How to stop yo-yo dieting for good
Yo-yo dieting refers to the cycle of dieting, losing weight, regaining weight, and dieting again. If you’ve been on this ride before, you might be wondering how to stop yo-yo dieting for good. It’s frustrating, time consuming, and might even be damaging your long term health. And you’re not alone.
Yo-yo dieting is something that so many of us are familiar with. According to the CDC, about half of all Americans are dieting at any given time, and more than half of those are women. We’re told our whole lives that we need to lose weight to be healthy, attractive, and accepted– but if dieting for weight loss worked, why do we experience the yo-yo effect?
You’ve probably been told that yo-yo dieting is your fault. That you didn’t try hard enough, or you didn’t have enough self-control. That’s diet culture talking. But I’m here to tell you that the whole system is rigged. Diets don’t work. It was never your fault that your diet failed you and you regained the weight. It also wasn’t your fault for believing the lies– after all, the diet-industry spends billions of dollars every year weaving a convincing tale about weight loss, health, and self-worth that is really hard not to buy into.
I’m also here to tell you that it’s ok to want to get off the ride. You’re not ‘giving up’ or ‘letting yourself go’ by ditching the diets and the weight cycling for good. Yo-yo dieting is detrimental to your physical and emotional health. By saying ‘goodbye’ to dieting for good you’re finally putting yourself, and your self care, first. Read on for how to stop yo-yo dieting in 4 easy steps.
Approach food with neutrality instead of labels
After years of dieting, you’ve probably learned how to identify foods as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’. The main tenant of every diet is to give preference to ‘good’ foods over ‘bad’ ones. In doing so, ‘bad’ foods become forbidden fruit—they taste so good, yet we feel so bad for eating them.
Depriving yourself of any food only works for a while before it leads to uncontrollable cravings. Even the perception of deprivation can induce cravings. For example, by labeling carbs as ‘bad’ and resolving to cut bread and pasta from your life, you may find that you long for these foods even more so than usual.
Eventually, cravings turn into caving, or what dieters call ‘falling off the bandwagon’. You might feel out of control around these foods, unable to stop eating them even past the point of fullness. You tell yourself ‘this is the last time,’ which only makes you want to eat more so you can savor every last bite. You blame yourself—if only you could have been stronger or had more willpower.
But it’s not your fault. It’s actually not the food’s fault either. It’s the labels and the power your diet has given these foods to make you feel ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for eating them.
If you want to know how to stop yo-yo dieting, the first step is to approach food with neutrality instead of labels. All foods can fit into a healthy diet, and by giving yourself permission to eat all foods, all the time, you’ll begin to take the power back from the powerful cravings and feel more at peace with all foods in your diet.
Re-acquaint yourself with your natural hunger cues
Everyone is born with fully functioning hunger cues that tell us to eat when we’re hungry and to stop eating when we’re full. Dieting interferes with these natural cues and can distort the messages our brains send our bodies in response to food and hunger.
Diets rely on you ignoring your hunger cues to restrict energy and/or nutrients. Diets dictate what, how much, and when we should eat, even if you’re feeling hungry or deprived. In many cases, feeling hungry while on a diet is perceived as the diet ‘working.’
But there are long term consequences of suppressing your natural hunger cues. Restriction over long periods will lead to cravings and periods of overeating, a natural response to being deprived of the energy your body needs. It will also eventually silence your normal hunger cues, so it is more difficult to feel and react to them.
Reacquainting yourself with your natural hunger cues means allowing your body to dictate what, how much, and when you eat. Hunger can feel like different things for different people. It might feel like gurgling or growling in your stomach, faintness, or a headache. Some people experience mood changes like irritability or difficulty concentrating. When your body signals hunger, it’s important to eat.
If you feel out of touch with your hunger signals, start by asking yourself before and after every meal ‘How hungry am I?’ Over time you will come to understand the nuances in your hunger signals– sometimes gentle, other times nagging and ravenous– and how to respond to them. Mindful eating can help with this process along the way. Journaling can also be a great way to document how and when you feel your hunger cues so you can continue to honor them in the future.
Set health goals that have nothing to do with the scale
Your healthiest, natural weight is mostly dictated by your genetics. Consider this: Even if you and I both ate the same diet and performed the same exercise, we would still look very different. Dieting for weight loss is ineffective at permanently changing your genetic size and shape—even though you’ve been led to believe that it can.
You’ve probably also been led to believe that losing weight will improve other aspects of your life as well. What diets will never tell you is that losing weight in order to ‘fix’ any aspect of your life is a fool’s endeavor.
For example, weight loss does not improve body image, because the goal to be smaller is always a moving target. Weight loss also doesn’t make you any more worthy of having or doing the things you want. Perhaps most importantly, weight loss doesn’t inherently make you healthier. We know now that weight is not a good indicator of health status, and that people of all shapes and sizes can lead happy, healthy lives.
Instead of setting a goal for weight loss, consider setting a goal for self-care—something you are very worthy of regardless of size or weight. Self-care may look like implementing gentle nutrition or finding a fun, new exercise routine that doesn’t focus on burning calories. Self-care may also look like body acceptance, or purchasing new clothes that fit your body because they are more flattering and comfortable.
Eating with a goal of weight loss will always undermine the progress you make towards self-love, self-care, and becoming a more intuitive eater. So ditch the scale, and focus on finding ways to honor your body and your health.
Let go of the idea of the ‘next best diet’
We’ve suffered through grapefruits, ‘negative calorie’ vegetables, and cabbage soups, and we’ve watched celebrities hawk shakes, bars, and juice cleanses. More recently we’ve seen clients cut out entire food groups (keto) or skip meals unless they fit into an ‘eating window’ (intermittent fasting).
Diet trends will continue to come and go, but only one fact remains true: Diets never deliver on their promises. Diets do not result in long-term, sustainable weight loss. In fact, dieting over and over again can result in weight gain over time. It’s important to reject the idea that any diet will be effective in order to move on with your life, once and for all.
We know this can be challenging. We refer to ‘diet culture’ as the societal pressure to use diets to shrink our bodies (and to feel shame if we don’t). Beyond magazine covers and social media, we can feel the weight of diet culture from our friends and families any time they talk about their ‘new diet that’s definitely working!’ for them. Blocking out diet culture noise comes with intention, practice, and a healthy dose of confidence—confidence that you are honoring your body and your hunger in ways that no diet ever could, or ever will.
How to stop yo-yo dieting with intuitive eating
These tips are just 4 principles of a larger approach to end dieting called Intuitive Eating. Interested in learning more about how Intuitive Eating works and why it might be right for you? Read more here.
Like what you’ve read, but want to know more about how to stop yo-yo dieting to feel your best? Our dietitians are here to help. Schedule a consultation today to learn more about how a member of our team can help you determine your goals and the best ways to achieve them.
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Kristin Jenkins, MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. Kristin specializes in eating disorders and intuitive eating, and is an advocate for weight-inclusive care for all her clients.