Yo-yo Dieting Can Harm the Heart

Posted 01/31/2017 | By HealthCorps

Lose and gain…..lose and gain…..lose and gain is the name of the game for many people who diet.  In fact, the word “diet” connotes a temporary eating plan and not a long term commitment to an eating style.  Yo-yo dieting or weight recycling is when someone loses weight quickly and then regains it back in a short period of time.  A prior study suggests that about 7 percent of men and 10 percent of women in the U.S. could be classified as “severe weight cyclers,” losing 5 kilograms and then regaining it at least three times.

Until recently, most experts believed that yo-yo dieting did not cause harm and was, in fact, better than not trying to lose weight at all.  Some experts believe that yo-yo dieting actually causes changes in your metabolic rate, making it slow down just a bit, each time it experiences feast and then famine.  That finding has not been clearly proven by research yet, but a new study suggests that healthy women who yo-yo diet are three and a half times more likely to die suddenly from a heart attack, compared to women whose weight remains stable.

The research presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions suggested that normal weight women who fluctuate ten pounds up and down repeatedly fall into this category of women who are at higher risk of a sudden heart attack.  Weight-cycling in normal-weight women is also associated with a 66 percent higher risk of dying from CAD (coronary artery disease).

The researchers at Brown University Memorial Hospital of Rhode Island studied data that was self-reported by 158,000 postmenopausal women, ages 50-79.  The women were divided into four groups: stable weight, steady weight gain, successful at weight loss and weight cycling.  Follow up occurred eleven years after baseline data was collected.  The researchers noted that in the weight-cycling group, the deadly impact wasn’t just the risk of death from a heart attack itself, but fast death within one hour from the time the heart attack occurs.

Overweight and obese women who weight-cycled did not see an increase risk of either type of death.  There was no higher mortality among women who steadily gained weight or among women who lost (and sustained the loss) of excess weight.  These findings support earlier studies that have suggested that it may be better to just allow ten or twelve extra pounds to remain, rather than constantly losing and re-gaining the weight.  Yo-yo dieting can affect the white matter of the brain, impacting the communication and reward center.  It can also affect muscle mass, hydration, and electrolyte balance.  It can stress the body, causing blood pressure and blood glucose levels to fluctuate.  One mouse model showed damage to DNA after weight-cycling behavior.

Yo-yo dieting is common among teens and young women, but no studies of significance have been done on this age group.  It’s also a global problem, so this new research highlights the public health hazards associated with weight-cycling among certain age and gender groups.  What is clear is that this type of dieting behavior is likely not helpful or healthy in the long run.  If you do struggle with being overweight or obese, then working with your physician and a doctor who specializes in obesity treatment, coupled with a dietician or nutritionist, trained fitness professional, support group, and psychologist may help to prevent the weight regain and cyclical nature of your dieting efforts.

Helping your child to avoid yo-yo dieting is extremely important which is why obesity experts recommend that if your child is carrying excess weight, or has been diagnosed with obesity, that an attempt is made to keep them at a certain weight and allow growth spurts to reduce their BMI and health risks.  In some more severe cases, weight loss may be necessary, so it’s important to get the weight off and then to keep it off.   A support team including the parent, pediatrician, fitness expert and nutritionist or dietician can help.

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