Nutrition-wise blog

Is yo-yo dieting dangerous?

By Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. November 29, 2016

Yo-yo dieting, also called weight cycling, is a pattern of losing weight and then regaining it. It's commonly thought that yo-yo dieting leads to long-term struggles with weight and a greater risk of obesity. There are also concerns that yo-yo dieting increases risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Numerous studies have tried to determine if these concerns are valid. Researchers recently reviewed 31 studies on weight cycling and its relationship to obesity and diabetes. Here are some of the findings:

  • A total of 19 studies examined the effects of weight cycling on metabolic risk factors for obesity. Of these, more than half (58 percent) found an association between weight cycling and increased weight and body fat, specifically belly fat, subsequently increasing the risk of obesity.
  • Eight studies examined the impact of weight cycling on weight gain and obesity risk. Three studies reported that weight cycling appears to increase the likelihood of future weight gain.
  • Of the studies that looked at risk for type 2 diabetes, the majority (76 percent) concluded that weight cycling did not increase blood glucose levels nor risk for type 2 diabetes.

Thus, the researchers concluded that there's little evidence to support a connection between yo-yo dieting and increased risk of obesity and diabetes.

A new study presented at the 2016 American Heart Association Scientific Sessions looked at weight cycling and cardiovascular disease risk in postmenopausal women. Alarmingly, the study found that weight cycling in women of normal weight was associated with a 3.5 times higher risk for sudden cardiac death and a 66 percent increased risk for dying of coronary heart disease.

Where does that leave us? With many unanswered questions. Clearly, more research is needed to better understand the short- and long-term effects of weight cycling. Here are a few questions I have: Is the quality of the diet being considered? How quickly is the weight lost or regained, and what effect does this have on blood glucose, fat tissue and other metabolic factors? What are your questions or reflections on yo-yo dieting?

Nov. 29, 2016