Yo-Yo Dieting – 4 Solid Causes of Weight Cycling

Yo-Yo dieting

Yo-Yo dieting is a popular issue faced mostly by those who rely exclusively on diets to lose weight and maintain the lost weight.

Dieting is one of the most effective ways to lose weight. However, it might result in weight regain and difficulty losing weight in the long run if approached incorrectly.

This effect is termed yo yo dieting or weight cycling.


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What is Yo-Yo dieting?

The term “yo yo dieting” was first used by Kelly D. Brownell at Yale university in reference to a situation where a dieter struggles to maintain their target weight during their weight loss programs.

At first, this dieter will start losing weight, but due to the inefficiency to maintain the weight loss in the long run the dieter starts regaining the lost weight.

This process repeats over and over again until it becomes a permanent cycle. According to research, somewhere between 20% to 35% of men and 20% to 55% of women have experienced weight cycling.

The yo yo dieting effect, clinically known as “weight cycling” describes the loss and regain of weight, which resembles the up-down motion of a yo-yo.

Not only your weight but your overall health could equally be hit as well.

Did you know?

According to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, more than 80% of diets are deficient in vegetables, fruits, and dairy [1].

Why does weight cycling happen?

Considering the science, it isn’t the dieter’s fault. Weight cycling is a metabolic adaptation to weight loss.

It comprises a series of biological and hormonal forces to push the dieter’s weight back to where it was before starvation.

Dieting, especially fad diets and extreme fastings, usually overly restricts the number of calories taken daily.

Some temporal weight loss will be observed at first because fat and muscle tissues are been broken down to produce energy.

However, this will cause your body to go into survival mode and start breaking down muscles to release glucose, which will be used for energy.

Because not enough calories are taken in at the time, your body will slow down your metabolism in an effort to conserve energy, and the moment you stop starving yourself or resume normal diets, your body will want to replenish.

Hormonal changes will then lead to increase hunger and appetite levels, causing you to eat more on your next meals and possibly regain all the weight you had lost and even more.

The dieter then falls back to fad dieting or extreme fasting again and the cycle repeats itself. Research shows that 95% of people who lose weight gain it back within five years.

weight gain

4 Solid Causes of weight cycling.

1. Unhealthy weight reduction methods:

Inappropriate weight loss methods such as lack of proper exercise, diets that eliminate certain food groups, and some weight loss pills, eventually result in increased chances of weight cycling.

2. Exaggerated calorie restrictions:

Although the restriction of calories is key to weight loss if exaggerated, can lead to weight cycling due to the reduction in muscle mass instead of body fat.

When this happens, the body automatically adapts by slowing down metabolism. In fact, researchers suggest that this lower metabolism may partly explain why people regain weight once they go off their calorie-restricted.


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    3. Skipping meals and prolonged fasting periods:

    It takes about 8 to 12 hours for the body to deplete its glucose storage after the last meal (2).

    The body goes into the first stage of starvation mode, which is converting the glycogen stored in its liver and muscles into glucose for energy.

    If fasting is prolonged, activation of survival mode becomes inevitable, increasing your chances of weight cycling. Some scientists believe that skipping breakfast can contribute to weight cycling.

    4. Sedentary lifestyle during healthy dieting:

    Healthy dieting involves consuming balanced meals daily but with slightly fewer calories than your body demands.

    This will allow your body to slowly and healthily break down fat tissue without activating a vigorous starvation mode.

    However, according to the CDC, maintaining this weight loss is only possible with physical activity.

    Did you know?

    The Mayo Clinic Diet has rated the 5th best weight loss diet and is excellent for those who want to lose weight on a medical pedigree [3]

    How to Prevent Weight Cycling in Your Weight Loss Journey.

    • Avoid extreme fasting methods for losing weight.
    • Eat more low-calorie diets like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
    • Overly restrictive diets and plans that eliminate certain food groups should be avoided.
    • Avoid eating fatty diets and high-calorie foods.
    • Exercise regularly, at least 150 minutes per week
    • The usage of weight loss pills and supplements should be strictly under prescription by your doctor.
    • Do not rush your weight loss journey. Losing weight is a gradual process and the main goal is to improve your overall health. So do not bother about your body image for the next summer, bother about your health instead.
    • Extreme fasting and skipping meals should be avoided.

    Consequences of Yo-Yo Dieting

    weight gain
    • Weight regain and difficulty losing it in the future.
    • The increased weight increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, and Type 2 diabetes (4).


    Dieting and exercising remain the most effective and sustainable methods to lose weight. But if done inappropriately can lead to serious health consequences.

    However, it’s usually very challenging to plan healthy meals daily and stay motivated for workouts always. We recommend you seek help from, weight loss experts and/or certified fitness coaches.

    Remember: Weight Loss isn’t a Sprint but a Marathon. You did not gain all your weight in one day, so DO NOT expect to lose it all in one day.

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