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What is weight cycling? (and why it’s costing your health)

Have you ever found yourself starting a new diet, losing some weight, regaining this weight, prompting you to embark on yet another diet? This common phenomenon is called Weight Cycling, and it is often not spoken about enough among the noise of diet culture. 

Weight Cycling, a phenomenon that many of us are all too familiar with, can be described as repeated periods of weight loss followed by weight gain. This occurrence, often normalised, is also known as Yo-yo dieting, as our weight fluctuates up and down like a yo-yo while we attempt diet after diet. If this sounds like you, take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone, with thousands of people engaging in yo-yo dieting each year. 

It is not uncommon to stay trapped in this cycle for years. When we gain weight, we may feel deflated and frustrated and find ourselves looking for our next diet, fueling the continuation of this vicious cycle. 

In reality, weight cycling only exists because 90% of diets don’t work! Unfortunately, this process isn’t just frustrating; it can also be more detrimental to our health than we realise! 

In this article, we will unpack the problems with weight cycling to help you understand the dangers and why we often get stuck in this repeated phase.  

The problem with weight cycling? 

Physical Health Implications of weight cycling

Repeatedly losing and gaining weight (Weight Cycling) has been linked to various adverse physical health outcomes. Weight Cycling is associated with higher risks of developing diabetes, hypertension, some forms of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and osteoporotic fractures (Rhee, 2017). 

On top of that, each cycle tends to result in the loss of muscle tissue, which is difficult to regain and ultimately results in a slower metabolism. This contributes to why more than 80% of individuals reportedly regain more weight than initially lost within two years of attempting weight loss.

As dire and confronting as it is, a recent study also found that weight cycling has been linked with a higher risk of death (Schwartz et al., 2017).  These findings highlight the urgency of addressing the detrimental effects of weight cycling and ditching diets for more sustainable approaches to achieving long-term health. 

The Mental Health Impact of weight cycling

“Besides the physical implications, weight cycling can wreak havoc on our mental state. We may base our value and worth on the number staring back at us on the scales and beat ourselves up when the weight is regained.”

As well as this, dieting can cause hormonal changes that can increase the risk of developing depression and anxiety, leaving us more susceptible to developing an eating disorder. Therefore, it is essential to understand the whole-body effects dieting can have on us. 

What is Yo-yo dieting?

So you may be thinking – “Ok, I get it, weight cycling is dangerous, but I’ll be different. On my next diet, I will keep the weight off because I’m going to have the best willpower.” Unfortunately, willpower isn’t going to get us very far – as our human biology, backed by scientific evidence, is wired to protect us from starvation by increasing our appetite and reducing our metabolic rate to ensure that we ultimately regain weight. (link to why diets don’t work article). 

No, you’re not to blame for the yo-yo dieting cycle you find yourself in. Frankly, the human body is not designed to be on a diet so for the majority of people, weight gain will be the result of engaging in dieting practices. 

Despite being aware of the problems associated with weight cycling and dieting, why do we continue to engage in these practices?

Still can’t seem to shake the desire to try ‘just one more diet’ or ‘lose a couple of kilos’? It is understandable in a world where our screens are bombarded with messages telling us to try this new diet or cut out a particular food group to achieve unrealistic and unhealthy results. Society’s relentless pressure to exist in a smaller body is just one of the many reasons we still diet, even though we know they do not work. 

Additionally, as messed up as it sounds, dieting is somewhat of a bonding experience. It is so widely accepted and somewhat celebrated that we may feel we will have nothing to talk to our colleagues about – if not the latest weight loss shake or squeezing into jeans from 15 years ago. At the end of the day, we just want to fit in, yet I promise you these conversations can be replaced with something much more meaningful, such as debating the next best TV shows to watch. 

Humans are creatures of habit; we tend to stick to what we know. Navigating the non-diet world can be scary and unfamiliar if you have relied on dieting for years. From a young age, we’re taught that dieting is the ultimate tool for “controlling” our weight, instilling a sense of safety in believing dieting controls our body size. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that without dieting, we will be stuck in a perpetual cycle of overeating. However, rest assured, this is not the case! The non-diet approach aims to find a happy medium between this all-or-nothing form of thinking.

The bottom line 

Weight cycling can be a dangerous and slippery slope. You may find yourself trapped in this cycle, unable to navigate how to get out. Nevertheless, given the detrimental effects on both physical and mental health, it is important to find the strength and courage to dig a little deeper into your intention to lose weight.

How to stop weight cycling & yo-yo dieting? 

How to stop weight cycling & yo-yo dieting? 

You are not alone, and It’s easier said than done. A simple first step is to unfollow any accounts that don’t promote healthy lifestyle behaviours. Instead, choose to follow some empowering non-diet health accounts as listed here (https://balanceandbite.com.au/blog/non-diet-accounts-to-follow/

It is essential to ditch the all-or-nothing dieting thinking and adopt a balanced approach to nutrition, focusing on sustainable lifestyle changes and goals rather than these dangerous ‘quick fixes’ that ultimately harm us in the long run. 

At Balance and Bite, we’re here to support you in your journey to reject diet culture and break free from Weight Cycling. We offer professional assistance to help you repair your relationship with food and your body.  

Curious about what working together looks like? Get in touch to find out more.

References:
Schwartz, M. W., Seeley, R. J., Zeltser, L. M., Drewnowski, A., Ravussin, E., Redman, L. M., & Leibel, R. L. (2017). Obesity Pathogenesis: An Endocrine Society Scientific Statement. Endocrine Reviews, 38(4), 267–296. https://doi.org/10.1210/er.2017-00111

Rhee, E. J. (2017). Weight Cycling and Its Cardiometabolic Impact. Journal of Obesity & Metabolic Syndrome, 26(4), 237–242. https://doi.org/10.7570/jomes.2017.26.4.237

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