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Is “Yo-Yo Dieting” Harmful?

By a show of hands, how many people out there have lost weight and kept that weight off forever?  Hmmm…I do not see any hands being raised.  Now, please raise your hands if you have, on multiple occasions, lost weight, then regained the weight and then repeated this cycle several/many times over the years?  I see LOTS of hands being raised now.

“Weight cycling”, otherwise known as “Yo-Yo dieting” is very common for people that have struggled with their weight control over many years.  The “usual” is for an overweight/obese person to make a decision to lose weight, then go on some sort of “diet” and after either successful weight control or frustration from lack of results, old behaviors will settle back in and weight gain occurs.  After a period of time, the person will decide to once again make efforts to lose weight and the cycle repeats over and over and over.

Several years ago the American Heart Association released a study showing that women that have “Yo-Yo” dieted have a 3.5X more chance of dying from a sudden cardiac event than overweight/obese women that have not tried losing weight at all.  Additionally, a number of cardiac risk factors, including hypertension and elevated lipid levels occur more frequently in the “Yo-Yo dieter” than the person that has not tried losing the weight.

The data of this study should NOT be interpreted as meaning that the overweight/obese women that did not try losing weight were somehow “heart healthy” or not susceptible to sudden death more frequently than normal weight individuals.  The overweight/obese women that did not have episodes of losing weight were still at a much higher risk than normal weight women, albeit with less risk than the Yo-Yo dieter.

It is speculated that one of the reasons the “Yo-Yo dieter” was at more risk is that when episodes of weight loss occur, not all of the weight loss is coming from fat, as some muscle loss occurs as well.  When the weight is gained back, this is almost all fat gain and not muscle.  Therefore the “Yo-Yo dieter” may wind up placing lots more fat on, thereby increasing the cardiac risk factors.

Does this imply that if you are overweight/obese then you should not make an attempt to shed the weight?  Absolutely NOT.  However, we all must look at controlling weight as a lifestyle change/behavioral modification journey and NOT a “diet”.

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