Dangers of Yo-Yo Dieting

Amelia Phillips

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After decades of research, it still amazes me how drastic diets pop up in the media all the time (anyone want to drink lemon juice, syrup and pepper for two weeks straight?)

Do people still cling onto the hope that there is a quick fix solution out there, or is the message still not getting across that drastic dieting is bad for us!

So why are these diets so bad for us, and do we have any other options when it comes to managing our waistlines?

What is yo-yo dieting?

Yo-yo dieting is the vicious cycle of going on a diet, losing weight, stopping the diet, putting weight back on, so on and so forth. The dieter is initially successful in the pursuit of weight loss but is unsuccessful in maintaining the loss for long-term, and as a result he begins to gain the weight back. The dieter then seeks to lose the regained weight, and the cycle begins again and again.


Why is yo-yo dieting dangerous?

When you lose weight through rapid dieting and not exercise, you lose muscle mass along with the extra kilos. This drops your basal metabolic rate at a very speedy rate, which means that if you go back to eating the way you did before, you would gain back the fat (and more) but not the valuable muscle.

Janet Jackson, Mischa Barton and Jessica Simpson are some of the big celebrity names that have added fuel to the yo-yo diet fire. In fact, this rapid weight gain and loss is known to be a common concept in the showbiz industry (they can partially be blamed for its popularity).

But how successful is this weight fluctuation? Is it even healthy for the body to undergo such drastic changes?

No, it’s absolutely not. The body has a very delicate balance of hormones and when you change weight drastically it can cause an imbalance in these hormones which can lead to mood swings, depression, immune and digestive difficulties.

Psychologically, yo-yo dieting can be disastrous. People often feel out of control, they feel like food rules their lives and they shift into self-sabotage mode. They feel like they have failed in this thing called ‘life’ and if they confront failure again, a little piece of their self-worth dies.

Causes of yo-yo dieting

The main cause involves drastic, unsustainable diets such as:

  • A liquid detox diet – lemon detox diet, juice diet etc.
  • Meal replacement shakes
  • Very low calorie diet – less than 1000 calories a day.

You have to be mindful about any diet or nutrition regimen that isn’t sustainable or healthy; it is potentially a pathway to yo-yo dieting.

However, this doesn’t make a low-calorie diet dangerous and neither does this tag ‘rapid weight loss’ as being bad. Rapid weight loss is not a warning bell. If you’re eating healthy and exercising regularly, you can still lose body weight in a healthy manner. If you lose weight in a short amount of time by skipping meals or having meal replacement shakes, that’s unhealthy and a sign of being stuck in a yo-yo trap.

What’s the solution?

This yo-yo dieting bug clings on to those who believe in the word ‘diet’ and take it to extreme levels. People who forget the balance between nutrition and exercise are the ones who get stuck in this nasty seesaw of unsustainable dieting and unhealthy weight loss. Yo-yo diets are also a result of when you let a fad dictate your eating habits, which leads to a meltdown in your body.

Here are my top five tips on how to pull yourself out of the yo-yo dieting trap.

  1. Recognise: Recognising a yo-yo diet is very important. You can be the healthiest person, but if you familiarise yourself with a strange on-off eating regimen, it means you’re on the wrong path. You need to recognise and comprehend that ‘dieting’ isn’t a temporary fix for an event or wedding; rather it’s a lifestyle change.
  2. Sort your head out: Ask yourself some of these questions – do you have an addiction to food? Are you a self-saboteur, or simply have not got into the habit of healthy eating, and you just need some habit shifts? Are you an emotional eater? Or are you a blind follower of the fitness industry’s trends?
    Once you understand your situation, start a food journal and record everything you eat. It’ll be overwhelming at first, but you’ll know the kind of mood and emotional state that forces you to eat. It takes about two weeks for cravings to die down, so give yourself a deadline.
  3. Be Normal: Sometimes the hardest thing for us to do! Follow a normal, balanced calorie controlled eating regime (not a diet!). Allow yourself at least 1200-1500 calories per day. Do not eliminate any foods except processed, or high sugar foods and notice the difference, if any. Ask yourself: Could I eat like this forever? Is this a healthy balanced diet? Does it fit in with my lifestyle?
  4. Exercise: at least four-five days a week. If you’re stuck in a yo-yo diet situation, the best thing you can do is to exercise. You hormones will be regulated, you’ll get distracted, your metabolism will get a serious kick and you’ll build on lean muscle mass.
  5. Consistency: Keep it consistent and sustainable. Don’t lose 3-4 kilos and follow it up with a binge on fried, fatty food. Just as you work your butt off to lose weight, you also have to work to keep it off. Maintaining a healthy weight is all about discipline, patience and self-control. And don’t wait until two weeks before a big event to start dieting, this should be a lifestyle choice, with the occasional tightening of the reins!

Have you ever been stuck in the yo yo trap? Did you manage to get yourself out of it, or are you still on that rollercoaster?

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6 responses to “Dangers of Yo-Yo Dieting”

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  2. Betty Rocker says:

    Dear Amelia,
    Such a great topic. I’ve got friends who are addicted to cleanses and can’t seem to recognize that their consistent bad food choices are causing them to feel the discomfort that sends them running for the cleanse or ‘reset.’ That just seems unsustainable and like a lot of stress on the system.
    Heavy duty cleanses and detoxes will strip out the healthy intestinal bacteria too which leave the immune system in a compromised state.
    Great clip on the Morning show – it was good to hear you touch on the emotional component of yo-yo dieting – I feel like that’s the primary cause of a lot of that type of behavior – the diets are like the bandaid for the real underlying psychological or emotional problem that don’t go away.
    I know for myself I’ve tried a lot of different types of “eating regimes” and cycle through foods I like seasonally but like you said, it’s a balance and it takes work. Exactly like a relationship with a partner – our relationship with food and with our bodies should also be healthy, sustainable and loving!
    Thanks!
    Betty Rocker

  3. Anon says:

    Dear Amelia

    What perfect timing to read your article. I’m 28 years old and for 14 years have been on that horrendous rollercoaster of yo-yo dieting and other drastic measures including bulimia trying to achieve the ‘perfect body’. This year it struck me, I’ve wasted half my life chasing up the unattainable. There is never skinny enough, there is never good enough. I guess the point to my post is that there is so much info out there about what to do what not to do but nothing about understanding the psychology of it. And I believe that’s what I need to grasp to truly end this torturous physical and emotional rollercoaster ride.

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  6. Although you’ll choose from hundreds of easy diets to lose weight fast, the great big problem is that is the privilege time for you. Exercises such as squats and lunges will also develop your core strength, which is vital for strong abs and a fit body. If you have any doubt in preparing a proper diet plan, it is good to seek the help of a dietitian.

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