Monday, January 25, 2021

What Weight Fluctuations Do to Your Body

April 14, 2010 by  
Filed under Body Image

Through all my years of compulsive overeating /bingeing, my body weight has fluctuated. During those times, the things that were important to me were – how I looked and where in my closet are the clothes that will fit the particular weight I was at.

I calculated a few months ago that, not including my two pregnancies, I had lost and gained a good 250 pounds. It never even occurred to me that changes were happening on the inside of my body, not just the outside.

Well, I just had a scary eye-opener. The April 2010 issue of “Women’s Health” magazine has an interesting article about the facts of what happens to your body when you lose and regain weight over and over again.
Everything here is straight out of the magazine…

“If you go on a very strict diet and gain the weight back quickly, you might lose a lot of muscle and regain a lot of fat,” says Keith Ayoob, M.D., R.D., an associate professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “Then your metabolism operates on a slower idle, which means it’s going to be harder to lose weight as time goes on.”

The more times you yo-yo, the theory goes, the more fat your body gains in each rebound. Because muscle burns 10 times more calories than fat does, your metabolism eventually will slow to a crawl.

“Losing and gaining regularly takes a huge toll on your body,” Ayoob says. Beyond aesthetics, such as loss of skin elasticity, regaining weight burdens your arteries and skeletal system and may stress the liver, which can become covered in fat.

Yo-yoing also does a number on your ticker: A study in Clinical Cardiology found that women who weight cycle five times or more during their lifetimes may be damaging their hearts in the process.

But perhaps most startling is the dangerous and lasting effect weight cycling has on the immune system. According to the first study of the long-term impacts of yo-yo dieting, women who repeatedly lost and gained weight had lower immune function, particularly lower counts of natural killer cells.

“These cells are important for fending off infections and are also vital in fighting the early stages of cancer,” says Cornelia Ulrich, M.D., of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. Low killer-cell activity is associated with higher rates of cancer. In her study of more than a hundred overweight but otherwise healthy women, those who had yo-yoed most frequently – five times or more – decreased their natural killer-cell activity by a third.

With so many drawbacks, you might wonder if you’d be better off just accepting your belly rolls. But the perils of being overweight still outweigh the risks of yo-yoing. So how do you quit the cycle for good?

The article then gives a bunch of suggestions about being realistic (think of what you are doing as a permanent lifestyle shift, not just dieting as temporary fix); being patient and not losing too much, too fast; being supported (socializing with other who have successfully lost weight improves your odds of maintaining your own weight loss); recording your mood changes and hunger levels so you can learn to distinguish when you’re eating for emotional reasons; switching eating plans if you get bored; and being active along with eating properly.

The one I liked the most was- Be optimistic – “One of the most important tips for being a successful weight loser is not to let past failed attempts keep you from trying again. Every time you fail, you get more insight about what to do differently the next time.”

What do you think? Was any of this news to you? Did it worry you like it did me?




27 Responses to “What Weight Fluctuations Do to Your Body”
  1. vitty10 says:

    Here’s what I don’t understand: The article points out all of the damage done to peoples bodies when they lose and re-gain weight repeatedly. But then they still encourage people to keep trying to lose weight. Am I missing something?

    • love2eatinpa says:

      3rd paragraph from the bottom above basically says that between the two, staying at a high weight is more dangerous than the yo-yoing, so they encourage readers to take it off for good, to stop the cycle, with their suggestions.

      • vitty10 says:

        I understand, but I think they’ve made the case for trying to keep ones weight stable rather than lose/gain, as most people who lose weight do eventually put it back on. I actually thought that’s where the article might have been going. before that last part.

      • Simone Lovelace says:

        It’s a funny thing. Obviously, your mileage may vary. Some peoples lives are transformed by weight loss, in truly wonderful ways. I am not invalidating their experiences, or suggesting that no one should try to love weight.

        But in practice, far more dieters end up yo-yoing than than end up permanently thin.

        If we view dieting as a medical treatment for the “disease” of excess weight, it seems clear that the majority of people who undergo this treatment will end up substantially worse off, while a tiny will minority reap a substantial benefit.

        In almost any other area of medicine, this would not be considered an acceptable risk.

        • love2eatinpa says:

          i think people end up yo-yoing because they do fad diets and don’t look at changing their way of eating/thinking as a lifelong, healthy change that they need to commit to for the rest of their lives.

          • Simone says:

            Well, maybe not just fad diets, but drastic and irresponsible ones. Anecdotally, it seems likely that some individuals can’t become permanently thin without heroic or even destructive amounts. But it seems unlikely that someone would inadvertently experience a “yo-yo” pattern, simply as a result of eating more veggies and cutting back on snacks. So there’s nothing in this article that should discourage anyone from living a “healthy lifestyle.”

            I do think the article suggests that for people who simple don’t have the time, energy, or drive to commit to a lifelong change in habits should actively avoid dieting, period, because they will almost certainly end up worse off. And that refusing to diet when you don’t have the resources for it can be a sound, rational choice, not an act of laziness or defeatism.

          • Allison says:

            What about people who lose weight responsibly but then gain it back? I lost weight pretty healthily – on average, 1.5 pounds per week, eating healthy foods, etc. Unfortunately, dieting like this brought back my eating disorder (binge eating) and I very slowly gained back weight. This has happened to me multiple times – lose weight healthily, but then get urges and craving and end up gaining all the weight back. I yo-yo between 135 to 155 or so. It’s very frustrating. I’m 5’6″ if that gives a point of reference. I hope that this doesn’t have negative effects on my body. =/

          • love2eatinpa says:

            were you depriving yourself during that time you were losing, allison? it certainly sounds like you were doing everything right, but if you felt deprived, that could lead back to bingeing. or perhaps was there an emotional stressor going on that caused you to slowly gain the weight back?
            i definitely understand your frustration. i would like to hope that our bodies can bounce back to some degree from the damage that we’ve done.

      • atchka says:

        But that’s just not true. Being a stable weight and choosing healthy lifestyle choices is much healthier than yo-yoing. According to Dr. Linda Bacon, yo-yoing can do microscopic damage to your blood vessels as well, since they expand and contract with weight fluctuations.

        I think Women’s Health is just covering their butts by saying, “Look how dangerous dieting can be, but read our magazine and we’ll help you do it right.”

        Because thin = healthy. Right?


        • vitty10 says:

          Thanks, that’s what I was trying to get at. And we can’t forget that this is a fitness magazine, they wouldn’t be in business if they didn’t tell people to lose weight.

  2. McLauren84 says:

    I sort of agree with Vitty. The overall message of the article is “Losing weight and failing to keep it off is bad for you. Our recommendation is to lose the weight and not gain it back.” That’s not very helpful. They do suggest that people accept some extra fat if they can live it, but I think they missed the mark here.

    Thanks for passing this along, love2eatinpa. Interesting stuff however you look at it!

    • Forestroad says:

      It reminds me of that annoying college counselor response, when asked if it’s better to take AP classes and get a B, or regular classes and get an A, and the counselor says to take AP classes and get As.

    • love2eatinpa says:

      i hear what you are saying and understand.
      personally, i was just surprised at all the things that happened inside your body with the yo-yoing. it was pretty eye-opening for me. i feel like – even though i’m maintaining my weight loss, eating healthy and exercising, i now come to learn that there is probably still some damage inside me because of my bingeing in the past. this upset me.

      • lissa10279 says:

        I saw this article too. I’ve never been a yo-yoer; I was heavy and lost weight … kept it off for three years, and have slowly inched up the past three years, regaining half of my initial 30 lb loss.

        I admit I am fearful of the destruction I might have caused my body regaining this weight, but I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that my goal was not necessarily maintainable in the long term … all the while, trying to lose about 10 to get to my personal comfort weight — it’s just where I feel my best and is not where I am now!

      • vitty10 says:

        I hear you, it upsets me too. If I knew that I would have never tried to diet in the first place.

  3. .C. says:

    I have to say this is a pretty dumb article. Telling women that yo-yo ing is bad, then encouraging them to try again and again? Ridiculous.


    • love2eatinpa says:

      well, i think, like you said, they are pointing out what the yo-yoing does to your body that you are not aware of, and offer suggestions for ways of taking of the weight and keeping it off for good to stop the weight cycles. they said the damage from obesity is worse than the yo-ing damage.

      • living400lbs says:

        …and I’m sure the fact that they get a lot of readers for diet articles, and that a lot of advertisers are selling diet products, has nothing to do with it. 😉

  4. Lori says:

    I like that the dangers of yo-yo dieting are pointed out, but agree with the other commenters who noted that it’s kind of silly to tell women that yo-yoing is dangerous while still promoting weight loss, since for the vast majority of dieters, yo-yoing is going to be the result.

    In that sense it just seems to be heaping yet more guilt upon women. We’re not only being told yet again that we must lose weight, but now also being told that if we gain it back and then try to lose it again, we’re harming our bodies, even though we’d better try to lose it.

    • love2eatinpa says:

      i hear what you are saying, lori and i agree to some extent. i guess my biggest takeaway, and what i wanted to share with others, was just having an awareness of what the yo-yoing was doing to our bodies on the inside.

  5. mamaV says:

    The fact that magazines call in the M.D’s to make these statements shows they don’t give a damn about women and body image.

    Using words like “failed” regarding weight loss is so detrimental, plus haven’t we all heard this info like a million times? We don’t need it pounded into our heads, as if it is going to suddenly make women say “wow, I am effecting my heart, I am going to stop yo-yo dieting!”

  6. Meems says:

    No one starts a weight loss program thinking “hey, once I get to my goal weight, I think I’ll just gain everything back!” Advice to just lose the weight and keep it off is pointless, and stating that yo-yo dieting is better than staying at a stable, heavier weight is irresponsible. It’s not just about physical health, though that’s definitely part of it. The mental stress of losing and regaining weight is something that shouldn’t be ignored.

  7. wriggles says:

    But the perils of being overweight still outweigh the risks of yo-yoing.

    Even if they do, that doesn’t prevent yo-yoing or the harm it does.

    So how do you quit the cycle for good?

    Stop dieting, as that creates the rebound which ends in the yo-yo effect.

    Again, if people wish to lose weight, a way of adjusting the underlying weight creation process(es) needs to be found.

    Rather than trying to run around after the fact.

    They won’t bother until people recognise that diet failure isn’t their fault.

  8. deb roby says:

    I wonder how many people who yo-yo would be better off choosing a weight maybe 10-15# higher than they aim for. And simply learning to eat healthy for life?

    Many people seem to pick a weight that is a little too thin-and then they can’t maintain it.

    Also -since nobody is mentioning it- muscle doesn’t burn that many more calories than fat. A new pound of muscle builds burns about 10 calories a day more than the same pound if it were fat.

    • love2eatinpa says:

      i agree, some people do shoot for unrealistic numbers which definitely adds to the frutration and weight cycling. it would be great if the goal was to eat healthy and exercise for life.


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