What Is Yo-Yo Dieting And Why Is It So Unhealthy?

Yo-yo dieting is what happens when a person loses weight by extreme dieting, regains that weight (for example by losing their self-discipline), and they therefore start dieting all over again. Yo-yo dieting is a popular term that was coined by Kelly David Brownell, a clinical psychologist and public health scholar. This term refers to a cyclical or up-and-down weight loss and weight gain pattern that resembles the up-and-down motion of a yo-yo.

Yo-yo dieting typically occurs due to unsustainable diets or unrealistic weight loss goals. For instance, you may experience cyclical weight loss and weight gain if you embark on a diet that is too low in calories. With such a diet, you may lose a lot of body fat quite fast, decreasing the levels of leptin in your body. Leptin is the hormone that is responsible for helping someone feel full. Therefore, when its level goes down, your appetite will increase, and you are likely to eat a lot of food, quickly regaining the lost weight.

The weight gain may prompt you to start another weight loss journey, hence beginning another weight loss and weight gain cycle. Many people who start a fad diet that is very low in calories or very restrictive, know they likely won’t be able to sustain it. Some people are aware they’re likely going to gain it all back as soon as they stop sustaining the fad diet. However, they do it anyway to look good for an event or occasion, because they aren’t aware of all the health risks of yo-yo dieting.

Yo-yo dieting is bad for your health for many reasons. When you’re a yo-yo dieter, several changes will occur in your body. These changes can negatively affect your health over time. Below are more details on how yo-yo dieting could negatively impact your health.

Yo-Yo Dieting Can Cause Gut Dysfunction

The dramatic shift from eating high-calorie foods to strictly following a low-calorie diet can disrupt the levels of your gut bacteria. The healthy balance of gut bacteria could become disrupted. These bacteria are responsible for breaking down sugar polymers and boosting your immune function. When the levels of gut bacteria are disrupted, you are likely to suffer from gut dysfunction and various gastrointestinal conditions.

You Could Experience Severe Weight Gain


When you yo-yo diet, your brain can interpret the sudden shortage of calories as a famine that it must go into survival mode to protect you from. Therefore, your body thinks it needs to store fat during the dieting period as a survival mechanism. When most of the fat is used, your fat stores will release small amounts of leptin into your bloodstreams. This increases your appetite. You will gain a lot of weight as a result of excessive eating due to a sudden lack of appetite control.

Yo-yo Dieting Can Change Your Fat-To-Muscle Mass Ratio

During the weight regaining stage of yo-yo dieting, you are likely to gain more fat than muscle mass. Therefore, after multiple yo-yo cycles, your body will have more body fat than muscle mass. That will change your body’s fat-to-muscle mass ratio. You are likely to experience excess belly fat during this time, since most of our body fat is typically stored in the belly.

You May Experience Decreased Physical Strength

When you yo-yo diet, you could lose a lot of muscle mass, leading to decreased physical strength. To avoid this, you should exercise when dieting, eat sufficient protein and drink protein smoothies.

Psychological Effects of Yo-Yo Dieting


When dieting, people often sacrifice a lot of the foods they love, depriving themselves of foods they used to enjoy. At the end of the dieting period, they may have lost some weight and they may feel happy. However, with the yo-yo weight loss and weight gain cycles, people often end up feeling depressed after regaining the lost weight. This pattern can negatively affect you psychologically, and be detrimental to your self-esteem. This is just one of many reasons why you should say goodbye to yo-yo dieting.

Yo-Yo Dieting Can Increase the Risk of Heart Disease

Significant bodyweight variations over time can increase the risk of heart disease. You are likely to experience these extreme weight variations during yo-yo dieting.

Yo-yo dieting can also lead to coronary artery disease. This condition can make your heart not receive enough blood since the coronary arteries become narrow. You may suffer from heart disease as a result of this.

Difficulty Falling Asleep

When dieting, you will likely force yourself to go to bed without eating. Or, you’ll go to bed after eating a very small, calorie deficient meal.

Going to bed hungry is the best recipe for sleepless nights. It can be very difficult to fall asleep when you’re hungry. This is why yo-yo dieting can cause insomnia or poor sleep.

Risk of Gallstones

Yo-yo dieting can facilitate the formation of gallstones. Gallstones are masses of hardened bile and cholesterol that accumulate in a person’s gallbladder. When they form in your gallbladder, you could experience severe pain in what’s known as a gallbladder attack. Gallstones are often associated with excessive body fat. Yo-yo dieting can increase the risk of this condition since the extreme ups and downs in a person’s body fat can cause metabolic abnormalities such as insulin resistance. These metabolic abnormalities, in turn, increase the risk of gallstone formation. If you’ve been experiencing severe abdominal pains and you think you might have gallstones, ask your doctor to book an ultrasound appointment for you.

Decreased Energy Levels


When trying to lose the weight regained during the weight gaining phase of yo-yo dieting, you might deny your body some important nutrients. This is common when people attempt to lose weight. They’re eating so little, and they end up depriving their body of essential vitamins and minerals. For instance, your body may end up not getting enough iron during your dieting phase. Low iron can dramatically reduce your energy levels and cause extreme fatigue. In general, being malnourished or eating too little can deplete your energy.

You Could Develop a Fatty Liver

Most of the fat you will gain during the weight gaining stage of yo-yo dieting will be stored in your liver cells. As a result, you could develop a fatty liver since your liver cells will have too much fat. Your liver might not be able to effectively metabolize sugars and fats when its cells have too much fat. When fats and sugars are not effectively broken down, you are putting yourself at risk for type 2 diabetes, chronic liver failure or obesity.

Yo-yo dieting can negatively impact your health in many ways. For instance, it can make you gain an extreme amount of weight, cause you to suffer from gut dysfunction, and dramatically decrease your energy levels. It can also increase your risk of heart disease.

The Optimal Diet For You

The best diets are the ones that are sustainable, with plenty of protein, good fats, and plant-based energy. Don’t deprive yourself or restrict yourself too much. Based on your genetics, a certain type of diet might work better for you than the ones you’ve tried. For example, some people are genetically inclined to respond better to a Mediterranean diet. Try the CircleDNA premium testing kit to receive your unique dietary profile based on your DNA. From there, you could figure out the optimal diet for your body type.

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