“How do I lose weight faster?” is a common question in the Carb Manager community. But for most people, the real issue isn’t speed but sustainability.
According to one estimate, 80% of folks who lose at least 10% body weight regain it within a year.[*] This is the challenge of yo-yo dieting.
Stopping the yo-yo requires a holistic strategy. It requires ditching fasting fads and 30-day reset diets in favor of long-term habit change.
When you have good eating habits, it becomes easier to meet and maintain your health and weight goals. This article will explain why.
What Is Yo-Yo Dieting?
Yo-yo dieting, also called weight cycling, refers to losing weight, gaining it back, losing it again, and so on. As you cycle in and out of dieting periods, your weight goes up and down like a yo-yo.
A typical yo-yo pattern might entail cutting calories to lose 15 pounds before a friend’s wedding, gaining it all back one month later, losing it again with a strict intermittent fasting program, gaining it back after vacation, etc. You never hit that happy, stable weight.
How Does Yo-Yo Dieting Affect Metabolism?
Weight loss for an overweight or obese person is almost always beneficial. Why? Because having excess body fat raises the risk of heart disease, diabetes, sleep apnea, and many other conditions[*]—not to mention the effects on performance, mood, energy, and self-image.
But does weight cycling cause metabolic issues that make future weight loss harder? Consider the following:
- A 2014 review of twenty human studies concluded that “evidence for an adverse effect of weight cycling appears sparse, if it exists at all.”[*]
- Another review also found scant evidence to support claims that weight cycling increases future metabolic or obesity risk.[*]
- A final study on over 10,000 Australian women had a similar conclusion but found that yo-yo dieting “may increase depressive symptoms.”[*]
The takeaway is promising. It’s frustrating to be on the yo-yo, but it doesn’t mean future success is unattainable.
Why Most Diets Don’t Work
Most diets don’t promote sustainable weight loss. Let’s explore three reasons why.
#1: Short-term focus
If you want to lose fat sustainably, you need good nutritional habits. You must uproot maladaptive eating behaviors and install good ones in their place.
Yet most diets don’t address habit change. A 15-day reset may cause rapid weight loss but won’t uproot long-standing behaviors. When you finish the diet, the old habits (and pounds) return with a vengeance.
Shift your focus for better results. Read our primer on habit formation for real-world strategies to make your diet stick.
#2: Confused calorie cutting
Eat fewer calories and you’ll lose weight. This cookie-cutter advice isn’t wrong, but it’s not very helpful.
Yes, consuming fewer calories than your metabolism demands will promote temporary weight loss.[*] But calorie cutting to promote sustainable weight loss requires more nuance.
Consider The Biggest Loser diet, which advocates reducing calories by 25–50% below metabolic needs. Spoiler alert: Participants on The Biggest Loser TV show lose plenty of weight.
But the show’s dirty little secret is that almost everyone gains it back. The diet isn’t sustainable.
One reason why is that aggressive calorie restriction puts your body into “low-power mode.” You adapt to consuming fewer calories, so you burn fewer calories at rest—then it’s easier to regain weight later. According to one study, The Biggest Loser participants still suffered this metabolic slowdown six years after the show.[*]
This doesn’t mean you must repair your metabolism after yo-yo dieting—the evidence suggests otherwise[*]—but it highlights the dangers of overdoing calorie restriction. The more sustainable path is through eating patterns (low-carb, for example) that promote mild caloric deficits by keeping you satiated.
#3: Lifestyle factor neglect
When it comes to losing weight, eating habits matter most. But if you neglect other health pillars like sleep, exercise, and stress management, your frustration will mount as your yo-yo bounces merrily along.
- Sleep deprivation impairs fat burning and heightens cravings as you attempt to walk briskly past the office donuts.[*][*]
- The Biggest Loser participants who maintained the most weight loss were also the most physically active.[*] (Not a coincidence.)
- Combine the fat-storing effect of cortisol with the phenomenon of stress eating, and you have a recipe for weight gain.
One last point. You don’t have to be a health optimization superstar to lose weight. Shoot for 80% success—you’ll capture most of the benefits.
How To Stop Yo-Yo Dieting (Tips for Sustainable Weight Loss)
To stop yo-yo dieting, focus on your eating habits. Focus on shaping your healthy identity, not counting the days until your next diet ends.
A person who diets eats healthy intermittently. A person with the identity of “healthy eater” eats healthy most of the time.
With that in mind, let's review some tactics to help you achieve sustainable weight loss:
- Tweak your environment. Remove junk food from your orbit. When you open the fridge, only healthy options should greet you.
- Log food. Tracking your meals with Carb Manager automatically increases accountability. If you have to log it, you might think twice about eating it.
- Find your calorie sweet spot. Consider a mild caloric deficit of 5–10% for weight loss goals. Again, Carb Manager can help.
- Try low-carb or Keto. Restricting carbs curbs hunger hormones, making eating a little less food easier.[*]
- Get enough protein. Speaking of macros, get at least 30 grams of protein per meal to stay full.
Finally, make your initial steps towards habit change as easy as possible. The point is to get the ball rolling, not slam dunk a total transformation.
Here are some examples:
- Hard initial step: Transitioning from a high-carb diet to strict Keto overnight
- Easy initial step: Downloading the Carb Manager app and learning more about Keto
- Hard initial step: Fasting every other day for 36 hours
- Easy initial step: Fasting overnight for 12 hours
- Hard initial step: Forming a grand plan to lose 30 pounds in six months
- Easy initial step: Forming a nutritious meal plan for tomorrow
Follow these tips, and you’ll be well on your way to “sleeping” your yo-yo. Your weight will come down, and it won’t pop back up again.