Week 6 - Yo yo dieting
Week 6 - Yo yo dieting
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In week six we learn what can cause yo-yo dieting, why people often regain the weight they’ve lost, and what we can do to break the cycle. Yo-yo dieting doesn’t just happen because we lose willpower. When we understand how the body responds to losing weight, and why it takes a little while for it to understand what’s the “new normal”, we can help to break the yo-yo dieting cycle for good.
Welcome to week 6 from the Lifestyle Medicine team.
Are you a yo yo dieter? Are you one of the many people who successfully loses weight but once you have reached your goal you quickly regain all the weight you’ve lost? Some research reports that weight regain is common following successful weight loss, with 50% of lost weight being regained within 2 years, and for many, 80% of lost weight being regained within 5 years (1). Willpower, or lack of it, is often blamed for weight regain but new research highlights that it's not simply down to bad habits or a lack of willpower that the pounds go back on. When you lose weight, there are some fundamental shifts in your biological responses including changes to your appetite that can challenge your ability to maintain weight loss.
Research shows that the process of losing weight leads to an increase in your appetite - meaning as you lose weight you're likely to find that you feel hungrier than before you tried to lose weight. To offset this biological response it's important for you to understand healthy portion sizes and for you to have an awareness of how much you're eating. These steps can help to prevent you from overeating as a result of the increased hunger you’re experiencing (1).
What Happens When You Reach Your Goal?
The real work begins when you achieve your weight loss goal. Reaching your goal is a fantastic achievement so we want to work with you to help you to maintain your new weight.
Our advice is to keep focusing on your relationship with food. Changing your eating habits and behaviour is one of the most important steps you can take to ensure that you maintain your weight loss. One reason it can be hard to maintain your new weight is thought to be based on the ‘set point theory’. It is thought that your body aims to maintain a stable weight, and this may be a reason why you return to the weight you had been before you lost weight. There is a recognised risk that after following a ‘weight loss diet’ there will be a period of ‘re-feeding’ or ‘over eating’ (2). This tends to be a subconscious behaviour.
It's important to recognise that this is a big risk following successful weight loss so you can stop yourself falling into this pattern. This is one of the reasons we are here to support you to adopt new eating habits for life and to change from the ‘going on a diet’ mindset to eating healthily for life. Belonging to a community of people who are focused on healthy weight maintenance has been shown to be helpful, as is routinely monitoring your weight and food intake. What’s most important is for you to understand that to maintain your new weight you need to continue with your healthy eating habits. You need to maintain your focus and determination. With this attitude and the appropriate action, you can maintain your new weight. The truth is, if you return to your old habits that led you to gain weight in the first place you'll simply regain the weight you have put the effort into losing.
Finding an enjoyable way of eating for the long term will help, not only with your initial weight loss, but with your weight maintenance. Research shows us that there is no perfect long term diet to follow. The key is to reduce your intake of highly processed foods and to follow a low sugar (Low Carbohydrate Diet/ Low Glycemic load) diet, ensuring that you're including some protein with each meal (3). Eating enough protein has been found to help with appetite regulation and feeling full after eating (4).
Feel Good Chemicals in Your Brain
When you see a treat food you'll often have an urge to eat it! This is because your brain is wired to seek reward. High sugar, high fat or salty foods trigger your brain’s reward system. Treats and the pleasure these evoke triggers the release of dopamine, which is one of your feel good neurotransmitters. When dopamine is released you'll experience a mood boost (5). Other ways to boost dopamine levels naturally include ensuring you have enough sleep, eating a balanced diet - such as our core meal plan - listening to your favourite music, managing stress, meditation and getting active (6).
Reaching a Weight Loss Plateau
Weight loss plateaus are a common experience for anyone attempting to lose weight. Reasons for a weight loss plateau vary but research suggests that they can often happen because of a drift back into old eating habits and an easing up on your initial weight loss focus. Alongside this, when you successfully lose weight, your appetite can increase and you may go through a period where you feel intensely hungry all of the time (7). If this happens we recommend that you focus on your hydration and eat more filling foods without adding extra calories, for example, fill up on extra above-ground vegetables, which are high in fibre and water content. Plus, make sure that you include a portion of protein with every meal. If you aren’t alert to the processes around weight loss plateauing, and start to eat high calorie food (i.e. high carbohydrate and or fat) to satisfy your appetite, there is a risk you could gain weight again.
Tips to Stop You Falling Into the Yo Yo Diet Trap
Eat 2-3 well balanced meals a day including an optimal amount of protein (this means about a palm sized portion of a protein containing food like chicken or tofu). You can boost your meals with foods that nourish your body and your brain - like a range of brightly coloured vegetables or walnuts - to create better balance and reduce your need to snack. Eating mindfully can also help you to take back control of your food intake and reduce overeating. Be conscious of your experience as you eat - is every mouthful as yummy as the first? Can you stop eating when you stop feeling that initial pleasure? Could you leave some food on the plate? Do you really need to eat the whole slice of cake?
Maintaining or increasing your muscle mass is another important strategy to help with weight maintenance. Being active is a key factor to help you to maintain your muscle mass. Making sure you're eating enough protein can also help with muscle maintenance (8). Stay Hydrated - thirst can be mistaken for hunger. Avoid unnecessarily adding to your calorie intake with high sugar drinks (like soft drinks, juices, milkshakes, bubble tea or flavoured coffees). Instead focus on drinking clear fluids; if you wish, flavour water with lemon, berries or herbs or drink herbal, green or fruit teas. Staying hydrated is an important factor in body composition, appetite and weight regulation (9).
Avoid high sugar snacking between meals - snacks have been found to be one of the main culprits for excess food intake, which can lead to weight gain (10). Work on managing your stress response and introduce activities to reduce stress. Stress is known to trigger increased unplanned snacking and eating, which can lead to imbalanced blood sugars and weight gain. Work on improving your sleep if you suffer from poor quality sleep or insomnia. Sleep deprivation is a key factor in weight gain because it’s when you sleep that your brain reorganises and re-balances your hormone levels, which impacts your appetite the following day. We have a whole week of content dedicated to sleep
Special events and Parties
These can be challenging to cope with when you’re aiming to lose weight. The best way to handle these is by being prepared and planning ahead so that you can have fun and don’t start dreading these occasions.
Before you go - Fill up with a large bowl of soup or a small meal - make sure to include a palm sized portion of protein - this should help to ensure that you aren’t hungry and will help you stay in control. Avoid going to events where there will be tempting foods on an empty stomach.
When you're at the event - Eat smart - if there’s a buffet we suggest that you fill up your plate with vegetable sticks, hummus and cold meats. Stick to the protein and veg and avoid the carbs and deep fried foods. Always choose fruit if you’re going to have dessert or avoid dessert completely. Drink smart - sip sparking water with ice and a slice of lemon and aim to keep wine and spirits to a minimum and avoid all soft drinks. Keep in the party spirit by feeling happy that you're having a great time but staying in control. Finally, if things don't go according to plan and you overindulge, don't overthink it - just start afresh with your health kick the next day.
- 1. Hall KD, Kahan S. Maintenance of Lost Weight and Long-Term Management of Obesity. Med Clin North Am. 2018 Jan;102(1):183-197. doi: 10.1016/j.mcna.2017.08.012. PMID: 29156185; PMCID: PMC5764193.
- 2. Müller MJ, Bosy-Westphal A, Heymsfield SB. Is there evidence for a set point that regulates human body weight? F1000 Med Rep. 2010 Aug 9;2:59. doi: 10.3410/M2-59. PMID: 21173874; PMCID: PMC2990627.
- 3. Philippou E, Neary NM, Chaudhri O, Brynes AE, Dornhorst A, Leeds AR, Hickson M, Frost GS. The effect of dietary glycemic index on weight maintenance in overweight subjects: a pilot study. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2009 Feb;17(2):396-401. doi: 10.1038/oby.2008.533. Epub 2008 Dec 4. PMID: 19057524.
- 4. Paddon-Jones D, Westman E, Mattes RD, Wolfe RR, Astrup A, Westerterp-Plantenga M. Protein, weight management, and satiety. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 May;87(5):1558S-1561S. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/87.5.1558S. PMID: 18469287.
- 5. Berridge KC, Ho CY, Richard JM, DiFeliceantonio AG. The tempted brain eats: pleasure and desire circuits in obesity and eating disorders. Brain Res. 2010 Sep 2;1350:43-64. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2010.04.003. Epub 2010 Apr 11. PMID: 20388498; PMCID: PMC2913163.
- 6. Briguglio M, Dell'Osso B, Panzica G, Malgaroli A, Banfi G, Zanaboni Dina C, Galentino R, Porta M. Dietary Neurotransmitters: A Narrative Review on Current Knowledge. Nutrients. 2018 May 10;10(5):591. doi:10.3390/nu10050591. PMID: 29748506; PMCID: PMC5986471.
- 7. Sarwan G, Rehman A. Management Of Weight Loss Plateau. [Updated 2022 Oct 24]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK576400/
- 8. Harvard health February 2016 Preserve your muscle mass https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/preserve-your-muscle-mass
- 9. McKiernan F, Houchins JA, Mattes RD. Relationships between human thirst, hunger, drinking, and feeding. Physiol Behav. 2008 Aug 6;94(5):700-8. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2008.04.007. Epub 2008 Apr 13. PMID: 18499200; PMCID: PMC2467458.
- 10. Tripicchio GL, Kachurak A, Davey A, Bailey RL, Dabritz LJ, Fisher JO. Associations between Snacking and Weight Status among Adolescents 12-19 Years in the United States. Nutrients. 2019 Jun 29;11(7):1486. doi: 10.3390/nu11071486. PMID: 31261906; PMCID: PMC6682988.
Meet Our Lifestyle Team
Dr Sam is a GP, yoga and nutritional therapist, writer and meditation teacher. She believes in taking a holistic approach to care and is joint Clinical Lead for Lifestyle Medicine with a focus on weight loss.
Ruth is a BANT Registered Nutritionist®, health and wellness coach and registered nurse. She is passionate about lifestyle medicine and supporting people to improve their health and quality of life.
Dr Sarah is a GP and trained physiotherapist. Joint Clinical Lead for Lifestyle Medicine, she’s committed to helping patients improve the quality of their health and wellbeing through positive lifestyle change.