A weight loss and regain of as little as 10 pounds could raise your risk of some serious conditions.
- Yo-yo dieting, or losing and then regaining weight, can leave women at greater risk of developing certain risk factors for heart disease, according to new research presentedat the recent American Heart Association (AHA) meeting.
- Even losing and regaining as few as 10 pounds can leave you at risk.
- Slow, steady, and sustainable weight loss may be better to keep the pounds off, and also to guard against heart risk.
Often called yo-yo dieting or weight cycling, the process of losing weight only to regain it—plus even more, sometimes—and then whittle back down isn’t just frustrating. It can also have some serious health implications, according to new research presentedat the recent American Heart Association (AHA) meeting.
In the study, researchers from Columbia University presented evidence that weight cycling has an effect on seven heart disease risk factors in women.
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To reach that conclusion, they studied 485 women with an average body mass index (BMI) of 26—making them slightly overweight—and an average age of 37. The researchers assessed their health by using AHA-defined risk factors for cardiovascular health: smoking status, weight, diet, physical activity, cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar.
Nearly two-thirds said they’d had at least one episode of yo-yo dieting, which the researchers defined as losing 10 pounds or more in a year only to regain it. Those who yo-yo dieted were 82 percent less likely to have a BMI in the “healthy” range than those whose weights stayed regular.
They were also 65 percent less likely to be in the optimal range for the seven risk factors.
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Although more research needs to be done to determine long-term effects, there are some insights from this study in terms of why yo-yo dieting could impact heart health, according to lead researcher Brooke Aggarwal, M.D., assistant professor of medical sciences at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.
“We think it’s possible that every time the weight is regained, cardiovascular risk factors such as blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose nudge higher, above the baseline level,” she told Runner’s World.
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She added, “Also, weight that is lost is usually a mix of fat and some lean muscle tissue, whereas weight that is regained is all fat. This fat may be preferentially deposited in the abdomen, and abdominal fat has been strongly associated with risk for cardiovascular disease.”
Researchers weren’t able to look at the magnitude of cardiovascular risk of being overweight on a continual basis versus cycling up and down in weight over time. But they’ll be taking that into account in future studies, Aggarwal said.
“The findings in our current study do suggest that maintaining a consistent weight may be important for managing cardiovascular health, just as achieving a healthy body weight is,” she said.
Although the current findings didn’t include men, Aggarwal noted that previous research found a connection between weight cycling and much higher risk of cardiovascular death in middle age. However, she added, women are more likely than men to engage in yo-yo dieting and are therefore more prone to weight-cycling effects.
Also, life events like pregnancy and the transition to menopause make women more likely to accumulate weight during adulthood, Aggarwal said, and this may exacerbate weight cycling behaviors in women.
The takeaway message here? Slow and steady beats the yo-yo.
“I think our study highlights the importance of trying to achieve a healthy body weight in a sustainable way, and one that can become a lifestyle rather than a short-term fix,” said Aggarwal. “Making small changes and focusing on modest weight loss if needed, or even just prevention of further weight gain, may lead to lowered cardiovascular risk.”
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