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Yo-Yo Dieting: The Science Behind Why It Never Works

You’re trying to put your health first. You want to lose weight. Your doctor says it’s better for you. You know it’s better for you. But you’re caught in a vicious cycle. You try diet after diet. Yet, it’s never sustainable and you can never make the weight stay off.

The fitness industry is misleading - to say the least. You turn to many of these companies for a little health help. But misconceptions spread like wildfire. You’re met with offers for various quick-fix solutions to get rid of those excess pounds fast.

Sometimes, they work. You lose the weight. But then as soon as those 12 weeks are over, you gain it all back - and then some.

If you’re stuck in the yo-yo diet cycle, you aren’t alone. Many individuals - mostly women - cycle through diet after diet and weight loss followed by weight gain. It’s discouraging.

About 10% of men have tried it and about 30% of women have done it.

So, what’s happening below the surface? Why doesn’t yo-yo dieting ever work? And how can you avoid yo-yo dieting for good?

Breaking Down the Yo-Yo Diet

Understanding this cycle is step one toward getting out of it. And getting out of that cycle is crucial if you want to lose weight in a sustainable and healthy way. So, let’s look at what’s happening physiologically. Why aren’t you losing weight and sustaining it through these diets?

Your Body Goes into Survival Mode

The body likes to maintain a set-point. It gets used to it. Anything below that set-point signals to your brain that something’s wrong. If you’ve been the same weight for a while, your body has likely adapted to it.

When you go on a diet and eat less, your body goes into panic mode. It sets off a chain of events, including hormonal imbalances and more.

Because you’re eating less, your body is trying to replace what you aren’t eating. You get cravings. You have internal debates about whether or not you should eat that muffin. You’re starving but it’s part of your diet. Your body desperately wants those calories.

Here’s the real kicker: When you continue down this kind of restrictive diet, your body loses muscle mass. It’s trying to find energy in any form possible - and while your muscle isn’t exactly the most efficient way to gain energy, your body is going to take it.

And when you lose muscle mass, your metabolism slows right down. You don’t burn as many calories at rest. This makes it even harder to lose weight but easier to gain it all back again. When you do put the weight back on, it’s usually fat tissue. If you aren’t strength training or stimulating your muscles, they simply won’t grow.

Yes, it’s frustrating. But yes, you can get out of it! Let’s first look at the mental side of things.

You’re Stuck in the Short-Term When You Need to Be Playing the Long-Game

This side of it all is never talked about. The fitness industry brainwashes you into thinking that quick fixes are the way to go. It’s the way everyone is doing it.

But… long-term and sustainable weight loss is slow. You didn’t just put that weight on overnight. It happens over many years. It’s going to take time to come off. This could be in the form of many months or a couple of years.

Patience is key here. You’ve got to flip your mindset. You’ve got to want to be in it for sustainable and long-term health. After all, isn’t that what we all want?

On top of this, it can be crazy frustrating being stuck in that yo-yo loop. In a way, you burn yourself out. You’ve read all the trending health help out there. It hasn’t worked. You start thinking you’re the problem. You’re not. It’s what you’re doing that is.

How to Avoid Yo-Yo Dieting:

First and foremost: Quit the super restrictive diets. You’ll be setting yourself up for failure by signing up for the next one.

According to experts, the best way is to focus on your nutrition. What are you eating? If it’s mostly pre-packaged foods, it’s time to clear out your cupboards. Start eating a balanced and healthy diet filled with homemade foods. It’s better for you and you’ll know exactly what’s going into them. Focus on your macronutrients, which include carbohydrates, protein, and fats. You may even choose to use MyFitnessPal to help you track these.

Start moderate exercise. Go for a form of exercise that increases muscle mass, such as resistance training. This will help you burn more calories at rest - meaning you’ll have a higher resting metabolic rate.

Try making small and gradual changes. Aim to do just one thing each week, such as cutting out pre-packaged foods first. In a couple of weeks, try doing one exercise session a week. Slow and steady really does win the race here!

Make sure you focus on the positives! We all need a little health help once in a while. Don’t forget to monitor how you feel after exercise or how you feel after eating a certain food. Did it feel good? Did it feel bad? Adjust as need be.

Put Your Health First and Quit Those Yo-Yo Diets!

Those restrictive diets never do anyone any good. Aim to lose the weight in a slow and sustainable way. Focus on eating well and exercising regularly. Reinforce those healthy habits. It will take more time, but your body will do the rest! Years down the road, you won’t still be cycling through these diets and bad habits.

Need an easy exercise routine to get started? Try walking. Read about the soul-affirming benefits here.

Krista Bugden

Krista Bugden

"Believing in yourself is really half the battle," says Krista. Anything is possible and you really can achieve anything you set your mind to, is her motto. Physiotherapist, Piano player, skydiver, yogi, adventure traveler and energetic force of positivity, Krista is herself a (delightful) force to be reckoned with! As... Read More

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