Yo-Yo Dieting and Your Health

With the ever-increasing attention towards our health and weight management, and the rise of fad diets as a result, weight relapse post-diet has become a pretty rampant and recurring issue. Weight relapse, or weight cycling, can also be described as the infamous cycle we know as yo-yo dieting.

If yo-yo diets are SO bad, why do so many fall victim?

First, it’s important to recognize that weight cycling happens to a variety of individuals and not just those who are overweight or obese. There are a few characteristics alongside being overweight/obese that place us at higher risks, including adolescents whom are hyper-aware of their bodies, women in general, and even athletes who aim to meet specific weight classes.

In recent literature, 2 types of weight fluctuations were observed:

  1. Short-term fluctuations, which tend to be mild in nature (small deviations from a plan)
  2. Long-term fluctuations, which are larger jumps in weight and more likely attributed to weight relapse

Small deviations from the plan and a number of lifestyle factors are likely to cause standard weight fluctuations that can frustrate most people. They’re manageable with some consistency and working on certain habits.

Long term fluctuations are where we run into trouble from a metabolic adaptation and dieting history standpoint. These are important distinctions to make, as weight cycling and yo-yo dieting are much more significant in that a large portion of dieters will often fall into the latter option and gain back what they’ve lost, plus some.

In our current food environment, the majority of people rely on convenience and opt for fast options – weight loss programs cater to that same desire. The environment that primes us for overeating is the same one that also bombards us with the latest diet trends via the media. The “quick-fix” mentality is what keeps these popular fad diets in business; they rely on the fact that you’ll get quick results without obtaining any real knowledge on how to sustain that progress long term. Cue weight cycling and starting this process over and over again! This is not a position we want to be in.

Check out our article on preventing weight regain here!

The Consequences

While the underlying catalysts for weight cycling can differ between individuals, that doesn’t change the number of health concerns associated with it. A number of them have already been identified: greater weight gain, increases in total body and visceral fat (or redistribution of fat), insulin sensitivity and type 2 diabetes, and many cardiovascular risk factors.

The repeated overshoot theory is a coined term used to describe the impact that weight cycling has on risk factors and markers of health. As food intake and body weight fluctuations occur, risk factors fluctuate alongside it. All of those ups and downs over time place more stress (and unnecessary stress, at that) on the system and have been shown to make weight cyclers much more vulnerable to associated health conditions.

Key Considerations

Our ‘obesigenic’ food environment isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. The same can be said for misleading and unhelpful diet advice that’s perpetuated through media. Here are some principles everyone can benefit from when looking to optimize and improve their body composition:

  1. Diet slowly

Weight cycling stems from the desire to get fast results (and ends in rapidly regaining what you lost and more) – we can’t go about it this way if we want sustainable progress. Take your time, make incremental changes, and be patient and consistent.

  1. Resistance train

Resistance training is one of the best things you can add to your lifestyle. This will preserve lean body mass and help you change your body composition over time (i.e. changing the ratio of muscle mass and body fat on our frames).

  1. Keep protein high

Keeping protein high will help to stimulate muscle protein synthesis throughout the day and aid in recovery in order to make desired muscle/strength improvements. Protein can also help with satiety throughout the day. We recommend aiming for at least 1 gram per pound of bodyweight.

Most importantly, a key point we make with our clients comes down to finding something you enjoy. Once you implement habits and behavior changes that fit into your lifestyle and goals, and is something that you can realistically stick to, long term adherence has been reached.


Montani, J.P., Viecelli, A.K., Prevot, A., Dulloo, A.G. Weight cycling during growth and beyond as a risk factor for later cardiovascular diseases: the ‘repeated overshoot’ theory. International Journal of Obesity. 30(S4): S58–S66, 2006.

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