Is Yo-Yo Dieting Bad for You?

Yo-Yo DietingA recent study conducted by Dr. Edward List, a scientist at Ohio University, and colleagues found that yo-yo dieting (repeatedly gaining and losing weight) “was indeed healthier than remaining obese.”

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) has today featured information on Dr. List’s study and on healthy dieting in its August 15, 2011 HealthBeat (audio tips on health and wellness).

Dr. List’s study, which was presented at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society in Boston, is reported in full on the website of Ohio University.

The study, which involved research conducted on mice, was the first study of its kind on yo-yo dieting. Confounding conventional wisdom that yo-yo dieting is bad for you, the study found that, “mice that switched between a high-fat and low-fat diet every four weeks during their approximate two-year lifespan lived about 25 percent longer and had better blood glucose levels than obese animals that ate a high-fat diet.” “The yo-yo dieters also lived about as long as a control group of mice steadily fed a low-fat diet,” according to Ohio University’s report on the study.

Pointing out that “some experts argue that constantly shedding and regaining pounds can be harmful to health,” the Ohio University report states, “The new research … suggests, however, that yo-yo dieting is preferable to remaining obese and not dieting at all.”

“If the conventional wisdom is true, it would discourage a lot of overweight people from losing weight,” the report quotes Dr. List as saying. “The new research shows that the simple act of gaining and losing weight does not seem detrimental to lifespan,” Dr. List said.

The Study

In the study, Dr. List and colleagues observed 30 laboratory mice placed on one of three dietary regimens over their lifespans — a period of a little more than two years, as typical for the breed of mice involved in the study. One group of mice were placed on a yo-yo diet in which they switched between a high-fat and low-fat diet every four weeks. A second group were fed a consistently high-fat diet, and a control group were fed a consistently low-fat diet.

Over their lifespan, the mice on the high-fat diet “ate more, weighed more and had higher levels of body fat and fasting blood glucose,” and “they also become glucose intolerant, or pre-diabetic,” according to the Ohio University report.

“The health profile of the mice on the yo-yo diet declined during their high-fat food phases, but their weight and blood glucose levels returned to normal levels during their low-fat diet stages,” the researchers found.

The research also produced preliminary findings suggesting that “the yo-yo dieting animals experienced a reduction in cytokine levels,” a preliminary finding that Dr. List said he intends to seek to verify in further study. “High levels of cytokine are linked to increased inflammation, which is associated with diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer,” according to the study report.

The actual lifespans recorded for the study mice were 2.04 years for the yo-yo dieting mice, compared to 1.5 years for the obese mice. The control group lived, on average, for 2.09 years. Thus the yo-yo dieters lived approximately as long as the mice on a consistently low-fat diet, and over 25% longer than the obese mice that stayed on the high-fat diet.

Dr. List observed that using mice in this study presented “a good model for obesity research, as they allow researchers to follow the effects of diet choices on lifespan over a relatively short time period.”

The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health, AMVETS and Ohio University.

Implications – Dieting Advice

As observed in the Ohio University study report, “About 34 percent of American adults are considered to be obese; an additional 34 percent are classified as overweight, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although millions of Americans diet each year, research has shown that few people maintain long-term weight loss.”

“The study adds to our understanding of the benefit of losing weight,” Dr. List said. “I would hope that this encourages people to not give up.”

In its audio feature on the Ohio University yo-yo dieting study, HHS HealthBeat recognizes the study’s findings that, if you are overweight or obese, it may be better to do yo-yo dieting than not to diet at all, but advocates: “First and foremost, people [should] lose weight one time, diet and exercise, and keep it off. Live a healthy lifestyle.”

For help in how to do that, HHS links to information from the Weight-Control Information Network (WIN) of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health.

This includes a helpful basic pamphlet (16 pages) entitled, “Weight Loss For Life (PDF),” produced by the NIDDK.

The pamphlet includes information on:

  • How you can benefit from weight loss;
  • How to measure whether you are overweight or obese, including information on Body Mass Index (BMI);
  • How you can lose weight, including a plan for healthy eating and a plan for regular physical activity;
  • The types of weight-loss programs available, with appropriate cautions; and
  • A list of additional resources.

More Information

Other government resources on dieting and weight-loss are available from: – from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, information on the new Food Plate (replacing the previous Food Pyramid);

How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label – from the U.S. Department of Agriculture; and

Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans – from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS).

See also our previous HelpingYouCare™ reporting on:

MyPlate Icon Replaces Food Pyramid

New Dietary Guidelines for Americans Issued by USDA and HHS

Calculate Your Body Mass Index (BMI)

New Report Shows Americans Getting Fatter; Serious Health & Policy Concerns

Which Foods Are Linked to Highest Weight Gain Every 4 Years? and

How To Exercise Your Way to Good Health

And, see the HelpingYouCare™ resource pages on Wellness/ Healthy Living for Seniors & Caregivers, including information and resources on:

Diet & Nutrition: Physical Wellness and

Exercise: Physical Wellness


Copyright © 2011 Care-Help LLC, publisher of HelpingYouCare™.


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