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Health Talk & You

Tue, Nov 10th, 2009
Posted in Health & Wellness

We've all heard the warnings that yo-yo dieting is hazardous to your health, but most of us look past these warnings and keep trying to lose weight anyway. Fortunately, yo-yo dieting, also known as diet cycling, may not be as bad as we once thought.

Yo-yo dieting is exactly what it sounds like: restricting food intake, losing weight, then increasing food intake and regaining. Research shows that most people who lose 10 to 15 pounds will regain this weight within five years. Indeed, many people go through several of these cycles in their lives.

Most weight gain occurs because people resort to their old eating habits. And, although many see yo-yo dieting as a failure, this isn't necessarily the case. Recent studies on the effects of unsuccessful dieting show that those who lose weight and regain it are usually better off than those who don't-meaning yo-yo dieters are thinner compared with their counterparts who don't lose weight at all.

Yo-yo dieting is often associated with eating disorders. Indeed, people who are constant dieters have an increased risk of developing an eating disorder. The overall risk, however, is very small.

Those looking for a diet they can stick to and avoid diet cycling are out of luck. The process of gaining and loosing weight all comes down to an energy balance issue. If you eat fewer calories than you burn off during the day, you will lose weight.

My research team and I have been researching how to help patients lose weight-and keep it off-in a way that promotes diet cycling. Specifically, we're researching how weight loss is affected by switching diets and taking breaks from dieting entirely.

So far, the results have been interesting. People seem to like the approach and so far it doesn't seem to have any negative effects on weight loss. We still don't know whether they will maintain weight loss on par with traditional approaches, but as the study continues, it's something we hope to unearth.

Some things to remember when dieting: every diet has the potential to be a yo-yo diet, but it is not likely to be harmful, even if you do gain back some or all of the weight that you lost while on your diet. If it slows down the rate at which you gain weight--and nearly all adults do gain weight with age--it may well be worth doing.

Robert W. Jeffery, Ph.D., is professor in the University of Minnesota School of Public Health.

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