Yo-yo effect: dieting without medical reasons can harm physical and mental health

Yo-yo effect: dieting without medical reasons can harm physical and mental health

Starting a diet is not an easy task, and even less should be taken lightly. Something confirmed by a new American study which points to the famous yo-yo effect, a consequence of the application of diets that are not medically necessary. The results of this work should alert men and women to the importance of making informed choices in this area, and not letting themselves be caught up in certain injunctions.

The yo-yo effect—unintentionally gaining weight, dieting to lose it, then gaining it back and starting the cycle again—is an integral part of American culture, particularly with fad diets and plans or medications intended to to lose weight quickly to achieve certain beauty ideals“, explains Lynsey Romo, associate professor of communication at North Carolina State University, in a press release. An observation which led this team of American researchers to try to determine why and how men and women entered this cycle hellish, and what were the harmful effects.

For the purposes of their work, the scientists carried out in-depth interviews with 36 adults who had suffered the pangs of the yo-yo effect, having first lost weight before gaining back more than 5 kilograms. Importantly, the vast majority of participants did not begin dieting for medical reasons, but because of societal injunctions, whether to look like their favorite celebrities or to achieve certain beauty ideals. The adults involved in this research claimed to have tested various strategies to lose weight, with satisfactory results at first and then failure in the long term.

Harmful eating behaviors

Published in the journal Qualitative Health Research, the results of this work highlight the harmful effects of such diets which generally result in the yo-yo effect. In detail, the researchers observed a feeling of shame, as well as a tendency to internalize the stigma associated with weight, among participants who had regained weight after their diet. As a result, the adults concerned felt even worse about themselves than before starting the diet in question, and therefore… started a diet again.

Many participants engaged in disordered weight management behaviors, such as binge eating or emotional eating, restricting foods and calories, remembering calorie counts, stressing about what they ate and the number on the scale, resorting to quick fixes (like low-carb diets or diet medications), exercising too much, and avoiding social events with food to lose weight quickly. Inevitably, these eating behaviors became unsustainable and participants regained weight, often more than they had initially lost.“, poursuit Lynsey Romo.

Shame, body dissatisfaction, stress

But this “vicious circle”, as many participants called it, also had harmful consequences on the social relationships of the people concerned. “Almost all of the study participants became obsessed with their weight. Weight loss became a central focus of their lives, to the point that it prevented them from spending time with friends, family and co-workers and reducing weight gain temptations such as drinking and overeating“adds Katelin Mueller, co-author of the study.

Although the majority of participants were unable to escape this yo-yo effect, some managed to break the vicious circle. And the latter based this more on their health rather than on the number announced on the scale, specify the researchers. “This study tells us that the yo-yo effect (…) can cause real damage. Our results suggest that it may be harmful for people to start a diet unless it is medically necessary. Dieting to meet certain perceived societal norms inadvertently exposed participants to years of shame, body dissatisfaction, unhappiness, stress, social comparisons, and weight-related concerns. Once a diet is started, it is very difficult for many people to avoid a lifelong struggle with their weight.“, conclude the authors of this work.

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