University of Iowa Health Science Relations and
Kristi J. Ferguson, MSW, PhD
Associate Professor of Community & Behavioral Health/Internal Medicine
First Published: 2000
Last Revised: 2003
Peer Review Status: Internally Peer Reviewed
Around October and November, many Americans go on diets so they
can be slimmer when the holiday season arrives. Unfortunately, many
who do lose weight will begin to put it back on only months later.
This is often referred to as yo-yo dieting, the cycle of dieting
followed by regaining weight.
Research continues as to whether yo-yo dieting is dangerous to
cardiovascular health. However, most doctors agree that ending the
cycle of losing and gaining weight is important to one's
psychological health. "Successful weight loss is as much a mental
approach as controlling what you eat," says Dr. Kristi J. Ferguson,
associate professor of medical education at
the University of Iowa College of Medicine.
Although cutting back on high-fat foods and eating healthier is
helpful, focusing on one's eating behavior is essential to ending
yo-yo dieting, Ferguson says. "People need to be aware of what
triggers their overeating."
Instead of focusing on a number, such as weight, Ferguson advises
dieters to focus on behaviors. This includes happiness, as well as
sadness. "Many people overeat not only when they are under stress,
but also at social occasions." Once dieters focus on what triggers
their overeating, they can begin to make gradual changes over
"Dieters need to look at making life-long changes, not temporary
ones," Ferguson says. "People put weight back on when they revert
back to their old eating habits."
People can learn about their own problem areas in losing weight
from previous dieting experiences. "Some people find that keeping
'problem' foods out of the kitchen is helpful. Others benefit from
doing some form of exercise," Ferguson says.
A dieter may also consider seeking outside professional help if he
or she needs an extra boost in sorting out issues. "Some people who
have ended yo-yo dieting found weight loss groups helpful in
identifying behaviors that needed to be changed," Ferguson says.
For more information about losing weight, talk to your family
doctor or dietitian.