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How yo-yo dieting is damaging your body and mind
October 20th 2014
Ever find yourself jumping on the bandwagon, falling off and then clambering to back on again? We look at the destructive nature of yo-yo dieting and how to break the cycle…
Dieting is not easy. One day you're perfectly managing your self control, and on others, you find yourself eating your weight in chocolate. We've all been there. But while we think that yo-yo dieting is simply a bad weight loss tactic, it's actually bad for us full stop - and it’s a habit that we need to break out of, fast.
So why do we yo-yo diet? There’s an endless list of quick weight loss methods and it can be difficult finding the one that’s best for you and your lifestyle. Especially as many of these diets require striking/limiting certain food groups from your eating habits, which leaves us feeling unsatisfied and, subsequently, craving them further.
Nutritionist Vicki Edgson explains, “Many people yo-yo diet because they have an inability to find a suitable eating program that they can stick to, as most diets omit a food group that leaves them wanting more.”
As a result, we find ourselves flitting in and out of different eating regimes, making our body weight seesaw out of control. Our relationship with food also becomes warped. Psychologist Elaine Slater states that yo-yo dieting results in “painful psychological and behavioural consequences to losing and gaining weight repeatedly”. She adds, “Its effects have widespread implications and food is no longer about food - it becomes an adversary not to be trusted.”
And it’s this distrust that makes us wreak havoc to our bodies. Vicki says, “By gaining and losing weight frequently, our thyroid becomes affected and suppresses the metabolism, as the thyroid is designed to regulate body temperature and the speed at which we burn our food for fuel.”
But it's not just our body that takes a hit - it's our mind, too.
Elaine says that the effects of yo-yo dieting re-programme how the brain manages stressful situations and food cravings. “The effect is so profound that it changes the structure of DNA within areas known to release hormones designed to manage anxiety.” Vicki adds that it becomes more about how we perceive ourselves and not just what we put in our mouths.
Additionally, Elaine states that the notion of losing weight only to gain it back again results in a “vicious cycle”. She says, “This creates feelings of shame and self loathing, triggers a state of chronic emotional turmoil, damages self esteem, erodes your belief in your own abilities and diminishes what you believe you deserve in life.”
Vicki adds, “The bingeing followed by starving upsets the balance of serotonin and dopamine that regulate your mood and motivation”. This can trigger emotional states such as depression, anxiety and fatigue. Elaine explains that this makes the diet impossible to sustain and results in the dieter falling back into their old eating habit, “though they now have the added emotional effects of failing to lose weight through their restrictive diet”. This emotional state consequences in eating more than they would have before dieting, causing rapid weight gain; it’s an endless, brutal cycle.
Here, Vicki and Elaine share their tips on how we can break out of this never-ending series of weight cycling:
Elaine says that you shouldn’t put too much pressure on yourself; “Try to avoid an all or nothing mentality. Be realistic, be patient and try not to feel you have to completely overhaul your old diet with a new one that is completely different.”
Do what works for you
“I recommend that people should think back to the dietary approach that they have found most manageable and ensure that they have all red food groups - proteins, carbohydrates and essential fats, to satisfy the body's needs,” says Vicki.
Take it step-by-step
“Avoid extreme dieting. Make gradual, manageable and small changes each week and build it up slowly. This will increase your confidence and leave you feeling empowered and in control,” Elaine advises.
Vicki claims it’s all down to moderation. “Eat at regular intervals, and don't snack in between meals to allow your digestion to complete its cycle before eating the next meal or snack and for your blood sugar levels to rebalance itself.”
You come first
Elaine stresses that you need to put your health first. “Focus on eating a healthy, balanced and nutrient dense diet. Prioritise overall wellbeing and health over weight loss,” she says.
Shake it off
“Get plenty of exercise and sleep to help reduce stress levels and avoid food cravings,” says Elaine.