Weight Cycling ("Yo-Yo Dieting")

Weight cycling is linked to a great deal of confusion surrounding its effect on metabolism, weight and overall health.
Weight Cycling
Weight cycling, commonly referred to as "yo-yo dieting," can be defined as repeated losses and regains of body weight. In a small cycle, weight changes by 5-10 pounds, while in larger cycles, weight can change by 50 pounds or more.1 Weight cycling is not the recommended and its approach for losing weight and keeping it off, and its effects on metabolism, weight and overall health are unclear.

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.2 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.3

More recently, while weight cyclers were found to be heavier and have a less favorable metabolic profile, they were able to lose weight and experience improvements in metabolic measures.4

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.5 Intentional weight cycling does not appear to increase mortality,6 although age at the time of weight gain or loss may have an effect.7

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.,8 and lower quality of life.9 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.

Bottom Line
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.


1 Weight Cycling. NIH Pubication No. 01-3901. May 2008.

2 Weight cycling. National Task Force on the Prevention and Treatment of Obesity. JAMA. 1994 Oct 19;272(15):1196-202.

3 Wadden TA, Foster GD, Stunkard AJ, Conill AM. Effects of weight cycling on the resting energy expenditure and body composition of obese women. Int J Eat Disord. 1996 Jan;19(1):5-12.

4 Mason C, Foster-Schubert KE, Imayama I, et al. History of weight cycling does not impede future weight loss or metabolic improvements in postmenopausal women. Metabolism. 2012 Aug 13. [Epub ahead of print]

5 Arnold AM, Newman AB, Cushman M, et al. Body weight dynamics and their association with physical function and mortality in older adults: the Cardiovascular Health Study. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2010 Jan;65(1):63-70.

6 Stevens VL, Jacobs EJ, Sun J, et al. Weight cycling and mortality in a large prospective US study. Am J Epidemiol. 2012 Apr 15;175(8):785-92.

7 Taing KY, Ardern CI, Kuk JL. Effect of the timing of weight cycling during adulthood on mortality risk in overweight and obese postmenopausal women. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2012 Feb;20(2):407-13.

8 Foster GD, Sarwer DB, Wadden Ta. Psychological effect of weight cycling in obese persons: a review and research agenda. Obes Res. 1997 Sep;5(5) 474-88.

9 Mannucci E, Petroni ML, Villanova N, et al; QUOVADIS Study Group. Clinical and psychological correlates of health-related quality of life in obese patients. health Qual Life Outcomes. 2010 Aug 23;8:90.

10 Osborn RL, Forys KL, Psota TL, Sbrocco T. Yo-yo dieting in African American women: weight cycling and health. Ethn Dis. 2011 Summer;21(3):274-80.