent fasting seems to eliminate the constant hunger people who try caloric restriction experience and may thus be easier to adopt long-term.  Another advantage of fasting intermittently is that you don’t have to keep count of your calories, which makes it more sustainable and effective at achieving and maintaining weight loss compared to caloric restriction

Rely on your network, not on sugar, for comfort

People who have access to a greater support network are more likely to maintain their weight loss, according to this study. Limiting sugar and sugary drinks has also been shown to favor successful weight maintenance. Both seem to be characteristics of long-term successful weight losers even in different racial groups

Stay active

According to an observational study based on data from the National Weight Control Registry, the majority of people who successfully maintained a stable weight after dieting are those who kept their daily physical activity constant. This activity did not consist of extreme sports or heavy workouts but merely included walking and stair climbing. Not having time is not an excuse! For example: taking advantage of commuting time to take a walk instead of using public transportation is an excellent compromise.