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Yo-Yo Dieting - No-No Dieting

Recently I published a very popular article entitled "Fad Diet, Fad Result" in which I provided an overview of my stance on the Fad-diet Industry. This article aims to build upon the foundations laid down in "Fad Diet, Fad Result" by delving into greater detail behind the yo-yo dieting concept. By looking at the science behind the fad diet, this article will discuss why yo-yo dieting can be of major concern.

Developed decades ago, the "Fad Diet" has led way to the "Yo-Yo Dieter". Yo-yo dieting is more scientifically referred to as weight cycling. It is defined as the repeated weight loss and regain of body weight. When embarking upon a fad diet, according to the scientific research, the reoccurrence of the initial weight problem (and thus experiencing weight cycling) is common. It is also recognised that it is often more difficult to maintain a stable weight after a weight loss program, than it is to initially lose the weight.1

Wendy Richmond (M.Sp.Sc. B.SC. Cert IV Assessment Workplace Training) writes "Fad diets generally have little effect on levels of body fat, in the short term weight may be lost, but fad diets rarely lead to a long-term loss of body fat". Wendy continues to state "An eating plan designed for successful weight loss and maintenance should contain an adequate intake of all the foods needed for good health, should be satisfying and enjoyable, should help to reduce the risk of chronic diseases and must also be able to be maintained for life. Most fad diets fail to achieve these aims."1

So with all this established research, why do "yo-yo dieters" persist in embarking upon fad diets?

It is well established that a healthy weight has numerous health benefits. Most men and women believe that weight loss is possible and of benefit11. Generally speaking, the number one goal of the "yo-yo dieter" is to lose weight quickly. The quicker an ideal weight can be attained, the quicker satisfaction will be achieved. The marketing techniques behind various fad diets in the industry tend to play upon this emotion very successfully. Often advertisements will proclaim to lose excessive amounts of weight in relatively short periods of time (ie. over 1kg a week)12. Below are two examples:

Tony Ferguson Diet (Officially The Tony Ferguson Weightloss Program), "I lost 58kg in 8 months"2 (the equivalent of approximately 1.8kg a week on average)
Cabbage Soup Diet, "How To Lose Up To 10 lbs In 7 Days"3 (the equivalent of up to approximately 4.5kg in a week)

Whilst there is not much doubt that figures like these are certainly possible to achieve through restrictive dieting, what health risks are posed to participants during such rapid weight loss?

Recently a contestant on the Australian Biggest Loser, Artie Rocke, was admitted to hospital with gallstones. He lost over 30kg in 3 months (averaging over 2.5kg a week). Artie advised that "doctors said it was due to rapid weight loss"4. It has been documented that "People who lose a large amount of weight quickly are at greater risk [of developing gallstones] than those who lose weight more slowly."5 It has also been established that "People who weight cycle-especially with losses and gains of more than 10 lbs-have a higher risk for gallstones than people who lose weight and sustain their weight loss. Additionally, the more weight a person loses and regains during a cycle, the greater the risk of developing gallstones."5

Other health risks as a result of weight cycling and rapid weight loss may include: elevated blood pressure, high cholesterol, coronary heart disease, increased long-term weight gain, binge eating, reduced physical activity, reduced energy expenditure, increased hunger levels, altered hormone levels, changes in substrate utilisation, increased fatigue, increased disposition toward fat storage and depression.1,6,7,8,9,10

Rapid weight loss therefore possesses potential health risks to participants. One of these risks involves an increased long-term weight gain, which is often the result of a typical fad diet.

Many fad diets are classified as very low energy diets. In a glycogen depleted state, lean muscle tissue will be broken down in order to supply the body energy to function. This is a survival mechanism the body employs in order to survive. Since muscle is a metabolically active tissue, this breakdown results in a reduction upon the body's metabolism - ie. less energy is required to maintain survival of the body. As a result, upon the resumption of normal eating, weight gain will most likely be experienced at a greater rate than before.1 This will thus facilitate weight cycling.

The body's metabolism is also slowed down due to malnutrition.1 Many fad diets will rely on liquid substitutes, or strict eating guidelines1,12. As a result, the body can be malnourished from insufficient carbohydrate, protein, fat or micronutrient (eg. vitamin, mineral, phytonutrient) intake. Apart from a decrease in the body's metabolism, a fad diet often does not educate the consumer with regards to healthy nutrition. When the participant resumes eating a "normal" food diet, fat mass can be quickly accumulated once again, simply because the participant is unaware of what foods, in what quantity, will have a detrimental effect to their body fat mass.


Unfortunately, the yo-yo dieter never experiences long-term maintenance of weight loss. Nor are they able to reap the health benefits included in sustaining a healthy weight. Based on the evidence presented above, when short-term weight loss goals outweigh long-term weight loss and health goals, the yo-yo dieter can experience detrimental effects both physically and psychologically. Weight is quickly lost and easily gained back - eventually forming a viscous weight cycle. The solution is often cited as a "lifestyle change", often including the modification of food consumption and physical activity in a regulated manner.1

Further reading:

Fad Diet, Fad Result
Do you believe that the Tony Ferguson diet is healthy and maintainable?
Tony Ferguson Diet Review...A Fad Diet?


1Diploma of Fitness Nutrition and Weight Management, Wendy Richmond, FIA 2006 pp 201-211
2http://www.tonyferguson.com/Testimonial.aspx (Tony Ferguson Diet website)
6Hamm, P, Shekelle, RB, Stamler, J. (1989) Large fluctuations in body weight during young adulthood and twenty-five-year risk of coronary death in men Am J Epidemiol 129,312-318
7Lissner, L, Odell, PM, D'Agostino, RB, et al (1991) Variability of body weight and health outcomes in the Framingham population N Engl J Med 324,1839-1844
8Blair, SN, Shaten, J, Brownell, K, Collins, G, Lissner, L. (1993) Body weight change, all-cause mortality, and cause-specific mortality in the Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial Ann Intern Med 119,749-757
9Lee, IM, Paffenbarger, RS, Jr (1992) Change in body weight and longevity JAMA 268,2045-2049
11Crawford, D. & Campbell, K. (1998) Men's and Women's Dieting Beliefs Aus J Nut Diet 55 (3). 122-129
12Williams, L & Williams, P, Evaluation of a tool for rating popular diet books, Nutrition and Dietetics, 2003, 60(3), 185-197

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