In a society that values the thin ideal, there seems to be this endless pursuit of weight loss. We see “quick fixes” advertised just about everywhere - tv, social media, the checkout line at the grocery store. I’m willing to bet that you see some type of dieting advertisement almost everyday, whether you realize it or not. With diet culture being so rampant, and people constantly jumping from diet to diet, it is not surprising to see weight cycling as a result.
Can you Relate?
You see an advertisement for a new weight loss program. This one is promising that it’s different from all the others - you’re sure to see quick results and to keep the weight off for good this time. Maybe they’re even using Intuitive Eating language to really drive the point home (a big red flag in our book).
You try the diet. You keep to the plan for a couple of months and lose some weight. Then, inevitably, you begin to miss the foods that you have been restricting. Your cravings are intense. Enter the “screw it mentality;” you begin to eat the way that you did before, and begin to see the weight come back. THIS is the beginning of what we call weight cycling.
Note: You are not failing in this scenario - you were never set up for success. You do not lack self-control; your body just wasn’t getting the nourishment that it needed, and it is natural to compensate for this.
The thing is - you are not alone! Weight cycling is common amongst chronic dieters because, say it with me, diets are not sustainable and do not support long term weight loss. So, let’s talk a bit more about weight cycling, its effects, and how to stop it.
what is weight cycling and why does it happen?
Essentially, weight cycling is the notion of losing and regaining weight over and over again. More often than not, it is a direct result of chronic dieting.
Unfortunately, it has become the norm for many to cycle through diet after diet in order to change their body size. In 2018, ~17% of people over the age of 20 reported being on a special diet, the most common one being a low-calorie diet for weight loss purposes (1). This comes to just about 1 in 5 people, and we have to imagine that it has only gone up from there!
The thing is, a majority of people will end up re-gaining the weight that they lost on a given diet (2). In most cases, diets restrict intake. So, whether it is cutting out an entire food group or pushing high volume, low density foods, your body is not getting what it needs. This is simply not sustainable. In fact, most people stay on any given diet for less than a year (2)!
With diets being so unsustainable, it is common to see weight loss and regain in accordance with going on and off of diets.
Dangers of weight cycling
Weight cycling places a high amount of stress on your body physically and emotionally. With this, the rapid loss and re-gain of weight can actually impact one’s risk for chronic disease and mental health concerns. Some of these risks are listed below:
- Increased risk of diabetes (3)
- Increased inflammation in the body, leading to cardiovascular disease or dyslipidemia (4)
- Loss of lean body mass/muscle (4)
- Feelings of failure and isolation (5)
- Increased risk of anxiety and depression (5)
While weight cycling may seem harmless, it has been shown over and over again that large fluctuations in weight are associated with chronic disease. That being said, it is important to know how to stop weight cycling!
How to stop weight cycling
I have a feeling that you know what we’re going to say here. The short answer is: stop dieting. We know it’s not that simple, though! We know how hard it can be to give up dieting, especially when it might be something that you have done for years. However, it is not too late to give up dieting for good.
If you are someone who identifies as a “chronic dieter,” we encourage you to explore Intuitive Eating (read more about it here!) Whether it is through one-on-one nutrition counseling with one of our Health At Every Size dietitians, or beginning our Guided PATH to Intuitive Eating course, there is an avenue for you to find food freedom.
You deserve to eat without following a strict set of rules or worry about if you are doing something wrong. It is possible to make peace with your body and trust it to let you know what it needs. If you have more questions about what this might look like, don’t be afraid to drop us a line.