What Yo-Yo Dieting Does To Your Body

Have you ever asked for a second serving of your favorite dish or dessert while justifying by uttering a phrase like “I will start my diet and detoxify tomorrow morning.”

Or, have you ever done eating healthy for a week, then the moment you cave in and eat something not so healthy, your eating habits suddenly switched for the worst?

Do you think you are being hard on yourself when you don’t feel really comfortable wearing your clothes and you start to regret all the unhealthy food choices you have made in the past few weeks or months?

You are certainly not alone in experiencing all of these scenarios. A lot of people do yo-yo dieting for years and would cycle through a healthy or restrictive diet for a specific period of time, only to eat whatever they want the next week. 

Your eating habits are inconsistent, and so is your weight, energy levels, and the way you feel about your body and self. 

As will be discussed in further detail below, there are ways on how you can healthily stop yo-yo dieting. But first, let us discuss what it is and how it can affect your body negatively. 

What is Yo-yo Dieting?

Yo-yo dieting or weight cycling was the term invented by Kelly Brownell to describe the cyclical weight loss and weight gain in yo-yo dieting. This resembles the up-down movement of a yo-yo (1).

Dieters are initially successful in pursuing weight loss in this process. However, maintaining the loss for a longer period of time is the problem. Soon, they’ll start to gain weight again, and the cycle continues. 

Yo-yo dieting is very common. It is not just limited to the overweight or obese as many grownups, adolescents, and even children with normal or underweight body mass indexes diet. This is because they feel they are overweight or society, social media, family, and friends pressurize them (2).

Survey data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination shows that the number of individuals with normal weight who have made efforts to lose weight through dieting and other means has increased between the middle 1990s and 2003 to 2008 (2).

About 13.5% of underweight women have at one point or the other tried to control their weight.

 Additionally, because there is a need to adhere to beauty standards or weight categories by athletes in some sports, they may yo-yo diet at certain seasons to achieve that. Also, young adolescents are found to experience weight cycling because they start participating in some of these sports at a tender age (2).

About 30% of women and 10% of men have tried losing weight through yo-yo dieting and it is a common method. (2).

About 80% of people who intentionally lose up to 10% or more of their total body weight will gain it back within one year and weight cycling affects the health of humans especially morbidity and mortality (3).

What’s Causing The Yo-yo Effect in This Type of Diet?

There can be several reasons for yo-yo dieting, but most of the time, it includes embarkation on a very extreme hypocaloric diet (1). 

At first, one may think and feel that he or she can reduce weight by strictly rejecting food. Over time, however, the limits imposed by such strict diets may cause depression and fatigue, which makes it impossible to maintain (1). 

Sooner or later, the dieter will revert to his or her old eating habits, now with the added disappointment of failing to lose weight. This can cause a person to eat more than they would have before dieting (4). 

How Can Yo-yo Dieting Negatively Affect Your Body and Health?

1. It Increases Appetite 

Dieting and fat loss can decrease the levels of leptin. This hormone usually helps you feel full (5). 

Under normal circumstances, fat stores release leptin into the bloodstream to tell your body that energy stores are more than enough and available so you can start eating less. 

But as you lose fat, leptin level decreases; hence appetite is increased. This reaction is meant to restore your depleted energy stores (5). 

Also, there is a loss of muscle mass during dieting and this causes your body to conserve energy (6). 

Those who use a short-term diet to reduce weight are more likely to regain 30-65% of that lost weight within a year (7). 

Moreover, 1 out of 3 dieters gains more weight than before they did dieting (6, 7).

This gain completes the “up” phase of yo-yo dieting and may prompt people to start another cycle of weight loss. 

2. It Increases Body Fat Percentage

According to some studies, yo-yo dieting can cause an increase in body fat percentage. 

With this type of diet, fat is can be regained quickly as compared to muscle mass. This can increase your body fat percentage over several cycles (8). 

One review revealed that 11 out of 19 studies found a link between a history of yo-yo dieting and higher fat belly and body fat percentage (9). 

This is more pronounced after doing a weight loss diet as compared to a more subtle and sustainable lifestyle change and could be responsible for the yo-yo effect (6). 

3. It Causes Muscle Loss

When you are on a diet, your body loses muscle mass along with the fats (10). 

And since fat is regained more easily as compared to muscles after weight loss, this can cause you to lose more muscle mass over time, which may also decrease your physical strength (9, 11).

Exercise including strength training can counteract these effects. Exercise signals the body to grow muscles while the rest of the body is trimming down (12). 

When on a diet, the body’s protein requirement is likewise increased. Taking good amounts of protein can help reduce muscle loss (13, 14, 15). 

One study showed that those who took protein supplements while losing weight have lost less muscle mass (16). 

4. It Can Cause Fatty Liver

If there is too much fat stored inside the liver cells, you can suffer from a fatty liver. 

Obesity is one of the risk factors and gaining weight through several cycles of yo-yo dieting can put you at risk. 

One study in mice proved that repeated cycles of weight gain and weight loss can cause fatty liver (17). 

Another study revealed that liver damage can develop among weight-cycling mice (18). 

5. It Increases Your Risk for Diabetes

Yo-yo dieting is being linked to type 2 diabetes.

In a study involving 15 adults, results showed that participants have regained weight, mostly belly fat, after 28 days of weight loss (19). 

Belly fat is more likely to cause diabetes as compared to other fat stored in other body parts (20).

One study even showed increased insulin levels among rats that went through a year of weight cycling (21). This could be an early sign of diabetes. 

6. It Increases Your Risk for Heart Disease

Weight cycling is now associated with coronary heart diseases. 

According to one study involving over 9000 adults, there can be an increased risk of heart disease depending on how much weight you have lost and regained during the process of dieting. The greater the numbers, the greater the risk (22). 

7. It Causes Gut Disruption 

Your gut houses trillions of diverse microbiota that affect your immunity, metabolism, and nutrition just to mention a few. Yo-yo dieting causes an imbalance in the number and diversity of this microbiota, thereby predisposing you to inflammatory bowel disease and obesity (23).

Also, because your gut retains the memory of obesity, it makes it easier for you to gain back the lost weight after yo-yo dieting. 

8. It Causes Frustration

It can really be frustrating to see regaining weight even after strictly dieting for the past few weeks or months. This happens in the rebound phase of yo-yo dieting. 

Actually, adults who have engaged in yo-yo dieting report feeling unsatisfied or disappointed with their health and lives (24). There’s also a report about less self-efficacy regarding one’s body and health (25).

You may have tried other diets that did not help you achieve the long-term results you wanted. And if yo-yo dieting is one of them, it is simply a reason to stop doing it and try something else. 

How Can You Stop Yo-yo Dieting?

1. Forget About Perpetual Dieting

A lot of people that go into a diet do not think of long-term goals. They follow strict rules to reduce weight and usually return to their old habits as soon as they have achieved their preferred weight. 

However, there is no temporary and quick solution to losing weight. If you are overweight, it is most likely because of your lifestyle and eating habits. 

Know the pitfalls of your daily food choices so you can start ditching those old habits to reduce weight, long-term. 

The best diet is not a diet, but a lifestyle with some guidelines that are achievable and easy to maintain. 

2. Eat Better

A lot of diet books create this illusion that can keep eating everything you want and still lose weight in the process. 

This is not true. If you want to keep your extra weight off, then you will have to avoid certain food and drinks. 

Products like cereals, salad spreads, cookies, processed meats, soft drinks, juices, and sweets are all delicious that we cannot easily resist. But these contain too many calories. 

You have to make a choice to live healthily. Do not drink calories, take water instead. Eat mainly whole foods that are minimally processed and avoid snacks. 

Get enough protein and eat a lot of vegetables and fruits. These contain fewer calories and more fiber, vitamins, and minerals, which could all help you to lose weight. 

3. Move Your Body

Most of us have a sedentary lifestyle. We often spend more time sitting while at work or even in school. We also entertain ourselves by watching TV in a sitting or lying position at night. These practices have a negative impact on our bodies. 

A very little exercise and poor sleep can cause obesity.

Trying going out more and exercising regularly. Make easy movements every day. This is very important to help your body maintain a good, healthy weight. 

4. Get Rid of Your Stress and Sleep More

Stress and sleep deprivation can really cause you to eat more as they will really reduce the motivation you have for dieting. Continue breaking your diet for a couple of days, and you’ll get caught up in a yo-yo diet. Moreover, they can also result in the slowing down of your metabolism, which really affects the weight-loss that you’re trying to achieve. They can also make your exercise go in waste by reducing its impact to a great extent. It is necessary to get rid of such unhealthy practices for you to actually benefit from a diet. 

5. Drink Plenty of Water

We can’t discuss diet without mentioning the significance of drinking water. The reason for this is that drinking water throughout the day and in-between meals can burn fat, make you feel fuller and help with digestion. 

According to some research, weight loss can be achieved by drinking water before taking your meals. This way of weight loss can really help people who experience the yo-yo effect, as it doesn’t require anything and also has a lot of benefits.  

6. Drink Less 

Alcohol has also proved to affect your diet plan negatively. By consuming alcohol, one is at a great disadvantage as it provokes you to eat more, makes you lose control of yourself, and also has calories. Although it has a negative impact on your diet, it is not necessary to leave it either. If you’re really fond of drinking, you can just limit the amount of alcohol you consume.

7. Keep a Journal

Focus on what you eat and take relevant actions. It is often the case with many people that they subconsciously eat a lot of stuff without thinking and don’t recall what they ate throughout the day. The best practice is to keep a notebook with yourself in which you note all the things you ate during the day. If you had more than you were supposed to, try reducing the diet a bit for tomorrow; if you ate less, you could give yourself a small treat. One should note all the things that they had on that day before sleeping at night. The next morning, you should have a look at the journal, so you can make relevant changes to your diet for that day. By making this a habit, you will have fewer chances of getting stuck in a yo-yo cycle.

8. Monitor Yourself

When you stop having a look at your body or adopt ways that make you ignorant of your weight, getting caught up in yo-yo dieting is destined for you. Therefore, you should try to avoid wearing baggy clothes that hide your body. Because of such clothes, you will experience weight gain, and you will not even notice it. If this continues, the weight-gain will come to your notice, but it will be really hard to get rid of all that excess body weight by that time. Moreover, you should also get yourself weighed regularly, so you can see any changes in weight and take relevant measures. Accordingly, getting yourself weighed at least once a week and avoiding baggy clothes are key to avoiding the yo-yo cycle.

9. Reward Yourself

Reward yourself for not munching on junk foods and for doing small exercises on a regular basis. 

How? If you have extra money, go watch a movie or shop! You can also gas up and drive out of the city for a weekend getaway. 

You can get very motivated to change your old habits for this kind of reward. 

10. Ask for Support and Help

Ask help from your family to set and adopt a healthy eating plan that is right for everyone so you don’t have to go through alone and to avoid temptation. 

If they cannot join you, get professional help from a dietitian or a doctor. 

Research suggests that solo dieters tend to give up easily. Support is very important. 


Failing to lose weight long-term could be because of the yo-yo effect. This is because of a bad diet strategy and a lack of proper mindset and discipline. 

The good news is, it is never too late to break that vicious cycle and avoid its adverse effects on your body! By knowing and understanding the tips mentioned above, you can start your way to healthy living anytime you want!


(1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yo-yo_effect

(2) https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/0517p18.shtml

(3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4205264/

(4) https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13548500600621545

(5) https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/yo-yo-dieting#section1

(6) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25614201

(7) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25614198

(8) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25614202

(9) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27773644

(10) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17131946

(11) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27126087

(12) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18187436

(13) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25550460

(14) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21798863

(15) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22691622

(16) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14964348

(17) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15513954

(18) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23607320

(19) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24170641

(20) https://www.nature.com/articles/nature05488

(21) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8067464

(22) https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1606148

(23) https://www.mensjournal.com/health-fitness/yo-yo-dieting-what-it-and-how-it-can-wreck-your-body/

(24) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8002684

(25) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9385625

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