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Effects of Dieting on Weight Gain, Weight Cycling and Yo-Yo Diets

Does Dieting Cause Weight Gain

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Does Dieting Lead To Weight Gain?

Yes. Under certain circumstances, repetitive dieting may lead to weight gain.

We Don't Just Lose Fat

Typically, when we reduce energy-intake (by following a calorie-controlled diet) and increase energy expenditure (by taking extra exercise), we create a calorie-deficit and thus lose weight. This weight loss typically comprises fat, but includes a small proportion of muscle tissue as well.

Some Dieting Methods Lead to Extra Muscle Loss

Some types of diets can increase loss of muscle, as opposed to fat. For example, if we try to reduce weight too fast (by following a very-low-energy diet), our brain may think that there is a food shortage, and try to conserve calories. One method it uses to achieve this calorie-conservation, is to burn muscle instead of fat. Why? Because, compared to fat, muscle requires fewer calories to maintain.

Losing Muscle Tissue Lowers Metabolic Rate

Metabolic rate is the speed at which we use calories to fuel resting body functions, such as temperature maintenance, heart-beat, circulation, breathing and the millions of other biochemical functions which occur around the clock. Now, as stated above, our body needs more calories to maintain muscle tissue than fat tissue, so the more muscule we have, the more calories we burn, and therefore the higher our metabolic rate.

Effects of Repetitive Low Calorie Dieting on Metabolic Rate

As stated above, if we lose weight, we always lose a little muscle tissue. And if we follow very-low-calorie diets, this loss of muscle increases. In either case, our metabolic rate tends to fall, making it easier to gain weight in future because we now need fewer calories. Now when we stop dieting and revert to a higher calorie-intake, it's common to regain weight. This weight gain is exclusively fat. Thus as you can see, while dieting typically leads to a loss of fat AND muscle, weight regain is just fat. Therefore, if we engage in yo-yo dieting (weight cycling), gradually our body fat percentage gets bigger, our muscle percentage gets smaller, and our metabolic rate gets lower and lower. This means our calorie-needs get smaller and smaller. So each time we quit dieting and return to eating (say) our normal 2000 calories, we are likely to gain weight.

How to Prevent Weight Gain After Dieting

Here is some general advice to avoid the risk of gaining weight after dieting.

  • When dieting, choose a sensible diet containing 1000+ calories.
  • Eat regularly throughout the day - at least every 4 hours.
  • Aim to lose no more than 1-2 pounds per week.
  • Always combine your diet plan with regular exercise (inc. strength-training workouts) to boost muscle mass.

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