Study highlights the negative consequences linked to “yo-yo dieting”

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A new qualitative study highlights the negative interpersonal and psychological consequences associated with “yo-yo dieting,” also known as weight cycling. The work points to how toxic yo-yo dieting can be and how difficult it can be for people to break the cycle.

Yo-yo dieting – unintentionally gaining weight and dieting to lose weight only to gain it back and start the cycle over again – is a prevalent part of American culture, in which fad diets and weight-loss-quick plans or drugs are normalized as people’s ideals of beauty. followed by “

Lynsey Romo, corresponding author of a paper on the study and associate professor of communication at North Carolina State University

“Based on what we learned through this study, as well as existing research, we recommend that most people avoid dieting, unless it is medically necessary. Our research also provides insight into how people cope with the hypothetical aspects of weight cycling. can fight back 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 in which they lost and regained more than 11 pounds. The goal was to learn more about why and how people got into the cycle of yo-yo dieting and how, if at all, they were able to get out of it.

All study participants reported wanting to lose weight because of social stigma related to their weight and/or they were comparing their weight to celebrities or peers.

“Furthermore, the participants did not start the diet for health reasons, but because they felt social pressure to lose weight,” Romo said.

Study participants also reported engaging in a variety of weight-loss strategies, resulting in initial weight loss, but eventually regaining it.

Regaining weight causes people to feel shame and further internalize the stigma associated with weight – study participants felt worse about themselves before they started dieting. As a result, people often engage in increasingly extreme behaviors to try to lose weight again.

“For example, many participants engaged in disordered weight management behaviors, such as binge or emotional eating, restricting food and calories, remembering calorie counts, stressing about what they were eating and the number on the scale, falling back on quick fixes (such as low-carb diets or diet drugs). (eg), exercising excessively and avoiding social events with food to shed pounds quickly,” says Romo. “Inevitably, these eating behaviors become unsustainable, and participants gain weight back, often more than they initially lost.”

“Almost all of the study participants were obsessed with their weight,” said Katelyn Mueller, a graduate student at NC State and co-author of the study. “Weight loss became a focal point in their lives, to the point that it distracted them from spending time with friends, family and colleagues and reducing weight-gain temptations such as drinking and overeating.”

“Participants referred to the experience as an addiction or a vicious cycle,” Romo said. “People who were able to understand and deal with their toxic dieting behaviors were more successful in breaking the cycle. Strategies people used to combat these toxic behaviors included focusing on their health instead of numbers on a scale, as well as counting the number of calories they burned instead of exercising for fun. .

“Participants who were more successful in challenging the cycle were able to adopt healthy eating behaviors—such as eating a varied diet and eating when they were hungry—rather than viewing eating as something that needs to be closely monitored, controlled, or punished. .”

However, the researchers found that most of the study participants remained stuck in the cycle.

“The combination of ingrained thought patterns, societal expectations, toxic food culture and widespread weight stigma make it difficult for people to fully exit the cycle, even when they really want to,” Romo says.

“Ultimately, this study tells us that weight cycling is a negative exercise that can do real harm to people,” Romo said. “Our findings suggest that dieting can be harmful to people when it is not medically necessary. Dieting to meet some perceived social standard may unwittingly expose participants to years of shame, body dissatisfaction, illness, stress, social comparison, and weight-related “obsessions. Once dieting begins, it is very difficult for many people to avoid a lifelong struggle with their weight.”


Journal Reference:

Romo, L., etc. (2024). A qualitative model of weight cycling. Qualitative health research.

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