“Yo-Yo Dieting” Is a No-No for Your Heart


Weight fluctuations linked to greater heart risks

For people with heart disease, constantly losing and gaining weight like a yo-yo is associated with doubling your risks of heart attack, stroke and even death, according to new research.

“This study shows a powerful association between rapid cycling and increased risk for heart patients,” Timothy Martindale, MD, Ascension Providence Family Medicine Clinic, said.  “The body works best with steady, gradual healthy changes that can result in long-term health and prevent heart disease.”

Ascension Providence is part of Ascension, the largest nonprofit health system in the U.S. and the world’s largest Catholic health system

Researchers looked at health records of 9,509 people gathered from about five years. All study participants had significant heart disease and were part of a cholesterol-lowering statin drug trial. Those with greater variations in weight had double the risk of a heart attack, stroke or death, when compared with those who weight variations of two pounds or less.

The study also found increased risk of developing diabetes for those who had greater changes in weight.

More harm than good

Managing weight is key in overall health and keeping heart disease risk factors at bay. While the study does not show cause and effect, the link between weight fluctuation and higher heart disease risks may suggest that losing weight in and of itself doesn’t outweigh the harm done when someone regains the weight.

“Rapid cycling has been shown to encourage weight regain, often more than what was originally lost,” Martindale said. “Increased weight gain can put you at greater risk for diabetes and other harmful consequences.”

Experts say body weight and heart health often go hand-in-hand. According to the American Heart Association, being overweight or obese can lead to high blood pressure, high LDL (“bad” cholesterol) and low HDL (“good” cholesterol), all conditions that put you at greater risk for heart disease and stroke.

The stress of up and down

Weight isn’t the only thing that can go up and down when you yo-yo diet. Known as the stress hormone, cortisol regulates blood pressure and maintains immune function, among other things.

Quick weight changes can stress out your body and lead to excess release of cortisol, Martindale said. In large amounts, it can wreak havoc on your waistline and heart health.

It’s also important to realize the toll yo-yoing can have on your psychological health. Fluctuation in weight often coincides with emotional highs and lows.

“Continuing to lose and then re-gain weight can leave people feeling discouraged, which can lead to low self-esteem and even depression,” Kelly Tarpley, registered dietician and certified diabetes educator at Ascension Providence Thyroid, Endocrinology & Diabetes Clinic said.

Slow and steady wins the race

When it comes to losing weight and keeping it off, quick fixes just don’t work.

“Yo-yo dieting doesn’t build the habits necessary for slow, steady and long-term weight loss,” Martindale said.

Focus on a healthy lifestyle that includes eating lots of plants and whole foods, exercising regularly, moderating stress and maintaining healthy relationships–advice everyone can take to heart.

For heart patients looking to shed some pounds, Tarpley says many people can safely lose a pound a week until reaching their target weight.

A combination of diet and exercise is a powerful force in weight loss. Watching what you eat helps manage calories and exercise has many benefits that will help you reach and maintain health goals.

“Exercise increases energy, confidence, decisiveness, and a good self-image—all of which can help you stay with a diet plan and remain committed to steady, healthy weight loss,” Martindale said.

You may need to be extra careful if you have heart failure or side effects from medications, so talk to your doctor about what exercise plan is best for you.

Try these tips for making weight loss stick, not the extra pounds:

  • Cut out sugary drinks. Fruit-infused water is a tasty and refreshing alternative.
  • Always use portion control. Limit highly processed foods and opt for lean meats, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables.

Set attainable nutrition and exercise goals. A food diary and exercise partner can help keep you on track.