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Losing weight? Avoid 'yo-yo dieting'

June 27, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Lose weight. Gain it back. Lose weight. Gain it back. If it hasn't happened to you, you most likely know someone who has experienced "yo-yo dieting," which experts caution may cause some health problems.

"One of the things that people find motivating with weight loss is to be able to see some results very, very quickly. So oftentimes you will see people doing something very drastic," said Susan Bowerman, UCLA Center for Human Nutrition.

Bowerman says for many, weight fluctuates as fast as fashion trends due to fad diets that fail

Long-term weight-loss success is estimated at about 20 percent.

"What it usually says to me is as a dietitian is when somebody comes back and says, 'Well, I've got to start over again,' it really tells me that they really have not instilled these new habits," said Bowerman.

Instead of upping exercise and dropping calories to no more than 1,200 a day, they try omitting a food group like carbohydrates, liquid-detox cleanses and very low-calorie dieting.

"They will see this quick weight loss for a couple of days, but it's going to take its physical toll, number one, and secondly that is not lasting weight loss," said Bowerman.

Another reason not to severely restrict calories is that your body will fight you every step of the way. Nutritionists suggest that your metabolism senses famine, which in turn upsets your hunger hormones.

"One is called 'ghrelin,'" said Bowerman. "It's what they call a 'hunger hormone,' it's one when the level starts to rise you feel hungry."

You have another hormone called leptin. When your leptin levels rise you feel satisfied, you feel satiated, and so leptin levels tend to drop if you do a lot of yo-yo dieting.

Beyond hormones, this weight-cycling takes a toll on metabolism, muscles, arteries and more, especially when weight is regained. Skin can lose elasticity, heart and immune system can be compromised and liver overloaded when normal or unhealthy eating resumes.

"If I had that extra hour per day I think things would go a lot smoother," said dieter Christina Peck.

Peck is an executive assistant, exercise instructor and mom to two kids. She's tried loads of diets, but like many women, she finds it's hard to take the necessary time out for one's self.

Using Bowerman's suggestion of changing one lifestyle behavior at a time she now takes an extra 15 minutes a day to plan work snacks.

"And I am not looking for an overnight success, I am looking for a long-term, because I know that that's what stays with you," said Peck.

"Because these very small weight losses can improve health," said Bowerman. "And as people see that their health is improving, hopefully what happens is that that's going to motivate them to continue to lose more."

Bowerman had more helpful ideas to stop the weight cycling by taking a more moderate approach.

"It does take a while," said Bowerman. "And I think part of the reason is because we have had these habits for such a long time, so we need to consider that first."

She reminds us to ask ourselves: "How long have you been eating this way and how long is it going to take for you to change it?"

Just having the knowledge, knowing that you need to eat less or that your portions need to be smaller, or even if you are an expert calorie-counter, that knowledge doesn't always translate into action and so you have to practice, practice, practice, practice, just like any other new skill that you are trying to learn.

Just being more focused on things like your behavior, how you respond to emotions. Are you eating because your are stressed or are you eating because you are hungry? What is your usually pattern and how can you change that? So all of those behavioral things need to be addressed and probably one at a time.

As the Center for Human Nutrition offers a diet program, they have seen people return back to the program many times. The positive thing to note on those who have weight-cycled is that the body remains responsive to weight-loss tactics. This is contrary to some urban legend that is gets harder and harder to lose weight once it has been regained.

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