It’s a scenario many women can relate to: You succeed at losing weight, only to gain it back six months later. The cycle continues until you go to a point where you give up. At the scientific conference of the American Heart Association (AHA), it was discussed that women who yo-yo diet as little as 10 pounds have a higher number of risk factors for heart disease than women who have never been on that gain-lose-gain merry-go-round.
In the study, researchers at Columbia University focused on 485 women, asking them how many times they’ve lost and then regained at least 10 pounds in any given year. The average age of the study subjects was 37, and the average BMI came in at 26.
Unsurprisingly, the researchers found that yo-yo dieting was very common; 73% of the study subjects reported losing and regaining a minimum of 10 pounds at least once—and some cycled the weight up to 20 times in their lifetime. The scary part: Women with a yo-yo dieting history scored lower on an AHA measure called “Life’s Simple 7.” These are seven heart-protective lifestyle markers the AHA has identified as being important to cardio health: “eat better,” “get active,” “lose weight,” “quit smoking,” “reduce blood sugar,” “control cholesterol,” and “manage blood pressure.”
The more times a woman yo-yo dieted, the worse she scored on the AHA measure, researchers found. “Achieving a healthy weight is generally recommended as heart healthy but maintaining weight loss is difficult and fluctuations in weight may make it harder to achieve ideal cardiovascular health,” Brooke Aggarwal, senior author of the study, said in a press release this link opens in a new tab.
The yo-yo dieters were also 82% less likely to have a BMI in the healthy range. That makes sense, as research shows that it’s common for people to lose weight quickly on a diet only to slowly gain it back. One 2015 study in Obesity Reviews stated that when it comes to dieting, “weight regain is generally the rule.” In fact, as much as two-thirds of the pounds lost is regained within the year. And almost all the dropped pounds come back within five years, the 2015 study found.
The authors of the latest study clarified that while their research found a link between yo-yo dieting and heart disease risk factors, they stated that more (and longer-term) research is needed.