What Yo-Yo Dieting Actually Does to Your Body

Yo-yo dieting sounds something like this:

“I want to be 130 pounds by bikini season.”

“I want to wear my size 4 dress to the bridal shower in three weeks.”

“I won’t get rid of the size small belt because I know it will fit when I get back to working out.”

All of these quotes come from actual clients of mine, but chances are they sound awfully familiar to you or someone you know.

You work hard to lose weight, only to find it creep back on with a few extra pounds to boot, to then again buckle down to lose again, gain again, lose again, gain again.

You have your fat jeans and your skinny jeans, you have your handy rice cake and boiled chicken repertoire on standby, and you’ve bookmarked all your favorite drop-weight-fast workouts on your laptop for when it’s time to get serious. You’re a pro at this.

Now, here you are trying to figure out how to lose weight, yet again.

But, honestly, between weekend pizza you can’t seem to nix and the bag of candy that speaks to you every day at 3 p.m., you’re exhausted from constantly having to choose whether or not to deprive yourself. Eat it, don’t eat it, eat just a little, skip it altogether. OK, have a bite, cut a whole piece. No, wait, a sliver. Maybe if you eat it fast enough with your eyes closed, it won’t count?  Ugh, you can’t believe you ate that! 

You already know how losing and gaining weight messes with your head, but do you know how yo-yo dieting messes with your body?

What Yo-Yo Dieting Is Actually Doing To Your Body

Whoa, hormones. Yo-yo dieting, including severe calorie restriction and dramatic dietary changes can increase the hormone cortisol, wreaking havoc on your health. It increases your risk of developing diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

There’s tons of evidence that people who live the longest are those who are constantly eating slightly less than they need to be satisfied and maintaining a low body weight for their height. This is, in part, due to hormones being optimized. If you restrict your calories too severely, hormones don’t work as efficiently and your overall health becomes compromised. Nutrient deficiencies pop up and you may end up with dry skin, brittle hair and nails, and a crappy immune system.

The bottom line is that dropping too many calories messes with your hormones, which messes with your health.

Metabolic meltdown. So here’s the deal: if you over-restrict your calories, your body responds by slowing down your metabolic rate, or your ability to burn calories. It also causes muscle loss.

Yo-yo dieting doesn’t appear to permanently ruin metabolism, but the process of losing muscle (which is what your body uses for fuel when there aren’t enough calories from food coming in) is never anyone’s goal. You need your lean body mass to support your bones and keep you fit, strong, and burning calories. So don’t compromise it by breaking it down to use for fuel.

Here’s a new way of thinking: don’t exercise to lose weight, exercise to maintain your lean body mass (which helps with weight loss) and to keep your brain focused on your fitness. The more fit you feel, the more motivated you’ll be to skip dessert.

Eliminate eliminating. Extreme weight loss is hard on your brain, heart, liver, and kidneys. These vital organs need carbs and calories to do their jobs, and without enough nutrition, they’re at risk for damage. Severely decreased calories can also cause nutrient deficiencies, which in prolonged states can damage bones, skin, and immune functioning.

Bottom line: Reducing carbs and calories is fine. Cutting them out completely is not. If you eliminate a whole food group entirely, you’ll end up back on the whole yo-yo dieting cycle again, guaranteed.

Say no-no to yo-yo. Rather than embarking on a ridiculous 1000 calories a day diet or ditching all carbs for good, solid research promotes eating a little less of everything at every meal and snack in order to maintain a healthy weight. Learning to feel “satisfied” instead of “full” is key to ending that up and down cycle. Eat a balanced diet and choose clean, healthy foods. Learn how to gauge your appetite by learning about your hunger quotient (HQ). And, plan for your indulgences.

It’s easier said than done, but it can be done. Be focused, consistent, and patient.

About Nutritious Life Editors

The Nutritious Life Editors are a team of healthy lifestyle enthusiasts who not only subscribe to — and live! — the 8 Pillars of a Nutritious Life, but also have access to some of the savviest thought leaders in the health and wellness space — including our founder and resident dietitian, Keri Glassman. From the hottest trends in wellness to the latest medical science, we stay on top of it all in order to deliver the info YOU need to live your most nutritious life.

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