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Why Yo Yo Dieting Is Bad For Your Muscles? (2022 Updated)

Isaac Robertson
Published by Isaac Robertson
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: February 23, 2021

The goal of weight loss is never (or at least should never be) muscle loss. It should be fat loss and muscle gain for better overall fitness.

When a person decides that it’s time to do something about their weight it’s not unusual for them to put the pedal to the metal in an attempt to lose weight as quickly as possible.

They embrace fad diets, devise workout plans that would wear out a bodybuilder and search for every opportunity to eliminate or burn every possible calorie.

More often than not the result of this over-the-top approach is burnout, disappointment and yo-yo dieting.

What is Yo Yo Dieting?

When people are involved in challenging relationships they often talk about being on the emotional rollercoaster.

Well, dieting can be like a rollercoaster - or in this case a yo-yo. (1)

You’re up when things are going well, then burn out and crash, only to rediscover your resolve and rise up again.

It becomes a vicious cycle of weight loss, weight gain, weight loss and gaining weight and it’s not only frustrating and counterproductive, it can actually be downright dangerous if the weight fluctuations are significant and it goes on too long.

According to John A. Daller, MD, a nutritionist form OnHealth, "Weight cycling is the repeated loss and regain of body weight. When weight cycling is the result of dieting, it is often called "yo-yo" dieting."

Why Yo Yo Dieting is Bad for You

1. Weight Gain

Weight Machine

A recent study out of Great Britain strongly suggests that yo-yo dieting can actually lead to long term weight gain.

The research found that the brain seems to interpret those times that you are losing weight as being some type of “short famine”. A short famine would be the result of an interruption in food supply, rather than a calculated and well-planned fast.

Because the body believes food supplies are in jeopardy, the study shows, it slips into body fat storage mode in an attempt to create a big enough surplus of energy to carry it through the next interruption. As a result, you wind up gaining weight.

2. Increase the Hormone Cortisol

The hormone cortisol plays an important role regulating metabolism, blood sugar levels, blood pressure and immune response. (2)

Yo-yo dieting can cause the body to produce unusually high levels of cortisol which then course through the body undermining your long-term health.

Excessive amounts of cortisol can put a person at increased risk of developing heart disease, diabetes and even some forms of cancer.

3. Muscle Loss

If you get into the habit of severely restricting calories while engaged in on-again, off-again yo-yo dieting you can adversely affect your metabolism and lead to muscle loss.

If you don’t provide the body with enough carbohydrates it will turn to other sources of energy, primarily fat. But in the absence of adequate body fat stores it will begin to devour your muscles as well.

The goal of weight loss is never (or at least should never be) muscle loss. It should be fat loss and muscle gain for better overall fitness.

4. Imbalance of Healthy Gut Bacteria

A healthy, properly functioning digestive system depends on a critical balance of bacteria in order to break food down and extract necessary nutrients. (3)

Yo-yo dieting can have adverse effects on the amount of this beneficial bacteria which in turn can prompt the development of GI conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease.

Probiotics like yogurt and prebiotics such as onions or asparagus can help promote a healthy floral balance in the gut.

5. Frustration/Long Term Consequences

overtrain workout

Often times the most apparent consequence of yo-yo dieting is not weight loss but frustration.

This is especially true if a person has embraced fad diets that don’t have much in common with healthy eating and which require them to abandon the foods they love. If their weight loss results do not live up to expectations they abandon the diet and overeat.

​They then feel guilty and jump back on the diet. Each up and down trip on the yo-yo just fuels more frustration which can have long term negative effects on both physical and psychological well-being.

You can also watch this video from Mayo Clinic about the cons of yo yo dieting for your health.


5 Hacks To Avoid Yo Yo Dieting

Planner, healthy meal and girl working out holding a cup

1. Pick A Plan You Can Stick To

In order to free yourself from the scourge of yo-yo dieting and attain a healthy weight you’ll need to stop looking at a diet as a form of punishment and start looking at it as new opportunity to move toward your ultimate goal of a healthier happier you.

Forcing yourself to embrace foods you can’t stand, to give up those things you love and to starve yourself to achieve weight loss won’t produce anything but ill health and disappointment.

Formulate a plan that calls for you to ditch the junk food (less processed foods) and empty carbs in stages instead of all at once. And take up exercise.

2. Understand That Weight Loss Doesn’t Happen Fast

Open road, clock and girl in a sunset

Here’s a secret: plenty of testimonials from diet pills and even before and after photos are fake or wildly photoshoped. It’s unfortunate but true.

Weight loss through nutrition simply doesn’t happen fast. It’s not a short-term project - it’s a journey. Don’t weigh yourself every week.

Consider taking a before photo to drive you forward, but don’t let yourself compare yourself to it for at least a month.

​Remember too that muscle weighs more than fat. Instead of the scale, opt for a body composition calculator to see how your body fat percentage is decreasing. This matters a lot more than the number on the scale.

3. Eat Smarter

Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.

- Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, French Lawyer & Politician, 1826

Brillat-Savarin’s point was that poor diet equals poor health and it’s as true today as it was nearly 200 years ago when he wrote it.

If you aspire to avoid the yo-yo effect and achieve greater overall health, eat smart.

  • Drink water before and during your meal. You’ll feel fuller faster.
  • Eat mindfully - Pace yourself and appreciate your food by chewing thoroughly and putting down your fork between bites.
  • Remember that healthy eating is an expression of self-respect. Good health is the most valuable commodity we can possess and healthy food helps us achieve it.

4. Ditch The Word “Diet”

Breakfast bowl and girl sitting in the field of flowers

“Diet” has come to have negative connotations and for many people implies a temporary state of self-discipline that will be abandoned at some future point.

Instead of “going on a diet”, resolve to eat better and exercise more. Devise a nutrition and exercise plan that you can stick to, implementing it in stages as we discussed above. Here are the top exercises to lose weight.

Remember what you’re after is long-term health. While that may well require you to lose weight it should also include shifting your attitude toward food to one that’s both sustainable and beneficial.

5. Cheat A Little

Girl having a glass of wine, awesome sweets and a girl eating pizza

Incorporating cheat meals into your routine is often a good way to proceed. It provides something for dieters to look forward to although it must be done in moderation.

Let yourself have a glass of wine (or two) after a hard week at work - it's all about moderation. Drinking a glass of wine will not make you fat.

Final Thoughts on Weight Cycling

Knowing how to recognize it is the first step in avoiding the risk of yo-yo dieting or weight cycling.

​Keep in mind that getting healthy is self-respect in one of its purest forms.

Put the above information and tips to work in your life and enjoy the happier, healthier life that you’ve been seeking.


  1. WebMD, What Are Weight Cycling and Yo-Yo Dieting?, retrieved from
  2. Concordia University, Behavioral problems linked to cortisol levels: Study finds intervention needed as soon as behavioral problems appear, retrieved from
  3. WebMD, How Your Gut Health Affects Your Whole Body, retrieved from

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