A problem that many people face when dieting is the so called yo-yo effect (weight cycling) where people repeatedly lose weight and regain their body weight.

Why is it so difficult to keep the weight off? What are the harmful effects of yo-yo dieting and what can you do about it?

This article explains the yo-yo effect and gives you tips that can help you to prevent it.

What is the yo-yo effect?

The yo-yo effect or yo-yo dieting is a very common situation in which people struggle to maintain their goal weight. People lose weight, but then after their weightless regain all the weight they have lost and then repeat this process over and over again

This becomes a vicious circle that makes it increasingly difficult to lose weight and not only has a negative impact on their body, but can also have serious consequences for their mental health.

What are the harmful effects of yoyo dieting?

Extreme diets or long-term caloric restriction can have lots of harmful side effects on your health and well-being. Some of these effects are:

1. Physical stress

Losing weight is basically a form of starvation that signals your body that there is not enough food available and basically sets your body into "survival mode" making it harder to lose weight.

This will not happen after a few days, but longer periods of caloric restriction can lead to all kinds of non-beneficial adaptations.

Another disadvantage of diet stress is that it has a negative effect on your sleep which can dramatically reduce your willpower and can also cause you to overeat.

2. Loss of muscle and lean body mass

Most of the weight loss during a crash diet is initially caused by the loss of fluids and muscles instead of body fat.

When your muscle mass decreases, your body will adapt by slowing down your metabolism. This makes it almost impossible to lose more weight, because your body will start to conserve energy and protect its fat stores.

This is also the reason why it is good to do some type of strength training (and also eat enough protein), because this helps to prevent your body from losing too much lean body mass during a diet.

3. Hunger

All the fat cells in your body produce leptin. Leptin is a hormone that controls hunger levels by signalling your brain that there is enough energy available.

When you go on a diet, the amount of leptin in your body will drop. This increases your appetite and your hunger, because your body wants to refill your fat cells.

Having low levels of leptin can also make you feel less satiated after a meal.

4. Mental stress

The yo-yo effect can also have a negative impact on your mental health.

It can create a "diet mindset" in which you get too pre-occupied with your weight and how you look and get to a point where you are always tracking calories and are focusing on what you can or cannot eat.

This can create a bad relationship with food and can even make you lose control over your life and your health.

5. It’s bad for your health

Weight loss can improve your health and help you reduce your risk of various diseases like high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

However, that doesn't mean that you become healthier when you try to lose weight. Losing weight comes with a lot of physical and mental stress and (re)gaining weight actually increases your risk of these chronic diseases.

This is not to say that you should not try to lose weight, but keep in mind that it’s not always the best for your health by definition.

Yo-yo dieting your entire life is probably a lot less healthy for you than having a healthy lifestyle and being slightly overweight.

How do you stop the yo-yo effect?

A wrong approach to weight loss will actually make it increasingly more difficult to lose weight and keep the weight off.

People who try many weight loss attempts often regain most of the weight or (in most cases) end up heavier than when they started.

Here are 5 important weight loss tips that can help you lose weight in a healthy way and prevent the yo-yo effect:

1. Stop with perpetual dieting

Many people that "go on a diet" view this as a (short) period of time in which they have to follow a number of (strict) rules to lose weight and think that they can return to their old ways as soon as they have achieved their goal. They often also want to lose weight as quickly as possible.

However, there is no temporary and/or quick solution. If you are currently overweight, than it's most likely the result of your current lifestyle and your daily (eating) habits.

So know what your pitfalls are when it comes to your daily food choices and realize that from now on you have to say goodbye to your old habits  because they do not contribute to your (long-term) goal.

The best diet is not a diet, but a lifestyle (and a way of eating) with some rules and guidelines that work for you and that you can adhere to for the rest of your life.

This doesn't mean that you have to lock yourself up in the gym six days a week or that you starve yourself. But if you want to lose weight, you will definitely have to change a few things and make some (permanent) changes in your life.

This is not going to be easy, but necessary if you really want to avoid to (re-)gaining weight.

2. Start building new habits

Our body is the result of what we repeatedly do. It is therefore critically important to look at your current habits and daily routines and to ask yourself what needs to be changed.

What are your habits? Which habits are currently contributing to your goal and which are not? What are your trigger foods? What things are you willing to give up and what not?

Then create a structured plan and/or find a friend or a coach who can help you to stay accountable and permanently break this cycle of yo-yo dieting.

3. Don't eat less. Eat better

Many diet books create this illusion that you can keep eating everything you want and still lose weight in the proces.

However, if you want to lose weight and keep this weight off, then you will have to accept that you will not be able to eat certain things.

Many food items that we find in our food stores and our (social) environment do not contribute to our health.

Products such as breakfast cereals, fruit juices, soft drinks, cookies, sweets, processed meats, salad spreads, etc. are usually too palatable and contain a lot of calories that make it easy for us to overeat them.

This is not to say that you will never be able to eat these products again, but if find that these foods don't keep you satiated and/or you tend to overeat them than it is probably best to avoid these products altogether.

Stop drinking calories (drink a lot of water) and eat mainly whole foods that are minimally processed and avoid eating (fatty, salty and sugar rich) snacks.

Eat enough protein and eat a lot of (leafy) vegetables, fruits and legumes. These contain few calories and a lot of fiber, vitamins, minerals and nutrients that help you to lose weight.

4. Move your body (more)

Many people these days have a sedentary job and spend most of the day sitting. We also watch television on average more than 3 hours a day. This has a negative impact on our body and also affects (the quality of) our sleep.

Very little exercise and poor sleep are important causes of obesity. Therefore, make sure that you get a good night's sleep and avoid too much sitting throughout the day.

Go outside more, watch less television, exercise regularly and move your body every day. The more the better. This is essential for your body and your health and helps you to maintain a healthy weight.

5. Change your mindset

We live in a society in which we constantly compare ourselves to other people and many believe that their lives will be better if  they are more like the people they see on social media.

Of course we all want to look good and be fit, but realize that your happiness, your health and the quality of your life is not only determined by your body weight.

If you have been dieting your whole life, it might be a good idea to take a step back, prioritize and focus on the things in your life that are really important to you and that you feel good about.

What do you like to do? What makes you happy? What is more important: your health or your weight?

Life is so much more than worrying about a number on the scale and tracking your calories. So be honest with yourself and ask yourself if what you are doing now contributes to your health, your happiness and your well-being.


Many people who want to lose weight often struggle with the yo-yo effect. This is mainly because of a bad diet strategy that results in regaining the weight once they have finished their diet.

The yo-yo effect is a vicious cycle that is difficult to break and can have adverse effects on your body and your health.

Losing weight can possibly make you healthier, but the physical and mental stress of losing weight and then regaining it over and over again is more detrimental. Maintaining your weight and focussing on your health is actually more important than weight loss.

Stop your "diet mindset". Are you trying to lose weight mostly your entire life? Then it's probably best to let go of this mindset and stop focussing on your weight and start making yourself healthier.

Give yourself time. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Working on your health is a slow (learning) process and a healthy body weight should not be your goal, but a result of the things you do.

Set small goals and slowly make permanent changes to your current lifestyle. This is not only the best for your health, but also reduces your risk of falling back into your old habits.

Chances are that you will probably lose weight as a result of your  new lifestyle and healthier choices and you will break through this endless yo-yo effect cycle once and for all.