It can happen to the best of us: You decide you want to lose weight and you successfully drop some pounds. But you go back to your old eating habits or gorge on the foods that youve been craving for whatever reason, and suddenly the scales telling you youve gained everything back, maybe even more. Eventually, you start trying to lose the weight again
Yo-yo dieting is the everyday term for when people lose weight and gain it back, sometimes again and again over many years.
Its a very common pattern, said Christine Tenekjian, a registered dietitian at the Duke Diet and Fitness Center in Durham. Sometimes its just 20 pounds at a time and they might regain 25, but sometimes its 50 or 100 pounds then regaining more than that.
Nationally, research has shown many people who lose weight manage to keep it off initially. But findings show that over several years, they often gain weight back.
Muriel Watson, 38, of Kenly, says shes always been overweight.
Over the years, she has tried Weight Watchers, a cabbage diet and weight-loss pills, among other things. When she was a teenager, she made her herself throw up a few times in hopes of losing weight.
Ive tried a lot of stupid things, she said.
Watson has lost 50 pounds and gained it back, plus more.
In 2009, she was 397 pounds at 5-feet-11, the largest shed ever been. Late that year, she saw a photo of herself posted on a bulletin board at work. It hit her then that she really needed to do something about her weight.
I went home and cried all night, she said.
Watson still carries that picture with her.
Her doctor told her she had to lose the weight for her health. At the time, she had diabetes, high blood pressure, issues with her knees, and she suffered from depression. Health likewise motivated Alan Foster, 50, of Fuquay-Varina to lose weight. He also found out he had high blood pressure and wanted to avoid taking medication for it.
Foster has seen his weight fluctuate 15 to 20 pounds within a few months, Its always frustrating to see the weight go back after successfully losing it, he said.
He says his fathers death triggered some unhealthy eating habits. The event threw him into a tailspin.
It was just something that took my mind off of what was going on, I guess, he said.
Nutritionists and dietitians say a few key factors often contribute to yo-yo dieting, including quick-fix diets and stress.
Some diets lead people to adopt a radically different approach from their typical eating pattern, like cutting out an entire food group. While it can lead to weight loss in the beginning, it also makes it easy to revert to old eating habits, and maybe even binge.
Changing behavior is not an easy task, said dietitian Manuel Villacorta, a spokesman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and creator of the Eating Free weight-loss program.
A 2011 study in The New England Journal of Medicine suggests there could be physiological reasons that explain why obese people often regain weight.
Researchers found that weight loss through diet is associated with an increase in a hormone that stimulates hunger. Those urges to eat can last for at least a year after the loss. Dietitians stress that stable weight loss comes with a lifestyle change, not a quick fix.
Its not a sexy approach, Tenekjian said. Youve just got to adopt a lifestyle change and figure out how its going to work in the context of your life. People dont like that They want a quick fix, and thats why, I think, yo-yo dieting is so common.
Elaine Jones, clinical nutrition manager at Carolinas Medical Center-University, typically has clients set goals of 10 percent weight loss over six months. In that time, they can learn behavioral changes and practice them.
Its the routine that creates the habit, that creates the long-term stability and maintenance of that weight loss, Jones said.
Eat food you like
Villacorta says people should learn to incorporate and balance foods that they enjoy into their diets because if they try to cut them out entirely, it can be a recipe for failure.
I always say that willpower is like an elastic band, he said. You just keep pulling and pulling and it just gets weaker and weaker with time and then you break, and thats the problem with restrictions.
Instead of cutting some foods out completely, Villacorta suggests looking into proper portioning and how to balance meals throughout the week.
For some, stress can lead to on-again, off-again dieting if they see eating as a way to deal with their emotions.
If you dont really ever tackle that, (youre) never going to win the war, he said.
Tenekjian says her No. 1 tip for people trying to lose weight is to think about where they are now and to pick one or two things to do that can help improve eating or exercise habits. If stress is an issue, she says, maybe start there.
Watson, of Kenly, says stress has derailed her weight loss in the past.
When I gain weight its always been stress-related of some sort because Im an emotional eater, I know that, she said.
I just want to be healthy
Foster, a manager at Rex Hospital, once topped out at 230 pounds. Today hes at about 205 pounds at 5-feet-11 and would love to get down to 195. He tries to eat healthier meals and attends a group exercise program twice a week. Foster also finds simple ways to stay active, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
The bottom line is just never give up, he said.
Watson, who works as a deli-bakery manager at a Food Lion, is now 244 pounds, down more than 100 pounds. Shes on a low-carb diet and goes to the gym six days a week. Her goal is 185 pounds.
Watson still sees the near-400 pound person she used to be when she looks in the mirror. But shes also proud to have lost so much weight. Shes off medications for her weight-related illnesses.
I may never get to be a size 2, and Im OK with that, she said. I dont want to be a size 2. I just want to be healthy.