What Is The Yo-Yo Effect?

Miracle diets promise a big change in a short time, but the yo-yo effect is also likely to appear. Keep reading to learn more.
What Is The Yo-Yo Effect?

Last update: 15 January, 2021

One of the things that most dieters worry about is the yo-yo effect, or the rebound effect. Following a strict diet is a process that requires a lot of willpower, but progress only happens if it’s sustained over time.

The yo-yo effect is a trend that’s characterized either by a great weight loss or a great weight gain, in a short time. Its name is a reference to the up and down movement made by the yo-yo toy.

Knowing this effect will help you plan your diet with a greater probability of success. This will also benefit your emotional well-beingsince you’ll be more motivated to maintain your new habits. Therefore, below we’ll talk about the causes and consequences of the yo-yo effect.

Causes of the yo-yo effect

The most common cause of this phenomenon is wanting to lose a lot of weight in a short time following a very restrictive diet. In these cases, the person is only thinking about immediate weight loss, but not its long-term maintenance. So, the moment you reach your goal, you stop taking care of yourself.

Although they’re less frequent, there are also other issues that cause the yo-yo effect. For example, some of them are:

  • Using food as a way to calm anxiety: in this case, you don’t eat out of hunger. On the other hand, you eat as a defensive response to stress.
  • Receiving little support during the diet: the success of a diet largely depends on the support you have from family or friends. Without the encouragement of others, you’re more likely to relapse into old habits.
  • Lack of discipline: following a diet is an exercise in discipline and perseverance. However, for some people, it’s difficult to maintain that commitment. They get carried away with the immediate satisfaction that comes with eating.
A person stepping on a scale.

Health and the yo-yo effect

Now that we’ve seen how the yo-yo effect occurs, the next step is to know how it affects your health. The first thing to mention is that this effect has consequences on the physical and mental well-being of the person. These effects can show up in the following different ways:

1. Emotional consequences: negativity and feelings of failure

Beyond the physical change that the person experiences after having gone through the yo-yo effect, another notable consequence is the change in mood.

It’s normal for the yo-yo effect to come with a feeling of personal failure. Also, these negative feelings can push the person to overeat to calm anxiety, thus entering a vicious cycle that’s hard to break.

2. They reinforce false beliefs about food

Dieting is more than the action of eating food. It also encompasses the set of beliefs, habits and behaviors that are present in the action of eating.

A diet that doesn’t include all the nutrients isn’t a healthy diet, even if it helps lose weight. Miracle diets reinforce this idea that the only thing that matters is losing weight. However, they don’t take into account that a deficit of nutrients can cause other health problems.

The danger in all of this is that it can form unhealthy beliefs about food. If they become stronger, these ideas can condition a person’s life and their relationship with food.

An empty plate with a fork and spoon.

3. Hormone imbalances and the yo-yo effect

When following a strict diet, the body reacts as if it were a stressor. According to an article by the Argentine Council on Food Safety and Nutrition, the body releases hormones such as cortisol or adrenaline to cope with the change.

Another hormone that’s influenced by low-calorie diets is leptin. In these types of diets, leptin levels drop. When this happens, appetite increases and the feeling of fullness decreases. Also, this can even affect reproductive cycles in women.

Be wary of miracle diets

Miracle diets often use a lot of catchy words to get people’s attention. However, at their core, they’re nothing more than marketing products. All they’re looking for is immediate benefit, without thinking about the long term.

A diet is more than just a means to achieve goals. In fact, it can be the beginning of a change in attitudes and habits. To be successful, you need to have a good foundation.

According to a study published by the journal Nursing Clinic, a healthy weight loss shouldn’t be more than two pounds per week. It’s better to do things slow and steady rather than fast and risky.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Dones, M. J. C., Villar, M. I. F., Bonilla, M. J., González, C. M., y Rodríguez, M. M. (2016). Dietas milagro bajas en hidratos de carbono o carbofóbicas: perspectiva enfermera desde la evidencia. Enfermería Clínica, 26(4), 243-249.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.