As our wellness journey evolves so do our health goals, but that doesn't mean we have to jump from crash diet to crash diet just to try and get results. Stop the quick fixes and focus on building rituals that promote sustainable health with these 10 tips to help you break the cycle of yo-yo dieting.
What is Yo-Yo Dieting?
Dieting can really suck, especially flopping back and forth between different types trying to get instant results.
Science has continually shown if you burn more than you consume, you will lose weight eventually. When we become impatient and resort to restrictive dieting we feel a severe lack of energy and notice our cravings, mood, and body start to feel even more out of whack.
We fall back onto old habits that cause weight gain and take us right back where we started; feeling frustrated and unhappy with our health.
Yo Yo dieting refers to the cycle of dieting and losing weight then regaining it back and starting to diet again.
Yo-yo dieting is different from the diet periodization process used by athletes in which they intentionally plan to cycle through phases of cutting (weight loss), bulking (weight gain), and maintenance to achieve a specific physique while training.
Yo-yo dieting can lead to unwanted weight gain vs the diet periodization process may take an athlete through a period of intentional weight gain.
Remember, it is completely normal for us to have fluctuations in our weight, as we age our metabolism evolves, our lives change, and our health is impacted by a variety of factors.
Are You a Yo-Yo Dieter?
You may have experienced yo-yo dieting if you have:
- Fluctuated between extremely restrictive eating followed by a period of no rules and/or over-eating
- Tend to diet with an "all-or-nothing" mindset
- Start diets then "fall-of-the-wagon" and return to old habits and completely abandon it
- Attempt many "quick weight loss" diets and hacks
- Have felt like you failed a diet
Yo-Yo dieting can be vicious, relentless, tiring, energy-sucking, and sets us up for failure; it doesn't teach us how to be healthy long-term.
If you're finding yourself in this perpetual cycle and feel like you're never going to stick to your diet then drop the dieting and focus on building healthy habits that you enjoy and promote long-term health and sustainable weight loss.
Wherever you are at right now in your wellness journey, stop and give yourself some words of encouragement; no one said this would be easy.
Yo-yo dieting teaches a mindset of all-or-nothing; abandon dieting, and build healthy habits that promote long-term wellness instead.
Why it May Be Bad For Your Health
There are a number of ways to cut calories and drop pounds fast, but not all methods for quick weight loss are safe, sustainable, or even painless.
A lot of “crash diets” may come with side effects including ravenous hunger, short-lived results, and potential risk of long-term consequences for your physical and mental health.
It Can Be Hard On Your Body
When you crash diet, you may see some instantaneous results usually from losing water weight and starting a calorie deficit but your body is putting in a lot of work to maintain some kind of normalcy.
Studies suggest that although initial weight loss is possible, long-term maintenance when yo-yo dieting may be problematic; an estimated 33% of adults regain all weight lost within a year after modest weight loss (10% of body weight) (1).
The constant back and forth between severe restriction and overeating can really confuse your body and doesn't give your metabolism a chance to normalize and function as intended.
It's not possible to destroy your metabolism and starvation mode is a bit of a myth.
Keep in mind that the cycle of yo-yo dieting is very different from intermittent fasting, a dietary approach that focuses on time-restricted eating - fluctuating between specific periods of fasting and ‘allowed eating’ time that is usually limited to 8 or fewer hours each day.
The weight gain caused by yo-yo dieting can be attributed to our tendency to return to the way of eating that got us there in the first place, choosing highly processed, fatty, and sugary foods thus causing a spike in excess calories and poor-quality food intake.
It Challenges Your Relationship with Food and Your Body
Yo-yo dieting can cause us to develop some harsh mindsets towards our body and create unhealthy relationships with food.
We start diets and often get stuck in the 'all-or-nothing" mindset, thinking we have to change everything all at once to guarantee success; we inevitably get into the relapse cycle and it can be hard to brush off the sense of failure and inner critic.
Guilt over telling yourself you “shouldn’t eat this or that” may influence the risk of cravings, bingeing, and the development of eating disorders (4). Restricting our food intake may also lead to an increase in our feelings of hunger and lead to using food as a reward (4).
Would you approach anything else in life with this all-or-nothing mindset?
Here is your reminder that you don't have to change your whole entire life at once, this isn't a race, this is your journey; a key to suistianable weight loss is time and a lot of self-love.
10 Ways to Break The Cycle
There are a ton of diets out there, paleo, keto, vegan, whole-foods, flexitarian; whatever you choose remember it's not about what you call your diet it's about how you feel and what your health and wellness goals are. The best weight loss plan is one that is tailored to you and takes into account your stress levels, sleep, nutrition, and more.
1. Track Your intake
If you've been on and off diets, you may struggle with having a well-outlined foundation of what your body enjoys and what you typically eat day to day.
Get grounded in your diet by tracking your intake and knowing how many calories you need to be eating as a way to understand where you are at right now, and create goals that are achievable and realistic.
The easiest way to start is to keep a food journal for at least 3 days.
This allows you to look at what kinds of foods you're eating, what time you typically eat meals, how you feel, and identify areas for goal setting in relation to your diet and help identify any potential food sensitivities that may be sabotaging your goals.
When we eat inconsistently and consume high-sugar, high-fat, and processed foods our blood sugar can do some crazy things, which may cause some of us to feel like we are on an emotional rollercoaster.
Fluctuations in our blood sugar are also thought to cause food cravings and impair our ability to make good choices; ever feel like you're crashing in the middle of the day and reach for some sugar or caffeine? It can be hard to have a balanced diet if you are not setting yourself up for success.
There are multiple ways to track your intake, you can try using a fitness app like the Trifecta App, a food journal, or calculate how many calories you need per day.
Try this free calorie calculator to get your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) in a few minutes:
Making a change to your diet is also making a change to your mindset and is ultimately self-care; track your intake and learn to personalize your food plan.
2. Plan Your Meals
Plan your diet around your health and wellness goals by starting a meal prep routine at home. This can be as simple as revamping your grocery list to include healthier snack options or cooking and portioning out healthy meals for the week.
Planning ahead will help you prevent craving and skipping meals when you are in a time crunch. It will also help you maximize foods that are great for weight loss, including things like non-starchy vegetables and protein-dense foods.
Planning your meals ahead of time can help you:
- Save time and money on meal prep
- Stay within a healthy caloric range
- Eat More Consistently throughout your day
- Track your food intake or macros
- Eat a more balanced diet
- Gather a deeper understanding of nutrition
- Easier planning for fat loss or muscle gain goals
- Pack your diet with more whole vegetables
There are a ton of diets out there, paleo, keto, vegan, whole-foods, flexitarian; whatever you choose remember it's not about what you call your diet. Plan your nourishment around your health and wellness goals.
Not sure what meal plan would be best for you? Try out our meal plan calculator.
Plan your nourishment around your health and wellness goals by starting a meal prep routine.
3. Get Moving
The more time you spend sitting down each day, the less amount of energy your body will burn and the higher your chances are of compromising your metabolic health (5).
Lifting weights or incorporating some type of strength training will increase your natural ability to calorie burn and help you maintain more precious lean muscle mass while you are losing fat, helping you feel leaner and more fit in the long run (6,7,8).
If you don't already frequent the gym, local fitness studio, or have a fitness routine you enjoy, start by focusing on just getting moving by aim for 30 minutes of any kind of movement a day to start.
This could be as simple as a walk around the block or low-impact activities like walking or light housework.
Burn more calories, get more energy, and strengthen your body by incorporating movement every day into your life.
4. Don't Deprive Yourself
Probably one of the best tips anyone can have going into a diet is to make sure you aren't feeling deprived.
Do not cut so many calories so quickly that you feel like you are starving yourself just to get by. If you feel a lack of energy or severely unhappy, you probably won't be too motivated to continue.
Cutting out too many calories, food groups, or making huge changes to your diet quickly can lead to cravings as the result of food restriction or from not eating enough in general; poor nutrition intake, emotions, and stress can also impact the development of cravings (9,10).
Don't feel like you have to cut out a huge amount of calories and flip your whole diet at once, starting off with small changes will help you build sustainable health goals and not deprive yourself in the process.
Examples of small steps:
- Try out a breakfast protein smoothie 5 days a week
- Aim for a 500-600 calorie deficient based on your adjusted body weight, not your goal weight
- Drink 8 ounces of water with every meal
- Eat fast food 1 time a month
This isn't a race, and you don't have to cut out everything to get results, plan smart goals and start off with small achievable steps.
5. Get Quality Sleep
Sleep is crucial to restoring your system and give your body and mind a break. Not only is the amount of sleep you get important but the quality of sleep matters as well.
Not getting enough sleep or getting poor sleep can increase the amount of perceived stress your body is under, which increases inflammation and may influence the development of a variety of disorders including hypertension, obesity, type-2 diabetes, impaired immune functioning, mood disorders, and neurological disorders (11,12).
Sleep deprivation also increases hunger and food intake, especially our desire for simple carbohydrates like junk food and salty snacks; this may be due to alterations in our reward and pleasure response to food (13). Lack of sleep can throw a wrench into anyone's diet plans once we start to crave sugar and sweets to keep us going throughout the day.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends the average adult needs between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night.
Practice good sleep hygiene and make your bed a sacred space for rejuvenation and quality rest.
6. Use Portion Control
Estimating your food intake will get you closer to your goals, but it really takes understanding portion sizes to get it right. Studies suggest that most people underestimate their calorie intake by nearly 20% (14, 15, 16).
If you’re eating out and enjoying foods without a nutrition facts label, it can be a challenge to guesstimate how much food and macros you are consuming. And even if there is a nutrition facts label, eyeballing your portion size will only get you so far.
Instead of guessing, consider using measuring cups or take it one step further and learn how to weigh your food.
Understanding portion control can deepen your nutrition knowledge and ensure you are hitting your calorie goals more closely.
7. Know Your Why
When trying to build a healthier lifestyle and ditch unhealthy habits that last it can be hard to stay motivated if we are fixated on extrinsic motivations like, "losing weight, getting a bikini body" or looking a specific way; anything motivated by an outside reward is considered an extrinsic motivator.
Although these extrinsic motivators can drive us to initiate a change, understanding your deeper, intrinsic motivation and how your desires connect to your values will ultimately inspire you to maintain your health long-term and create sustainable habits (17).
If you're going to go on a diet, use it as something that is going to kick start your progress. Learn to find different forms of motivation, set goals that are more identity-based, work out and eat healthy because it makes you feel good.
Then believe in yourself and remind yourself that change does not happen overnight. Ebbs and flows are part of the journey, the lows are there to show you and motivate you towards what you want
Fluctuations in weight are completely normal, focus on how you feel off the scale.
Knowing your "why" in any endeavor helps you stick to your guns and make changes based on your own values creating a sustainable lifestyle tailored to you.
7. Partner with a Nutritionist, Health Coach or Community
Having someone on your team to help keep you on track, provide support and resources can make a huge difference when it comes to creating a sustainable weight loss plan.
Partner with a registered dietitian, health coach, and/or nutritionist to help you plan smart goals and stay on track with your plans. Breaking down your goals with a health coach and defining how to hold yourself accountable is another tool you can use to ensure long-term success.
The same can be said for connecting with a like-minded community. Surround yourself with a community that is motivating, supportive, and positive and encourages you to practice forgiveness and self-compassion.
Asking for help is sometimes easier said than done, but getting into a circle with people who have a growth-oriented mindset will
8. Stock You Kitchen With Healthy Snacks
We can have high aspirations for our diet but if we keep our homes stocked with foods that are harming health not helping us we undermine our own ability to create better habits.
Unwanted snacking or unplanned meals can easily sabotage our health goals.
Your environment affects your ability to build better habits as we are constantly cued by smells, things we see and hear. When you spend time creating a space that builds you up, not only will you feel better but you'll be able to self-regulate more efficiently.
Tips for organizing a kitchen for healthy habits:
- Make a grocery list and plan ahead
- Clean out your pantry, freezer, and fridge before going to the store
- If you don't live alone, create a special space for all the foods that fit into your plan and start to minimize foods that aren't good for the whole family
- Purchase meal prep containers
Stocking your kitchen with healthy snacks and beverages follows the same mentality of planning your meals ahead of time.
9. Eat More Protein
The total amount of food you eat is an important consideration for any weight loss plan. Honing in on how much protein your consuming and the quality of it may give you an edge.
- Protect muscle mass, even in a calorie deficit
- Curb your appetite and cravings
- Keep you feeling full throughout the day
Moreover, your body burns more calories metabolizing protein compared to fat and carbs, it is the least likely of all the macros to be stored as body fat. It's no wonder high protein diets continue to be positively associated with increased fat loss and better body composition (21,22).
While cutting calories, aim to get roughly one gram of protein per kilogram of body weight to grab the full benefits of this super macro.
If you don't know how much protein you need per day, try out or protein calculator.
10. Manage Your Stress
Stress not only messes with your mental wellbeing but also affects certain hormone levels involved in appetite control and nutrient storage and utilization. This is why stress can lead to increased hunger, cravings, and body fat storage.
By working on how you handle change and stress, you might actually be able to produce more positive effects from this psychological response - making you feel more determined and empowered and less overwhelmed and run down (27).
If stress is holding you back, try some of the following ideas to channel it in a more positive way:
- Try yoga
- Learn to meditate
- Practice mindfulness
- Exercise or move daily
- Talk to someone
- Keep a gratitude journal
- Prioritize good sleep
- Get more organized
- Cut back on alcohol and caffeine
Address your stress; create self-care rituals that promote more balance in your life and help you in your weight loss journey.
How to Plan For Sustainable Weight Loss
Sustainable weight loss is about building a comprehensive wellness program tailored to you. Take into account things like your sleep, stress levels, and lifestyle as all of those factors and more can influence our ability to lose weight and maintain a healthy weight.
Set aside any articles or books about quick weight loss, permanent weight loss, or easy weight loss; and instead, start with figuring out how you want to feel and what you want to achieve with your food plan.
You are on a wellness journey, and defining what wellness means to you will ultimately help you become more mindful and intuitive as to what is right for your body. It will also help you plan and initiate whatever the next steps are in your journey.
Calories in versus calories out is the basic foundation needed for any weight loss diet; then factor in things like sleep hygiene, stress levels, and hormones as all of those may affect our ability to lose weight and maintain a healthy weight.
If you're looking for a place to start your journey or in need of some tools we have tons of amazing resources to support you.
- Best Foods For Weight Loss
- Best Marcos For Weight Loss
- How to Start Meal Prep
- How to Stop Eating Junk Food
- How to Stop Stress Eating
To get even better at controlling your calories and improve your nutrition intake, consider turning to the experts.
At Trifecta, our science-backed weight loss meal plans are designed to help you hit your goals without having to spend hours meal prepping. It’s like having your own registered dietitian plan, prep, and ship your food right to your door! So you can focus on everything else.