- Yo-yo dieting refers to cyclical attempts at dieting that may lead to short-term weight loss followed by weight gain.
- Many fad diets do not provide lasting weight loss results because they are overly restrictive and unsustainable.
- A registered dietitian can help you learn how to stop yo-yo dieting for good.
Fad diets often promise rapid weight loss results, but they are very restrictive, and as soon you step outside of the food rules, the weight can return. This feeling is frustrating, and within a few days or weeks, you might start a new diet or weight loss program to try to lose weight again. This cyclical behavior is referred to as yo-yo dieting.
With the help of a registered dietitian, you can learn new ways to approach your nutrition and health goals.
In this article, you’ll learn what yo-yo dieting is, why it doesn’t help with weight loss goals, and what you can do instead to nourish your body and meet your nutrition goals.
What is Yo-Yo Dieting?
Yo-yo dieting (also called weight cycling) describes unsustainable eating patterns to try and lose weight rapidly. Although some weight may come off fast, the results are short-lived, and research has shown that weight regain often happens within nine months to two years of starting the diet.
A core reason why these eating patterns are not feasible is that they are very restrictive, which is very common in fad diets. Research has proven that following strict food rules, such as drastically reducing carbohydrate intake, not eating past 8 p.m., and drastically reducing caloric intake, does not lead to long-term behavior changes that support health.
You can learn to nourish your body and meet your health goals without starting a restrictive diet. Sign up with Nourish to receive expert nutrition advice that is covered by insurance. Click here to book a virtual appointment with a registered dietitian.
Why Yo-Yo Dieting Doesn't Work
Some research has shown that yo-yo dieting doesn’t deliver long-term weight loss results because compliance with restrictive diets dwindles over time. This can happen for a few reasons:
- A person successfully loses weight and decides to go back to eating “normally,” which usually means eating without restrictions, which can result in gaining weight.
- The food rules don’t teach you how to handle real-life situations, such as holiday dinner parties or eating while traveling. It is hard to feel confident making a nutritious decision in situations you haven’t been prepared for.
- You simply miss eating your favorite foods and meals, which are “not allowed” based on the food rules of the restrictive diet.
Research has shown that restricting or depriving yourself of foods can actually enhance your craving for them short term.
Instead of yo-yo dieting and trying new fad diets, you could find more meaningful results by making dietary changes that align with your taste preferences and health goals. Focus on understanding and modifying your eating behaviors and mindset around food choices rather than how much you eat.
Is Yo-Yo Dieting Bad for Your Health?
Following food rules can also promote disordered eating behaviors, leaving you guilty or ashamed after eating something you “weren’t supposed to.”
You should never feel bad about fueling your body. If you want compassionate and expert nutrition advice to help heal your relationship with food, book a virtual appointment with a registered dietitian.
Why is It So Hard to Stop Yo-Yo Dieting?
It can be hard to stop yo-yo dieting for several reasons, especially if you’ve spent a lifetime following different diet programs. Growing up accustomed to food rules can feel normal, especially if you grew up in a household with parents or caregivers who modeled a dieter's mentality. Watching them start a new diet every month feels normal, and you may unknowingly engage in the same behaviors.
The marketing behind yo-yo dieting makes fad dieting and weight management sound easy. In reality, it is more complicated than just focusing on the number of calories you are eating. You also need to consider physical activity, the nutritional quality of your diet, and your relationship with food. Furthermore, there will be some areas of your life that you can’t control but still influence your weight, such as hormones, genetics, and sometimes necessary medications.
Focusing on the areas of your health where you can take action can help you reach your health goals. Book an appointment with a registered dietitian to optimize your diet!
Tips for Breaking the Yo-Yo Diet Cycle
You may find exploring nutrition approaches focusing less on food rules, calories, and restrictions beneficial. Examples include all-foods-fit, and intuitive eating, which also encompasses mindful eating practices. Research has shown that following these dietary patterns can help improve your long-term relationship with food.
Set Realistic and Sustainable Goals
Create realistic goals that fit your lifestyle and food preferences. People may have the best health intentions when they try to overhaul their diet quickly, but sustainable change takes time to implement. Not to mention, a balanced diet includes all foods in moderation, and eliminating certain items is not necessary.
The SMART goal-setting methodology can help you create realistic health goals. It is an acronym for specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time-bound. Your dietitian can help you build a nutrition goal that fits this framework, which will set you up for success.
Focus on Foods to Add, Not Restrict
Restricting foods is a behavior rooted in fad diet culture, and a gentler approach to making dietary changes is recommended. Instead of eliminating and avoiding certain foods, you may find more success in achieving your health goals by enjoying them in moderation. You can learn how to balance your meals by adding new foods to your menu that you enjoy and make you feel full.
Foods that promote fullness can help you feel satisfied after a meal. These foods include high-fiber options, protein-rich foods, and moderate amounts of fat as well.
Build Long-Term Habits
Making new dietary behaviors takes time, but it is worth it. Many fad diets that promote yo-yo dieting promise overnight results, but beneficial nutrition changes take time. Making a nutrition goal and arriving with a long-term mindset might set you up for success and less frustration.
Keep Track of Your Progress
Collecting data about your nutrition experiences can help you better understand your eating behaviors. Research has shown that people who track their food and beverage intake, such as in a food journal, can improve goal-setting, self-monitoring, and knowledge to develop self-efficacy. All of these areas are vital for making long-lasting behavior change.
Enjoy the Process
Celebrate your wins and happy milestones as you move forward in your nutrition journey. Making behavior changes is an accomplishment, and taking a moment to recognize your progress can help you stay motivated. You may want to physically document your milestone in a journal or some other tangible source. Looking back on what you’ve accomplished can be a valuable reminder of how many positive changes you made.
Diets that focus on restrictive eating practices are not sustainable for most people. Even if you successfully lose weight, there is a high chance the weight will return as soon as you stop following the diet program and rules. Remember, this isn’t your fault. Fad diets are designed for short-term compliance; they rarely deliver long-term results.
Weight cycling can have an impact on your physical and mental health, and learning how to break away from diet culture once and for all can have a big impact on your relationship with food.
Managing Disordered Eating with a Dietitian
Following food rules can contribute to disordered eating habits. If you often feel guilty, ashamed, or anxious about eating, you should meet a registered dietitian specializing in disordered eating.
Nourish offers individualized nutrition counseling that is covered by most insurance carriers. Our dietitians are compassionate and expertly trained providers who are available for online appointments. If you’re ready to take the next step in your healthy journey, consider booking a virtual appointment with a registered dietitian now.
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