It’s a common assumption that yo-yo dieting confuses your metabolism. It’s also been assumed that a metabolism whacked out by yo-yo dieting, referred to as “weight cycling” by scientists, destroys your chances of losing weight over time. But a new study suggests that yo-yo dieters can eventually succeed in changing their lifestyle to lose weight and keep it off, if they keep on trying.
Ending the weight cycle
About two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese and millions who try to lose weight are riding the roller coaster of yo-yo dieting, or weight cycling. Success is eventually followed by failure as the pounds return. Researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle designed a study to find out if it really is impossible for yo-yo dieters to bring their weight cycles to a positive end.
Nearly 400 post-menopausal women participated in the research. About 20 percent who said they had lost and then gained back at least 20 pounds three times were classified as “severe weight cyclers.” About 25 percent who had lost 10 pounds only to gain them back were classified as “moderate weight cyclers.”
The women in the study with a history of yo-yo dieting were heavier on average and had less healthy metabolic and hormonal profiles than the others, but in a report on the study published in the journal Metabolism, researchers said the differences were a result of higher BMI, larger waistlines and higher body fat percentage, not a history weight cycling.
Changing lifestyle is the key
Noting that changing lifestyle, more than cutting calories, is often the biggest challenge for yo-yo dieters, the researchers designed a diabetes prevention program involving an overall change in lifestyle. With plenty of help, the women met a daily calorie goal based on their starting weight, with less than 30 percent of those calories from fat and more from fruit, vegetables and fiber. They worked with a personal trainer, exercising 45 minutes a day five days a week.
After a year on the diabetes prevention program, researchers were surprised to find that a history of weight cycling was not a factor in the outcome. The yo-yo dieters performed just as well as the other participants. Diet and exercise lowered body fat percentage, increased muscle mass and improved the metabolic and hormonal profiles in equal measure for the entire group.
Keep it simple
According to study co-author Anne McTiernan, the effective lifestyle changes were as simple as keeping a daily food journal, eating more meals at home, not missing any meals and stepping on the scale weekly, rather than daily. Of course, the research staff kept the participants accountable, but McTiernan suggested that losing weight with a friend or joining a weight loss program can instill the same sense of accountability.
Never give up
Given that obesity has been shown to have an effect on increasing the risk of cancer and other diseases, it’s likely that yo-yo dieting helps more than it hurts. Plus, fat cells produce hormones that increase inflammation, the root cause of many chronic illnesses. When yo-yo dieters lose weight, even temporarily, they reduce the inflammation in their bodies.
Of course, they key is keeping the weight off. But if you gain it back, never give up.