In recent years, the detrimental effects of yo-yo dieting have come under increasing scrutiny, shedding light on its negative impacts on both physical and mental health. Beyond the well-known consequences such as weight regain and metabolic disruptions, emerging research has uncovered two additional reasons why yo-yo dieting is unhealthy.

In this interview between Kim Arrey and Ken Connors, CJAD radio host, we’ll explore these new insights into the dangers of yo-yo dieting and discuss actionable approaches to help individuals break free from its cycle.


This podcast was aired on the Weekends with Ken Connors show on CJAD.


Ken Connors: Kim, now is probably about the time that many people are giving up on the diet that they started on Jan 2.  But once people stop their diets what usually happens?

Kim Arrey: Ken, people often go into a cycle of what is known as yo-yo dieting or weight cycling.    Basically what happens is that you decide you want to follow a diet to lose weight. You might follow a fad diet to get started.   You reach your goal and maybe lose a few pounds extra. But then you go on vacation and gain back the weight that you lost and maybe even gain a few extra pounds.  So you go back on a diet.  I have some clients who started weight cycling when they were quite young and now they are stuck in the cycle of on and off diets and losing and regaining weight.  And they all say that when they look at the pictures they were really at an ok weight and now they are more overweight.

Ken Connors: Kim that must be difficult for people.  I’ll bet it is not healthy either.

Kim Arrey: No Ken it is not.  Most people realize that the more overweight they are, the more their risk of developing health conditions like high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and even reduced mobility increases.  But what some people are not aware of is the toll that this can take on their mental health.  And this is a huge problem.  In fact, a new study that was published in the Journal of Qualitative Health Research looked into this. They wanted to find out how the participants started yo-yo dieting and if there were any ways to break the cycle.   This was a smaller study but it did confirm what some other studies have reported.  The researchers interviewed 13 men and 23 women who had lost and regained at least 11 pounds and engaged in weight cycling.

Ken Connors: Why did the participants in this study start dieting? 

Kim Arrey: I am sure that you have noticed that there is huge pressure for people to look a certain way and society places a high value on thinness.  The majority of the participants in the study said that they started dieting in response to the pressure from society or from people in their social group to be thin and to look like celebrities.  Almost none of them started to diet because of a medical reason.

Ken Connors: How did they try to lose weight? Did any of them follow fad diets or did some of them try balanced, healthy eating?

Kim Arrey: The participant used many different strategies to start losing weight including following a balanced diet. But eventually, they regained the weight that they lost.  This led people to feel ashamed and feel worse about themselves than they did before they started dieting.  So they tried more extreme ways of losing weight and even adopted some behaviors that were considered to be disordered eating. They would start counting calories, perhaps binge eat, restrict their food intake, and even stress about what they were eating and eventually even avoid social events.  When these behaviours are no longer sustainable they start to gain weight again and the cycle of yo-yo dieting starts.  As Dr. Michelle May says the cycle starts with eating or even overeating, and then you feel guilty and ashamed so you restrict what you eat and that is unsustainable you start to eat again and then the cycle starts.  Some of the participants in the study called this experience a vicious cycle.

Ken Connors: What can people do to break out of this eat-shame-restrict-eat vicious cycle?

Kim Arrey: The study noted that the people who broke out of the cycle focused more on their health than the number on the scale. This meant that they could eat a varied diet and learn to eat when they were hungry.  They also embraced exercising for fun!  And if you think about it the best way to sum it up was that they focused on mindful eating and exercising.

Ken Connors: What if you do not have a health problem but you want to lose weight?  Does this mean not to even try?

Kim Arrey: If you do not have a health concern now but you would like to prevent any future issues, the best thing to do is to focus on your behaviors and not on a weighted outcome.  You can take charge of your habits.  You can follow the recommendations to use your healthy plate to plan your meals, you can reduce your intake of ultra-processed foods and you can decide to stand a bit more every day or go take a dance class or play golf and try to walk the course, and turn your walk into a chat with friends.  And by focusing on these behaviors you can reduce your risk of developing various health conditions and maybe even lose a few pounds.