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Yo-Yo Dieting Is a No-Go

Toxic Cycle Generates Mental Health Issues

yo-yo dieting can lead to mental health issues.

By John Salak –

Getting in shape by maintaining a healthy body weight is undoubtedly a good thing, but dieting is not. In fact, yo-yo-diets that lead to a seemingly never-ending cycle of losing and gaining weight can lead to severe mental health issues, according to researchers at North Carolina State University.

The problem basically lies in the fact that diets largely fail. Depending on which study is cited, anywhere from 65 percent to 95 percent of restrictive calorie programs go belly up when it comes to keeping weight off. In six to 12 months, the vast majority of dieters are back where they started, leading them to try again and again in what’s referred to as “yo-yo dieting.” 

Dieters ultimately have a better chance at winning money in Las Vegas than they do keeping their poundage off. If that isn’t bad enough, yo-yo dieting is a tough habit to break and the repeated failures involved only increasing a dieter’s anxiety, while lowering their self-esteem, the NC State researchers report.

“Yo-yo dieting—unintentionally gaining weight and dieting to lose weight only to gain it back and restart the cycle—is a prevalent part of American culture, with fad diets and lose-weight-quick plans or drugs normalized as people pursue beauty ideals,” explained Associate Professor Lynsey Romo, the study’s corresponding author. “Based on what we learned through this study, as well as the existing research, we recommend that most people avoid dieting unless it is medically necessary.”

The university underscored how toxic yo-yo dieting is by highlighting its negative interpersonal and psychological consequences. The research achieved this by conducting interviews with 36 adults—13 men and 23 women—who had lost and regained more than 11 pounds through weight cycling. All participants reported wanting to lose weight due to social stigma related to their bulk or because they were comparing their weight to that of celebrities or peers.

“Overwhelmingly, participants did not start dieting for health reasons, but because they felt social pressure to lose weight,” Romo noted.

Unfortunately, regaining the weight they lost only made these people feel ashamed and increased their internal stigma, leaving the participants feeling worse about themselves than they did before they began dieting. Many responded to failing to keep pounds off by trying increasingly extreme weight loss practices.

“For instance, many participants engaged in disordered weight management behaviors, such as binge or emotional eating, restricting food and calories, memorizing calorie counts, being stressed about what they were eating and the number on the scale, falling back on quick fixes such as low-carb diets or diet drugs, overexercising and avoiding social events with food to drop pounds fast,” Romo said.

These extreme behaviors led many of the participants to gain more weight than they initially lost. 

“Weight loss became a focal point for their lives, to the point that it distracted them from spending time with friends, family and colleagues and reducing weight-gain temptations such as drinking and overeating,” added study co-author Katelin Mueller, a graduate student.

Some of the individuals did break the weight cycle and embraced healthy eating behaviors that included a varied and balanced diet. However, the researchers reported that the vast majority of participants were stuck in the cycle.

“The combination of ingrained thought patterns, societal expectations, toxic diet culture, and pervasive weight stigma makes it difficult for people to completely exit the cycle, even when they really want to,” Romo said. “Ultimately, this study tells us that weight cycling is a negative practice that can cause people real harm.” 





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