3 Tips on How to Stop Yo-Yo Dieting Once and for All
It seems that with every new year, a new fad diet pops up. Paleo, Keto, Atkins, South Beach, intermittent fasting, juice cleanses… you’ve tried them all.
They all work, right? At first. Then, things change.
Then you indulge your cravings and your diet is over. All the weight that you lost at first comes rushing back, sometimes with a couple more pounds.
With the weight gain, you feel the need to start a new diet. The new diet works… at first. Then the same thing happens again. Rinse and repeat.
This cycle is called “yo-yo dieting”, and if you struggle with it, you’re not alone. Nearly 30% of women are stuck in this cycle of gaining and losing at least 5 kg over and over. Being stuck in this cycle can lead you to wonder how to stop yo-yo dieting, and if breaking the cycle is even possible.
I have some great news for you – food & body freedom is possible, and you can learn to stop dieting. Ending the yo-yo dieting cycle starts with learning about your body and is sustained by learning how to love and respect your body instead.
The Problem with Yo-Yo Dieting
Learning how to stop yo-yo dieting starts with learning about your body. Yo-Yo dieting is harmful because your body loves consistency. The more familiar something is, the more you’ll like it. This is called the mere exposure effect, and it’s why you keep coming back to dieting even when it makes you miserable.
In order to break that cycle, you’ll need to start looking at the effects dieting has on your body, not just on your weight.
One of the most important organs that yo-yo dieting can affect is your thyroid. Your thyroid is a gland that helps maintain body temperature, weight, and healthy organ function. Rapid weight loss or gain can have a harmful effect on your thyroid. This is because the weight gain cycle causes stress in your body.
Stress in your body from restrictive dieting can lead to thyroid damage because your thyroid is there to keep things consistent. The yo-yo dieting cycle is a tough thing for your thyroid to keep up with. The longer you’re in this cycle, the harder it gets for your thyroid to heal.
A damaged thyroid involved in the complex system that runs your metabolism could lead your metabolism to permanently slow down. This means that your body burns fewer calories, so when you leave your diet, your body doesn’t speed up your metabolism to compensate.
Rapid weight gain and loss also upsets the most important organ in your body: your brain. Research suggests that weight cycling can lead to mental distress, like anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. In other words, if you’re unhappy with your body, dieting is part of the problem, not the solution.
These kinds of negative mental health effects are made worse by the financial and social stress yo-yo dieting causes. When learning how to stop yo-yo dieting, it’s important to pause and think about just how many things you “can’t do” because of diets.
Chasing fad diets leaves you always spending money on the latest “health foods”. There’s a new supplement, ingredient, recipe book, or meal kit to buy all the time. Even when you aren’t cooking at home, going out with friends is a nightmare.
Making plans to see a film or go to brunch ends up being something you dread. You’re surrounded by unhealthy snacks at the theatre, fluffy waffles at brunch, and your favourite forbidden foods on every menu.
Friends might pressure you to give in and “cheat”, but more likely the pressure to stick to your diet is internal. Dieting reinforces negative thought patterns and gives you reasons to criticise and judge yourself.
When you’re stuck in the pattern of dieting, this happens constantly. Wanting to “cheat” on your diet leads you down a path of self-judgement. You think poorly of yourself, believing that if you were “good enough” at dieting you wouldn’t ever want to eat “bad” food.
This self-judgment leads to fear of slipping up in front of others. You start to worry that if you cave into the cravings, you’ll be found out. Everyone will know you’ve “failed”.
The fear of being “caught or found out” and the self-judgment might keep you on your diet for a little while… but not for long. Eventually, you binge on those “bad” foods – often it’s to cope with the stress and anxiety of all that fear and judgement.
After a binge, the guilt, shame and self-judgement are stronger than ever. You might be tempted to punish yourself, abusing laxatives or exercise, denying yourself food, or other forms of self-punishment. At the very least you go back to restricting your food choices, and the cycle starts over.
Worst of all, even if you restrict, you still won’t be happy with your body. This can lead to emotional eating, where you turn to food to cope with negative emotions. Yo-yo dieting is even one of the biggest emotional eating signs to look for on your journey to food freedom.
How to Stop Yo-Yo Dieting
Next on our journey of learning how to stop yo-yo dieting is learning how to love and accept your body. The constant binge/restrict cycle might be why you can’t lose weight, but it definitely harms your relationship with yourself and your body.
Your relationship with yourself is where all this starts. Until you believe you are worthy of care, caring for yourself will be so much more difficult than it needs to be. That’s because until you learn to practise self-care, self-love and self-compassion, you’ll be hurting yourself mentally and emotionally every day.
Hurting yourself mentally and emotionally all the time makes it impossible for your mind to heal. You’ll be stuck in that stressful place of self-loathing and self-judgement, criticism, and an unhealthy cycle simply because your mind can’t move on from that.
Moving away from yo-yo dieting includes replacing unhealthy habits with healthy habits. I’m not just talking about food here, but truly healthy habits that heal both your mind and body. This includes rediscovering the joys of fresh food, moving your body in whatever way feels right for you, it could be going to the gym or a walk in the fresh country air and practising self-care…..
These healthy habits can help your body naturally drift to what we call “set point weight”. What is setpoint weight? It’s a range of weights that your body likes to stay at. In other words, a natural, healthy weight that fits ‘your’ body.
More importantly, healthy habits can help you be happier and guide you on your path to food & body freedom.
Food & body freedom. Imagine for a moment: you don’t have anxiety about food or your weight. You can eat your favourite “junk” food and not feel guilt or shame. There’s no more searching for a diet, no more hating yourself for the number on the scale, no more calorie counting or no more fighting with all your power not to have ‘naughty’ foods.
It sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?
The best news of all is that food & body freedom is achievable. You can find food freedom by following my food & body freedom (aka intuitive eating) principles.
When most people hear about this, their first question is, “Can intuitive eating help me lose weight?” Well, maybe and maybe not. Eating intuitive and weight loss doesn’t always go hand in hand, but listening to your body will help bring you to a healthy weight.
That might mean weight loss or weight gain, but when you’re practising intuitive eating (aka food freedom), it won’t matter. All that matters is listening to your body and being kind to yourself.
The three tips I have for learning how to stop yo-yo dieting can be summed up in one mantra: “I will listen to my body, I will eat what I want when I want, and I will speak kindly to myself when I pass by the mirror.” Let’s dive into these in a little more detail.
“I will listen to my body”
The first part of our mantra is the cornerstone to food & body freedom. The best and only way to successfully break the dieting cycle is to learn how to listen to your body. Just like speaking unkindly to ourselves, we all have years of experience with ignoring our bodies.
We’re all born listening to our bodies. Babies cry when they’re hungry, no matter how recently they ate. Toddlers run and jump and move their bodies as much as they need to, and they’ll drop off to sleep when they’re tired, even if it’s the middle of the afternoon.
Learning how to stop yo-yo dieting means you need to learn how to listen to your body again. What are your hunger cues? How do you know when you need some exercise or rest? Again, like speaking kindly to yourself, listening to your body will take some practice.
Start checking in with yourself. Are you happy? Sad? Angry? Bored? Then, think about how your body feels. Are you fatigued? Is your stomach growling? Are you thirsty? Finally, give your body and mind what they need. You might need to rest, have a snack, find an outlet for your emotions, or take some time for joyful movement.
Bingeing doesn’t feel good to our minds OR bodies, but the more we are kind to ourselves after a binge and know it is ok the less likely we are to binge again. The problem isn’t the foods we choose. The problem is the state of our minds when we choose them. How do we feel before the binge? What are we trying to ignore?
“I will eat what I want when I want”
If you’re in the same place I was a few years ago, this phrase probably sends you into a panic. Eating WHATEVER you want, WHENEVER you want? It’s a recipe for disaster, right? Actually, no.
Remember, the problem isn’t the food. The problem is ignoring your body and mind. If you don’t eat what you want when you want, it won’t be food freedom. The first step when learning how to stop yo-yo dieting is throwing restrictions out the window and giving yourself permission to eat all foods.
This means no more restricting what you eat or when. Even if you want to eat a whole chocolate cake at 10 am!
First, check-in with yourself emotionally. Why do you want to eat a whole chocolate cake at 10 in the morning? Did something happen that led you to seek comfort in food? Are you having a productive day and feel the need to reward yourself with something sweet? Or does a chocolate cake just really sound delicious?
If you’re just craving it, get the chocolate cake. Take your first bite. And then check in with yourself. How does your body feel? Does this feel comfortable? Am I enjoying eating it? If the answer is yes, keep eating. If the answer is no, stop eating. Your body will always tell you.
Keep checking in with your body as you eat, and stop when you’re satisfied. I just bet you’ll be done with your cake before the cake is gone.
If eating intuitively had restrictions, it would just be another diet. Food freedom is all about, well, freedom. No more obsessing over what you eat and when. Eat when you’re hungry, eat what sounds good, and stop when you’re satisfied. It’s as simple (and as difficult) as that.
“I will speak kindly to myself when I pass by the mirror”
For thousands of women, this is the hardest tip on the list. We’ve all spent years and years learning to pick ourselves apart in the mirror.
I invite you to start noticing your inner voice. This can be hard to do, since hating ourselves and being critical is often second nature, so take a moment to be truly mindful. Stand in front of a mirror and observe the thoughts that come to your mind about yourself and your body.
Would you say any of these things to a beloved friend? Chances are, the things you tell yourself are things you would never say to someone else. So why are you speaking to yourself this way?
Learning how to stop yo-yo dieting and love yourself means breaking this bad habit, but that’s easier said than done. The first step will be giving yourself dedicated time to practise a positive inner voice.
This can be done any time of day, but you’ll need to remind yourself. You might set an alarm to help you remember, or do it at a certain time of day, like every time you get out of the shower. Stand in front of the mirror, and find three things you like about your body. Then compliment yourself on them.
This might look like this:
“I love the way the curve at my hip catches the light.”
“I love the way my eyes sparkle.”
“This scar tells a story that I get to carry with me always.”
“These stretch marks are proof that I’ve grown and adapted to my environment.”
You deserve to be spoken to kindly, especially by yourself. Your body is beautiful just as it is.
Switching your internal narrative won’t happen overnight. After all, you’ve been criticising your body for years, maybe without even realising it! It will take lots of hard work, but gradually, you can start to love and accept your body instead. Speak kindly to yourself, at and away from the mirror.
Breaking the Yo-Yo Diet Cycle and Finding Food & Body Freedom
Breaking any cycle is incredibly difficult. Girls as young as five years old can start thinking about dieting, and these thoughts are usually formed by their mothers. This means that the dieting cycle has continued for generations. No wonder it’s so hard to stop dieting!
No matter how long you’ve been doing it, it is possible to learn how to stop yo-yo dieting. When you stop that cycle, you can start feeling comfortable in your body. You can find food freedom and enjoy all kinds of foods without shame or guilt.
And you can be happy with what you see in the mirror. Yes, really! Just think of how wonderful it will feel to wear what you want without finding a reason to hate your body.
Changing old patterns can be difficult to do on your own. That’s why I created my programmes. You deserve to have help and support while learning how to stop yo-yo dieting and find food freedom. You can work with me one-on-one, or find support in one of my small group sessions. No matter how you choose to embark on your journey, food freedom and a happier life await you. You can do this!