5 Consequences of Dieting

Nutrition • September 6, 2021

Dieting is essentially the process of purposefully reducing caloric intake in hopes to reduce body weight.

The constant pattern of dieting and regaining the weight is known as “yo-yo dieting” or “weight cycling”. For the purpose of this article, I will use the term weight cycling.

Approximately 10% of men and 30% of women will weight cycle (1). Keep in mind this stat was discovered in 1998, in which fad diets and weight stigma have further run rampid within society. Those numbers are probably exceptionally higher in present-day 2021.

Even though dieting is not inherently bad, there are quite the negative consequences of weight cycling that will actually cause it harder to maintain a healthy weight and even result in more weight gain.

This article will discuss some problems that come with the weight cycle and how it can actually be more detrimental to your health.

  1. Increase hunger

Leptin is a hormone responsible for regulating energy balance and appetite. Leptin is stored and secreted by fat cells. When you eat a meal, leptin is released from the fat cells to signal to the brain that you are full. It decreases hunger.

However, when you diet and lose body fat, then leptin actually reduces (2) . So less leptin = increase hunger!

Essentially, the longer you are on a diet the hungerier you will get! This can result in non-compliance to a diet or even over-eating.

Since leptin is released from fat cells, you might think that if you have more fat then you should be less hungry and then lose weight. I wish it were that simple. Those with more fat tend to have elevated leptin levels, however, there is a thing called leptin resistance.

Leptin resistance is when your body does not respond to leptin as it should. So in turn, fat cells make more leptin. But the body continues not to respond, but in fact think you are starving so you eat more, gain more fat, and the vicious cycle continues.

The takeaway here is that excessive dieting can result in reduced leptin levels making it easier to overeat, and excess fat can result in a similar scenario called leptin resistance.

  1. Less muscle but more body fat percentage

Rapid weight loss results in losing muscle mass. It is inevitable. There are strategies such as slow weight loss and increase protein intake to prevent muscle loss, but at the end of the day, it will happen.

However, when it comes to rapid weight loss, the weight gain that follows (from noncompliance to diet or extreme hunger) will not be muscle. The weight gain will be mostly fat. Especially if an individual is not eating adequately protein or strength training. Because the weight gain will be mostly fat, then the body will have a reduced metabolism.

The more muscle you have the more calories your burn. This is why bodybuilders have a tendency to be able to eat a lot while staying lean.

So the event of dieting quickly results in an increase in body fat, less muscle mass, and ultimately a reduced metabolic rate (3).

Fifty-eight percent of publications reported in a review reported that a history of weight cycling was correlated with increased body fat and central adiposity (3). Another fifty percent of studies reported that the presence of weight cycling increased the likelihood of future weight gain, suggesting that weight cycling is potentially problematic for individuals attempting to lose weight (3).

  1. Increased health risk (diabeties, high blood pressure, high cholesterol)

Even though diabetes has not been directly studied in the weight cycle (3), a study in rats demonstrated increased insulin resistance to rats that experience weight cycling over 12 months rather than those that gained weight steadily (4).

This demonstrates an increased risk of diabetes with weight cycling. Further works need to be done in this area.

Among 9509 participants, those with larger weight fluctuations over a period of time were more at risk for coronary artery disease than weight alone (5). in the same study:

“Among patients in the quintile with the highest variation in body weight, the risk of a coronary event was 64% higher, the risk of a cardiovascular event 85% higher, death 124% higher, myocardial infarction 117% higher, and stroke 136% higher than it was among those in the quintile with the lowest variation in body weight in adjusted models.” (5)

Also, a history of weight cycling demonstrated fewer improvements in blood pressure than those that had not during a weight loss intervention to improve blood pressure (6).

As you can see, there are more negative consequences to weight cycling than being at higher body weight. So the next time you try to lose weight, try to instill habits that are sustainable.

  1. It can result in fustration and feelings of failure

Increases in weight variability over an 8 year period resulting in higher rates of psychological disturbances in women (7).

These were not necessarily things like depression or anxiety. More so a sense of failure or dissatisfaction with oneself. This increases the prevalence of binge eating disorders (8).

This further implicates the importance of weight loss methods that are sustainable and consistent to prevent such negative feelings.

Weight is an indicator of health but not the only one. Your mental health is just as important.

  1. Short term, quick weight loss doesn’t result in long term sustainability.

Quick dieting cyclings tend to stem from quite unsustainable measures. Such as cutting out all sugar products or never eating bread agian. While some tactics such as keto may work for some, it is important to remember that they may not work for you.

Whatever you decide to change in your diet for weight loss needs to be something that you can do the rest of your life if you want to keep the weight off.

For instant, if you cut out all alcohol, you should expect to keep it out or have it only on special occasions. But if that is not something you are willing to do long term, then you need to find a way to fit it your diet.

This article is not to scare you away from dieting, but instead change your approach to dieting.

Here are some of the behaviors it found worked for long-term weight loss:

  • Eating healthy foods: Such as yogurt, fruits, vegetables and tree nuts (not peanuts).
  • Limiting processed foods: Such as potato chips and sugary beverages.
  • Exercising: Find something active that you enjoy doing.
  • Getting good sleep: Get 6–8 hours of sleep each night.
  • Limit sedentary time: Limit the time you sit by scheduling daily walks or finding ways to work standing up.

By making permanent changes to your life, you may not have the leanest bod, but you will have consistent and sustainable weight loss over time.

If you are ready to make changes for sustainable weight loss, schedule a 15 minute discovery call today to see how I can help. Schedule here!


  1. Hendricks KM, Herbold NH. Diet, activity, and other health-related behaviors in college-age women. Nutr Rev. 1998 Mar;56(3):65-75. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.1998.tb01696.x. PMID: 9564178.
  2. Zhao S, Zhu Y, Schultz RD, et al. Partial Leptin Reduction as an Insulin Sensitization and Weight Loss Strategy. Cell Metab. 2019;30(4):706-719.e6. doi:10.1016/j.cmet.2019.08.005
  3. Mackie GM, Samocha-Bonet D, Tam CS. Does weight cycling promote obesity and metabolic risk factors? Obes Res Clin Pract. 2017 Mar-Apr;11(2):131-139. doi: 10.1016/j.orcp.2016.10.284. Epub 2016 Oct 20. PMID: 27773644.
  4. Levin BE. Diet cycling and age alter weight gain and insulin levels in rats. Am J Physiol. 1994 Aug;267(2 Pt 2):R527-35. doi: 10.1152/ajpregu.1994.267.2.R527. PMID: 8067464.
  5. Bangalore S, Fayyad R, Laskey R, DeMicco DA, Messerli FH, Waters DD. Body-Weight Fluctuations and Outcomes in Coronary Disease. N Engl J Med. 2017 Apr 6;376(14):1332-1340. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1606148. PMID: 28379800.
  6. Hart KE, Warriner EM. Weight loss and biomedical health improvement on a very low calorie diet: the moderating role of history of weight cycling. Behav Med. 2005 Winter;30(4):161-70. doi: 10.3200/BMED.30.4.161-172. PMID: 15981894.
  7. Pacanowski CR, Linde JA, Faulconbridge LF, Coday M, Safford MM, Chen H, Yanovski SZ, Ewing LJ, Wing R, Jeffery RW; Look AHEAD Research Group. Psychological status and weight variability over eight years: Results from Look AHEAD. Health Psychol. 2018 Mar;37(3):238-246. doi: 10.1037/hea0000547. PMID: 29504788; PMCID: PMC5841595.
  8. Kensinger GJ, Murtaugh MA, Reichmann SK, Tangney CC. Psychological symptoms are greater among weight cycling women with severe binge eating behavior. J Am Diet Assoc. 1998 Aug;98(8):863-8. doi: 10.1016/S0002-8223(98)00199-0. PMID: 9710655.

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