The Dangers of Yo-Yo Dieting

It’s been a bit since I’ve put anything up on this site. If you are one of the few people who had been following along, my apologies.

I got really focused on my in-person training business. I started some other ventures. I moved 2,000 miles.

Blah, blah, blah.

I just haven’t made writing a priority.

But, I hope to do more of it now that things have settled a bit for. I won’t make any promises, but I’m here now.

Anywho, let’s get to some actual content.

Yo-yo dieting.

Maybe you’ve heard the term. But in case you haven’t, this is my definition: Yo-yo dieting is the cycle of taking extreme measures to lose weight, unable to maintain those extreme measures, and then rebounding to where you previously were before you started said extreme measures.

Or, back and forth, you know, like a yo-yo.

This is, unfortunately, all to common. And it comes with some undesirable consequences.

More on that in a moment.

But first a quick side track:

All of your body tissue has a metabolic cost (it takes calories to maintain). Muscle is more metabolically expensive than fat. This means that a pound of muscle takes more calories than a pound of fat to simply exist.

When people drastically cut their calories, they tend to lose weight quickly. This weight loss comes from both muscle and fat. As you lose weight, your metabolism drops because there is not as much tissue to maintain, or your body is becoming less metabolically expensive. (It’s OK, this isn’t a bad thing.)

Let’s say for example someone loses 40 pounds. Congrats! But, let’s say they lost it quickly, and via means that aren’t sustainable (eliminating entire food groups, severe calorie deficits, etc.). So, even though they’ve lost an amazing amount of weight, they aren’t able to sustain it.

Typically, what we see with yo-yo dieting is great progress for a bit. Maybe even quite a while. Then comes the tricky part. Maybe goal weight is met, maybe it’s a plateau, or maybe it’s just a bad day. Whatever it is, a day comes when people have had enough of the severe restriction, they’ve had enough of white-knuckling it, and they say “SCREW IT I’M SO MISERABLE!” And they throw their hands in the air because life has become all about restriction.

Restricting “bad” foods. Restricting social events. Restricting outings. Restricting sanity.

When the “final white knuckle” moment comes, people tend to return to pre-diet habits. They add in all the things they’ve been restricting, and it feels oh-so-good to not have their lives revolve around white-knuckling it.


Now, here come those undesirable consequences. As people return to previous eating habits, they are returning with a lowered metabolism. They have less tissue, because they’ve lost weight, so their body doesn’t require as many calories to maintain. But they’re returning to eating habits that had them 40 pounds heavier.

So what happens?

They gain weight back. And they gain it back fast.

And, not only do they gain weight back fast, but they tend to gain it back mostly in the form of body fat. That’s how quick weight gain works.

Remember when I said that extreme calorie restrictions cause people to lose weight from both fat mass and muscle mass? And, remember when I said that muscle is more metabolically expensive than fat? Well, when people gain weight back quickly, and gain most of it back in the form of body fat, the result is a body that weighs what it did previously (or often heavier) but has a lower metabolism than before they lost any weight. Their weight is now made up of a higher percentage of less metabolically expensive tissue, (fat), resulting in a lower metabolism than before they lost any weight.

Essentially they wind up losing no weight, possibly gaining some, and lowering their metabolism.

This is not a good situation.

I could be wrong, but I don’t think anyone has ever set out to lose a lot of weight, just to gain it all back but with a lower metabolism than when they started.

Hey buddy, thanks for telling me I’ve been doing it wrong for years. Appreciate it. But, now what?

Oh man, I’m so glad you asked!

Don’t worry. It’ll be OK. You just have to focus a few things.

  1. Quit doing extreme things to lose weight. Ask yourself if doing that has ever worked out well in the long run. If it hasn’t, STOP IT. It’s time to do something different.
  2. Focus on a moderate calorie restriction. Yes, doing so will result in slower weight loss, but quick weight loss hasn’t worked out so well in the past, has it? A side benefit from this that when people lose weight moderately, they tend to lose a lower percentage from muscle, and a higher percentage from fat. This is good.
  3. Exercise! Exercise, particularly strength training requires muscle to perform. And when you’re regularly using your muscles, the body tends to keep it around because it’s necessary for what you are doing on a regular basis.
  4. Be Patient. It takes time. Rushing things tends to make things worse.
  5. Focus on things other than weight loss. Sure, if you want to lose weight, then losing weight is a good thing. But weight loss is not consistent. At all. If the number on the scale is the only thing you’re using to measuring progress, you’re going to get discouraged, Focus on quality of food, your energy, how well you’re sleeping, measurements, your mood, and how many vegetable you’re eating in a day.
  6. Remember that you can’t control outcomes. It would be great if we could, but we can’t. All we can control is the behaviors and habits that lead to outcomes. Focus on those, and the outcomes will follow.

(Note for diabetics: Muscle tissue cannot only help you maintain a lower body weight, but it can also lower blood sugar levels without the need for insulin. Keeping the muscle you have, and even gaining some, can be incredibly helpful for controlling blood sugar levels.)

Yo-yo dieting can be nasty. It can hold the promise of quick weight loss, but that promise can be empty, and leave you more frustrated and hopeless than when you began. Stepping out of the perpetual cycle of weight loss and weight gain can feel foreign and scary, but I promise it’s not. In fact, it’s really pretty nice over here.

If that change feels scary to you, or even a little crazy, maybe you need a guide. That’s why I’m here. That’s what I do. Drop me a note here and let’s get started.

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