How to Stop Yo-Yo Dieting: Foods That Make You Yo-Yo & How to Break the Cycle
I can’t believe it!
I was so careful this time…
I cleared out all of the junk food from my kitchen.
And I still blew my diet!!!
If you’re a yo-yo dieter, then you’ve certainly felt the frustration reflected in the scene above.
Yo-yo dieters are smart. They’ve done their homework and can easily tell a healthy food from a junky one, and explain how they know the difference.
Yet, despite their level of know-how, yo-yo dieters have trouble following their own better judgment.
When they start a weight loss plan, things go great for the first few weeks (maybe even the first few months), but eventually, the diet implodes and weight that was lost returns as they find themselves back at square one.
Here’s how I see it…
Most yo-yo dieters are hard on themselves.
Some think there’s a physical problem – “There’s something wrong with my body!”
Some think there’s a mental block – “There’s something wrong with my head!”
Some think they have both issues and end up feeling hopeless.
Every way they look at it, the problem is them…they are broken.
That’s simply not true.
And, in this post, I’ll prove it to you.
Yes, there is a physical and a mental component to yo-yo dieting, but the correction for both is not out of your reach, and the fix doesn’t require hours of therapy or a brutal eating routine.
All it takes to stop yo-yo dieting is a better understanding of how food affects you and a few simple tricks to get a fresh perspective.
How to Stop Yo-Yo Dieting: Fixing Your Food Choices
How Food Choices Affect Hunger and Cravings
Your body really, really likes balance.
Think about it:
Your body temperature is almost always 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit – kind of exact, isn’t it?
Your blood pH (i.e. acidity) level is almost always 7.4. If it drops to 6.8 or increases to 7.8, there’s a good chance you’ll die.
Your body needs to maintain balance (i.e. homeostasis) because your body is one big chemistry set. Too much heat or too much acid, and the chemical reactions that keep you alive don’t work.
This desire to stay balanced also applies to your blood sugar level and brain chemistry. When these things get out of whack, hunger and cravings are not far behind.
The foods you choose to have a lot to do with your blood sugar and brain chemistry.
Choose the wrong foods and you stay stuck in your yo-yo cycle.
Keep Blood Sugar Levels Steady to Stop Yo-Yo Dieting
The amount of sugar in your blood fluctuates all day long, but it’s meant to stay within a normal range.
If your blood sugar gets too high, your body turns the extra sugar into fat. (See my post on how the body makes and burns fat.)
If your blood sugar gets too low, you feel hungry.
When you’re prone to yo-yo dieting, you don’t want to get fat, and you don’t want to be bugged by hunger, so you need to do two things:
- Eat foods that prevent blood sugar spikes.
- Eat enough, so blood sugar doesn’t dip too low.
Fortunately, both of these tasks are easy to accomplish when you focus on fiber.
For those of you who know my story (I talk about it in my 4 Daily Habits Videos), I was an Olympic caliber yo-yo dieter when I was younger. I could lose 10 pounds and gain it back in record time.
If I could go back in time and give my yo-yo younger self a single piece of advice, it would be this…
Eat at least 30 grams of fiber a day.
Yep, the one thing I’d count to stop yo-yo dieting wouldn’t be calories, fat grams, or carbs; it would be fiber grams.
How Fiber Helps Stop Yo-Yo Dieting
- When you eat a lot of fiber, your blood sugar level stays steady. There is never a blood sugar spike to make fat, and there’s never a blood sugar crash to trigger hunger.
- To reach 30 grams of fiber in one day, I need to eat a lot of food. Fortunately, the best high-fiber foods are vegetables and beans, which are two of the best foods for weight loss.
So, a high-fiber diet means I lose weight and I’m never hungry.
If your past attempts at trying to figure out how to stop yo-yo dieting have failed, then start counting fiber grams.
Every day, you want to include high-fiber foods, like leafy greens, tomatoes, onions, black beans, garbanzo beans, apples, quinoa, almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, oatmeal.
These foods are easy to work into breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They fill you up and keep your blood sugar steady.
(Our Freedom Weight Loss Coaching Program comes with high-fiber meal plans, so the hard part of planning has been done for you.)
Keep Brain Chemistry Steady to Stop Yo-Yo Dieting
Your brain is like its own little chemistry set.
In your brain, you’ll find a special chemical called dopamine, which is a “feel-good chemical” that’s released anytime you eat.
Humans are creatures that need to survive on food (i.e. calories), so we were built and programmed to feel pleasure when we eat.
There are certain food combinations that cause a surge in dopamine, which makes your brain do backflips of joy. That combination is sugar (carbs), fat, and salt.
When these three ingredients are mixed, the food becomes chemically irresistible, and food manufacturers and fast-food restaurants know it.
Look at these ingredients…
Nutritional Facts from CalorieCount.com
These addictive foods cause a quick release of dopamine, so you feel extra good after eating them.
And, who doesn’t want to feel good, right?
Your brain is saying, “Yum-my, go eat some more of that!” And before you know it, your head is back in the frig looking for your next fix.
This craziness with your brain chemistry is what happens with sugar addiction and binge eating, which before you read this blog post would have put you back into your yo-yo cycle.
Here’s the thing…
Now that you know the secret behind addictive foods, you can avoid them.
If yo-yo dieting has been a problem for you, then you want to avoid processed foods and fast foods. This includes diet meals, like this Healthy Choice Frozen Meal.
Nutritional Facts from CalorieCount.com
Do you see the high amount of sugar, fat, and salt?
This meal is quick and easy and probably tastes good, but if you’re relying on these types of “diet foods” to lose weight, you’re going to have a hard time staying satisfied.
Instead, stick with whole foods.
- Make oatmeal from scratch instead of from a packet.
- Take a salad to work instead of Lean Cuisine.
- Have a homemade veggie and bean soup for dinner instead of Hamburger Helper.
Understand Sugar Withdrawal
Let me make you aware of something…
If your current diet is filled with processed foods and fast foods, then your switch to a healthy lifestyle will make you feel worse before you feel better. This ill-feeling is due to sugar withdrawal.
As far as your brain is concerned, sugar is a drug on par with the drugs that addicts get hooked on. When you give it up, you will get headaches, fatigue, a stomach ache, moody, and just feel lousy.
The crazy thing is that if you give in and eat something junky, you’ll feel better…momentarily.
This “better feeling” comes because you re-stimulated the pleasure center of your brain. This is the trap of yo-yo dieting.
You go on a healthy diet and suffer from withdrawal symptoms, so you eat some junk to “take the edge off”. That junk causes a spike in your blood sugar and gives you a rush of dopamine, which makes you feel good, and you’re hooked again.
As soon as you give in to the withdrawal, you reset the clock, and you’re back to being addicted.
Eating lots of vegetables and other healthy foods will help lessen the withdrawal symptoms, but just accept that there will be a few days of discomfort before the joy of living health kicks in.
How to Stop Yo-Yo Dieting: Steady Your Mind to Steady Your Eating
Once you’ve leveled your blood sugar and brain chemistry with better food choices, you’ve tackled a big part of how to stop yo-yo dieting.
Yet, better food choices are not the only hurdle you have to clear.
We all have some emotional link to food, and we eat certain foods even if we’re not hungry.
What do you have at a birthday party? Cake, of course.
What do you get when you go to the movie theater? Popcorn, duh.
What gets ordered during a football game? Pizza!
Everyone (and I’m looking at YOU) has some level of emotional attachment to food.
Our Freedom Weight Loss Coaching program is one of the few places that I know of that addresses this issue head-on.
In the program, I teach a five-part strategy for creating a new and beneficial weight loss mindset that solidifies your success and interrupts yo-yo dieting for good.
Here’s an equation I like to use:
Thoughts & Beliefs >> Habits & Behaviors >> Results
This equation shows how your Thoughts and Beliefs lead to your Habits and Behaviors and they, in turn, lead to the Results that you see.
Think about it…
- If you think it might rain (your thought), you carry an umbrella (your behavior).
- If you think you’ve already blown your diet (thought), you go ahead and eat dessert as well (behavior).
- If you think eating helps you deal with stress (thought), you will turn to it next time you need a stress reliever (behavior).
So, if you want to stop your destructive behavior (yo-yo dieting), you need to build new thoughts and beliefs.
Creating this new mindset is challenging because society has told us there’s something wrong with us if we’re out-of-control around food.
We become secretive about our eating habits, which piles up the negative feelings we have inside and buries us deeper into the cycle.
To deal with the emotional aspect of yo-yo dieting, you want to find an outlet for your feelings, such as journaling, prayer, meditation, or talking with a mentor or trusted friend.
These outlets allow you to look at the problem from a different angle, which gives you a fresh perspective.
Here are a few final thoughts about yo-yo dieting that might give you a fresh perspective.
Understand What It Means To Slip Up
You were doing so well with your eating, and then you had a cupcake.
This slip up means you’re one thing…Human.
To Err is Human.
I don’t know anyone (me included) who eats a perfect diet.
If you slip up, get back on track with the next meal, not the next day. When the weight is off, you’ll forget all about the slip-up.
Exercise Yes, But…
Exercise…I’m all for it, but not if it’s a form of self-punishment.
Be kind to yourself. Start at your comfort level, and then increase a little bit in both time and intensity as the days go on.
Understand That Motivation Comes and Goes
No one stays super-motivated 24/7.
I like to describe motivation as a pendulum that swings back and forth during the day.
You can expect times when you’re unmotivated, yet the good news is that you can also expect your motivation to return.
Simply understanding that the period of low motivation will pass can help you stay on track.
Understand That Yo-Yo Dieting is Not Harmless
Yo-yo dieting is not a benign thing, so it’s worth stopping.
Yo-yo dieters have a higher risk of serious diseases, like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Reevaluate a “Good Meal.”
For me, a meal has to be two things:
1. It has to taste good, and…
2. It has to leave me feeling good after I’ve eaten it
A heavy meal of a burger, fries, and a coke sure tastes good but leaves me feeling miserable.
A big bowl of Bean and Barley Veggie Soup with fruit for dessert tastes wonderful, and I feel great for the rest of the night.
By re-evaluating what a “good meal” means to you, you gain a new perspective on food and naturally make better food choices.
How to Stop Yo-Yo Dieting Recap…
So, the secret of how to stop yo-yo dieting is to tackle both parts: the physical component and the mindset one.
To stop swinging back and forth between weight loss and weight gain, you need to address both parts at the same time.
- Overcome the physical part of yo-yo dieting by focusing your diet on fiber, and removing addictive foods that combine sugar, fat, and salt.
- Overcome the emotional challenge by building a new perspective through journaling, prayer, or other self-reflective practices.
About the Author
Dr. Becky Gillaspy, DC graduated Summa Cum Laude with research honors from Palmer College of Chiropractic in 1991.