Confessions of a Yo-Yo Dieter

Published: June 10th, 2014   |   Author: Veronica Graham

Stop losing and gaining the same weight over and over.

If saying “I do” to my husband was the best moment of my life thus far, sharing a big ole greasy cheeseburger with him immediately after reciting said vow was a close second.

I lost more than 20 pounds for my wedding, driven primarily by fear of wearing a white dress in front of everyone I know and a professional photographer. I trained like an athlete, working out for at least an hour every day and banishing anything remotely junky from my kitchen. I trained for a 10K in the process, something I’d never done before.

After the reception, I marched into a fast food burger chain – still in full wedding attire – and ordered the biggest burger on the menu. I have never known relief like that first bite of delicious beef and melted cheese. “I’m free!” that bite said. “I don’t have to diet and exercise like a madwoman anymore!”

Fast-forward eight months, and those 20-plus pounds are back on my body. Except now, I’ve got a high school reunion looming on my calendar. It’s like déjà vu. I’m right back where I started, scrambling like a madwoman to lose weight for yet another special event.

Sadly, I’m not the only one stuck on this crazy hamster wheel. Whether it’s 5 pounds or 50 pounds, people who lose weight quickly for a specific occasion find themselves losing and regaining the same weight again and again over time, says Dr. Adam Tsai, chair of the public affairs committee for The Obesity Society.

Most of that struggle is due to the rigorous diet and exercise plans we put ourselves through to look at that wedding/reunion/vacation. “It’s a ton of mental energy that people have to devote to this,” Dr. Tsai says. We can only keep up that kind of discipline for so long without cracking. The constant calorie counting, the hours devoted to the gym – it’s exhausting just thinking about it.

But did you know an even bigger reason why us yo-yo dieters can’t seem to break the cycle is our own bodies? We can thank human evolution for our most stubborn pounds, Dr. Tsai says. When we lose a significant amount of weight quickly, our bodies feel threatened by starvation. Your resting metabolism actually goes down, and the hormones that make you feel hungry go up. “It’s counterintuitive, but it makes sense,” Dr. Tsai says. “Starvation is a bigger problem. All of these things are to prevent people from starving to death.”

Even Dr. Tsai admits that it can be a bit depressing to know your body is fighting your diet. The good news is that constantly losing the same weight isn’t technically bad for your health. “It’s better to be able to lose the weight, and always better to spend time at a lower weight,” Dr. Tsai says.

If you’re tired of going through the same frantic motions, working furiously to lose weight for an event only to abandon ship afterward, your best approach is slow, staggered weight loss. “Try to lose a little bit of weight and keep it off,” says Dr. Tsai, then try to lose a little more when you feel ready to keep going. This gives your body time to “reset” and accept that it’s not starving even though it weighs less. It also gives you a mental break from the stress and crazy pace of racing to lose weight under a deadline.

There will always be weddings, reunions, vacations – you name it and you’ll want to look good for it. Try thinking of reasons to lose weight that aren’t so temporary. When you feel your will fading, remembering why you’re losing weight in the first place is the best way to replenish your drive, says Dr. Tsai. “Every person has their individual reasons for wanting to do this, their ‘why,’” he says. “I encourage them to find their ‘why.’”

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