Weight cycling is the repeated loss and regain of body weight. When weight cycling is the result of dieting, it is called “yo-yo” dieting. A weight cycle can range from small weight losses and gains (5-10 lbs. per cycle) to large changes in weight (50 lbs. or more per cycle).
Some experts believe that weight cycling may be harmful to your health and that staying at one weight is better than weight cycling, even for those people who are obese. However, there is no convincing evidence to support these claims, and most obesity researchers believe that obese individuals should continue trying to control their body weight despite some weight cycling.
Is Weight Cycling Harmful?
So far studies have not definitively shown that weight cycling is harmful. However, further research on the effects of weight cycling is needed.
In the meantime, a fear of weight cycling should not stop an obese person from achieving a modest weight loss. Although health problems associated with weight cycling have not been proven, the health-related problems of obesity are well known.
If you are not obese and have no risk factors for obesity-related illness, focus on preventing further weight gain by increasing your exercise and eating healthy foods, rather than trying to lose weight. If you do need to lose weight, you should be ready to commit to lifelong changes in your eating behaviors, diet and physical activity.
If I Regain Lost Weight, Will It Be Harder to Lose It Again?
Not necessarily. People who repeatedly lose and gain weight should not experience more difficulty losing weight each time they diet.
Weight cycling does not appear to affect a person’s metabolic rate. Metabolic rate is the rate at which food is burned for energy.
If I Weight Cycle, Will It Make Me Fatter?
Weight cycling does not appear to increase the amount of fat tissue in people who lose and regain weight. Researchers have found that after a weight cycle, people have the same amount of fat and lean tissue as they did prior to weight cycling.
Some people are concerned that weight cycling can cause more fat to collect in the abdominal (stomach) area. People who tend to carry their excess fat in the abdominal area, instead of in the hips and buttocks, are more likely to develop the health problems associated with obesity. However, studies have not found that after a weight cycle people have more abdominal fat than they did before weight cycling.
Revision date: July 9, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD