Quick! Name all the fad diets you’ve gone on! If you’re like most people, chances are you could name more than a few, and these diets likely contributed to several cycles of yo-yo dieting for you. The bad news is that yo-yo dieting is often tiring, difficult, discouraging and takes a lot of work with little long-term reward. The good news is that you can get off the yo-yo dieting train.
What’s a Yo-Yo Diet?
Yo-yo dieting is also called weight cycling. Constantly losing and then gaining weight by going on and coming off of a diet is what people are referring to when they say “yo-yo dieting.” Such dieting can yield small weight changes, from 5-10 pounds for example, or large weight changes, such as 50 pounds or more. If you or someone you know is on a diet for a little while, loses weight, goes off of that diet and then gains the lost weight back (or even a little more sometimes) and this cycle repeats itself every few months, it is likely that this is yo-yo dieting.
Why They Don’t Work
First, most yo-yo diets (though not all) seem to revolve around new “fad” diets, such as the Atkins, Zone or South Beach Diets, and all of these diets have one thing in common: They are extremely effective if done by the book, but are also very restrictive. The bottom line is that eating in such a restrictive way, unless it has been a habit your whole life, is simply not sustainable. It’s very easy to fail because it’s very easy to get off track of something that isn’t conducive to your lifestyle.
Another issue is that these diets often teach us that certain foods are bad. While some foods aren’t great for us, it’s not likely the food that’s the problem, but rather our bad habits surrounding food. Yo-yo dieting doesn’t address these habits. They only keep you from eating “bad” food for as long as you can stand it, which typically isn’t very long.
Third, yo-yo dieting doesn’t address your mental wellbeing – in fact, it often makes your mental wellbeing worse. This type of dieting makes you feel fear of food and guilt if you’ve eaten something “wrong.” When you inevitably go off the diet cycle and start gaining weight back again, it’s natural to feel defeated. This can promote additional weight gain (especially if you’re an emotional eater), and then the cycle starts all over again.
Tips for Success
The good news is, changing your lifestyle to be healthier doesn’t have to come with a special list of ingredients, kitchen scales or calorie counters. The best thing you can do to change your eating habits is to stop “dieting” and start eating healthy. And you can start small.
Start by cutting sugary drinks like soda and sweet tea and drinking water. Gradually move up to switching out white rice and pasta for brown rice and whole grain noodles.
If you’re going to make chicken, don’t bread it in breadcrumbs and deep fry it – try making an exciting lime marinade and sautéing or baking it.
Look up average portion sizes for someone with your height or weight and go by that, and if you get hungry in between meals – that’s OK – keep fresh fruit, nuts, veggies and hummus (a great alternative to high-calorie dressings) cut up, already portioned out, on hand and ready to grab.
Find alternatives to your favorite junk food and get the junk food out of the house – they might not do it for you at first, but after a while you’ll crave almonds over chips, or sugar-free pudding over ice cream.
Food is not bad – our habits are bad. Once you change your habits, you’ll have a better handle on your new healthier lifestyle. The thing that I want to stress the most is that this is not a diet. This is just eating healthier so that you can feel better. Remind yourself that food is fuel for your body, so put good fuel into it.
Dr. Marjorie Broussard is a board-certified Family Medicine physician at Cinco Ranch Clinic. She helps her patients manage chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Her clinical interests include preventive medicine and women’s health.