Health Advice: Yo-Yo Dieting, Long-Term Relationships and Liver Health

The To Your Health column covers health topics on yo-yo dieting, how long-term relationships help your health and liver health.


| March/April 1988



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Gaining and relosing weight can also distort the weight-regulation system. The more diets you go on, the harder it is to lose weight.


ILLUSTRATION: JOANIE SCHWARTZ

The To Your Health column covers health advice topics on yo-yo dieting, exercise, long-term relationships, organ donations, sensitive skin and liver health. 

Health Advice: Yo-Yo Dieting, Long-Term Relationships and Liver Health

When it concerns the fitness of body, mind or spirit, the editors at American Health are there with health advice, staying on top of up-to-date research, separating fads from facts, and helping you preserve and improve life's most precious gift—your good health. Here are just a few items culled from their current and upcoming issues, one of which concerns the danger of gaining back lost pounds.  

Yo-Yo Dieting

We are a nation of "yo-yo" dieters with 31% of American women dieting at least once a month. Yet, Northwestern University researchers report that men who showed the greatest up-and-down weight swings also had the highest risk of sudden death from coronary heart disease. Gaining and relosing weight can also distort the weight-regulation system. The more diets you go on, the harder it is to lose weight, because—when you cut calories—your basal metabolic rate, used for routine maintenance functions like breathing and cell repair (65% to 70% of the body's total energy use), drops measurably within 24 hours and can decline a full 20% within two weeks. This is one reason dieters often reach a plateau some weeks into the diet, finding the same caloric intake no longer produces weight loss. Your body also adapts to dieting by making your body more efficient at fat storage, and this change can persist even if you regain your lost weight.

In addition, people on crash diets or ones low in protein can lose a substantial amount of muscle. Then, if they gain the weight back, they may regain less muscle and more fat. Yo-yo dieting also appears to increase the desire for fatty foods. (In animal experiments at Yale, when given a choice of carbohydrate, protein or fat, rats, after dieting, preferred fat for a period of time.) Weight cycling also tends to shift fat from the thighs or hips to the abdomen, and research has shown that fat above the waist raises the risk of heart disease and diabetes more than fat below the waist.

Which brings us to that age-old question: Is it better to have lost and gained than never to have lost at all? The best approach to this complex issue is to eat a low-fat, high-complex-carbohydrate diet and get regular aerobic exercise. Permanent weight loss is the goal (who wants to do this again), so select a program that will help change your lifestyle. Even if you've been a yo-yo dieter in the past, don't despair; you can still take control of your weight. It may just require a little more patience and effort this time around—and, most of all, a determination to maintain that hard-earned loss.

How Far, Not How Fast

"Distance is more important than pace," say Dr. Terry Kavanagh, a cardiologist at the Toronto Rehabilitation Center, after comparing the cholesterol profiles of two groups of runners averaging seven- and 10-minute miles and walkers taking 16 minutes to cover a mile. All exercisers lowered overall cholesterol levels equally and improved the proportion of high-density lipoproteins (HDLs, the "good" protective cholesterol), provided they covered the same distance. The most significant changes occurred beyond 12 miles a week, whether walking or running.





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