New qualitative research looks at the negative interpersonal and psychological consequences of “yo-yo dieting” or weight cycling. The piece stresses the hazards of yo-yo dieting and how difficult it is for people to break the cycle.
"Yo-yo dieting - unintentionally gaining weight and dieting to lose weight only to gain it back and restart the cycle – is a prevalent part of American culture, with fad diets and lose-weight-quick plans or drugs normalised as people pursue beauty ideals," says Lynsey Romo, corresponding author of a paper on the study and an associate professor of communication at North Carolina State University.
"Based on what we learned through this study, as well as the existing research, we recommend that most people avoid dieting, unless it is medically necessary. Our study also offers insights into how people can combat insidious aspects of weight cycling and challenge the cycle."
For the study, researchers conducted in-depth interviews with 36 adults – 13 men and 23 women – who had experienced weight cycling where they lost and regained more than 11 pounds. The goal was to learn more about why and how people entered the yo-yo dieting cycle and how, if at all, they were able to get out of it.
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All the study participants reported wanting to lose weight due to social stigma related to their weight, and/or because they were comparing their weight to that of celebrities or peers.
"Overwhelmingly, participants did not start dieting for health reasons, but because they felt social pressure to lose weight," Romo says.
The study participants also reported engaging in a variety of weight-loss strategies, which resulted in initial weight loss, but eventual regain.
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Regaining the weight led people to feel shame and further internalise stigma associated with weight – leaving study participants feeling worse about themselves than they did before they began dieting. This, in turn, often led people to engage in increasingly extreme behaviours to try to lose weight again.