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Weight Cycling and Effects on Metabolism and Weight
A comprehensive review of the science on weight cycling was completed by a group of obesity experts who were convened as a national task force to address the issue. They concluded that reliable evidence does not demonstrate that weight cycling decreases metabolism. In other words, repeatedly losing and regaining body weight does not make it harder to lose weight when trying to do so the next time around. Weight cycling also has not been linked to an increase in body fat or accumulating fat around the middle, which is linked to increased health risks. So after a weight cycle, those who return to their original weight have the same amount of body fat and muscle mass as they did prior to weight cycling.
Weight Cycling and Physical Health
While many studies have found no relationship, some have shown a link between weight cycling and increased health risks such as hypertension, high cholesterol levels, and gallbladder disease. Among a group of older adults, weight cycling was associated with difficulties with activities of daily living and limitations in mobility. Intentional weight cycling does not appear to increase mortality, although age at the time of weight gain or loss may have an effect.
Weight Cycling Effects and Psychological Health
Repeatedly losing and gaining weight may be detrimental to psychological health. Some studies link weight cycling to increased measures of psychological distress, life dissatisfaction, reduced levels of self-efficacy, and lower quality of life. Female African-American weight cyclers demonstrated a greater desire to be thin, less satisfaction with their body, and lower self-esteem related to appearance.10 Additional well-designed research clearly is needed before any firm conclusions can be drawn.
Frequently losing and gaining weight is not the recommended way to maintain a healthy weight and achieve a healthy lifestyle. However, the health benefits of weight loss greatly outweigh the potential drawbacks of weight cycling and should not be used as a reason to avoid weight loss. Long-term lifestyle modification is the key to preventing weight cycling and keeping the weight off for good.
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What is weight cycling?
Weight cycling is the repeated loss and regain of body weight. When weight cycling is the result of dieting, it is often 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) .
You may have heard stories in the press claiming that weight cycling may be harmful to your health. You also may have heard that staying at one weight is better for you than weight cycling, even if you are obese. However, no convincing evidence supports these claims, and most obesity researchers believe that obese individuals should continue to try to control their body weight.
If I regain lost weight, won't losing it again be even harder?
People who repeatedly lose and regain weight should not experience more difficulty losing weight each time they diet. Most studies have shown that weight cycling does not affect one's metabolic rate. Metabolic rate is the rate at which food is burned for energy. Based on these findings, weight cycling should not affect the success of future weight loss efforts. However, everyone, whether they have dieted or not, experiences a slowing of the metabolism as they age. In addition, older people are often less physically active then when they were younger. Therefore, people often find it more difficult to lose weight as they get older.
Will weight cycling leave me with more fat and less lean tissue than if I had not dieted at all?
Weight cycling has not been proven 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 area. People who tend to carry their excess fat in the abdominal area (apple-shaped), instead of in the hips and buttocks (pear-shaped), 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.
Is weight cycling harmful to my health?
A number of studies have suggested that weight cycling (and weight loss) may be associated with an increase in mortality. Unfortunately, these studies were not designed to answer the question of how intentional weight loss by an obese person affects health. Most of the studies did not distinguish between those who lost and regained weight through dieting from those whose change in weight may have been due to other reasons, such as unsuspected illness or stress. In addition, most of the people followed in these studies were not obese. In fact, some evidence shows that if weight cycling does have any negative effects on health, they are seen mostly in people of low or normal weight. Some studies have looked at the relationship between weight cycling and risk factors for illness, such as high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, or high blood sugar. Most of these studies have not found an association between weight cycling and harmful changes in risk factors.
Is remaining overweight healthier than weight cycling?
At this time, no conclusive studies have shown that weight cycling is harmful to the health of an obese person. On the other hand, the health risks of obesity are well known. The costs of obesity-related illnesses are more than $39 billion each year. Obesity is linked to serious medical conditions such as:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Certain types of cancer
- Gout, and
- Gallbladder disease.
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