Why You Should Say No to Yo-Yo Dieting

29 November 2016

Why You Should Say No to Yo-Yo Dieting

As 2016 winds to a close, it’s easy to start contemplating a health-kick for the New Year. But before reaching for the latest dieting books and half-price health gadgets, it may be worth considering the long-term effects of dieting. As ironic as it may sound, new research from scientists suggests that this could be the very reason people find it hard to lose weight. 

We discuss the perils of yo-yo dieting, below.

The caveman response

A study from the University of Exeter has found that yo-yo dieting – the cyclical loss and gain of weight – triggers a “caveman response” in our bodies that leads to inevitable weight gain. According to the research published in the journal Evolution, Medicine and Public Health, this is due to a survival mechanism in our brains that tells the body to store more fat in case of future food shortages.

Lead researcher, Dr Andrew Higginson, explains: "Surprisingly, our model predicts that the average weight gain for dieters will actually be greater than those who never diet.”

Feast and famine

By constructing a mathematical model to examine how a simulated animal behaves when food is scarce, scientists found that there is an innate need to pile on weight.

This animalistic reaction is repeated in humans, as we too have had to evolve in environments where food could be readily available one minute and sparse the next.

Scientists explain that this is similar to the genetic make-up of garden birds, such as robins, who appear plumper in winter, because insects and berries are harder to come by. When food resources are taken away, our bodies react by storing fat to combat any future energy droughts. 

Described as the “feast and famine” world, Dr Higginson explains that non-dieters don’t experience the same process:

"This happens because non-dieters learn that the food supply is reliable so there is less need for the insurance of fat stores." Put simply, when we don’t diet, we refrain from putting our bodies into a state of natural shock. 

So, what now?

While fad diets and drastic lifestyle changes may promise short-term results, it’s likely that this will only lead to weight gain and stretch marks in the long-term. As scientists suggest, when we pair this with our biological instinct to increase fat reserves when we don’t have enough energy, it doesn’t make sense to adopt a yo-yo diet.

To lose weight and live a healthy lifestyle in the long-term, you should aim to balance regular exercise with a mild diet. This means only cutting back slightly. Dr Higginson explains:

"The best thing for weight loss is to take it steady. Our work suggests that eating only slightly less than you should, all the time, and doing physical exercise is much more likely to help you reach a healthy weight than going on low-calorie diets."

Have you had a bad yo-yo dieting experience? Do you have any tips for shedding pounds over the long-term? We’d love to hear your thoughts on Twitter