Why so many of us “weight cycle” – an interview with health expert, Zainab Sarwar

The concept of weight loss: the green apples and a glass of water with a measuring tape on black background

What is weight cycling?

Weight cycling is losing weight and regaining it over, losing it again, and then gaining it again. The process if repeated multiple times.  Weight cycles can be big (50 pounds or more) or small (5-10 pounds).

Why is it so common?

In my opinion and observation, an inability or unwillingness to make behavioral changes about diet and exercise is the most common predictor for regaining weight lost during dieting. People who successfully maintain their weight loss and do not weight cycle are those who are prepared to make changes to their lifestyle.

One of the major factors contributing towards weight cycle is that people consistently underestimate how many calories they eat and overestimate the amount of food that makes up a healthy portion. Although people who are successful in keeping weight off for many years tend not to strictly count calories, they are very aware of what and how much they eat.

Also, most dieters don’t maintain their losses—an estimated 80% of individuals who intentionally lose more than 10% of their body weight will regain that weight within a year. This makes weight cycling common.

Regardless of whether dieters lost weight using a short term or long term weight loss program, everyone who successfully kept weight off for five years or more incorporated exercise into their daily routine. 

Unfortunately, across the world, weight cycling is more common in women than men. Losing weight is achievable for women but maintaining the weight loss is rare. Since weight loss maintenance can prevent relapse, here are some of the influencing factors of weight loss maintenance in adult men, women and youth.

1- Maintaining high self-discipline

It is generally observed that people who successfully lose weight and keep it off do so successfully by following a proper routine. Most people, when they achieve their target weight or get close to their goal weight, lose their self discipline and from there starts their relapse process. Maintaining high self discipline involves following the right meal timings, keep your water intake in check, exercise portion control, regular exercise. 

In order to maintain your lost weight, work on developing personal strategies either yourself or with a professional help. Identify your weak personal areas and work on them. Developing personal strategies revolves around adapting a new lifestyle such as reduced sugar, more fruits and vegetables, regular exercise, and eating smaller portions. Applying personal strategies made women less prone to relapse.

2- Lack of psychological awareness

The problem for many people lies is that as soon as they hit their target weight or even get an inch closer to the target weight, they just simply let go of themselves and give in to their bad eating habits again. It happens with people looking at “weight loss” as a short–term goal and not willing to look at it as “healthy way of life.”  It happens because of lack of psychological awareness. One thing that’s common in people who are able to maintain their weight loss is the “mindful eating or consciousness.”Consciousness includes the quantity and type of food consumed and also the physical activity level to maintain weight loss. It’s always recommended to practice portion control and regular exercise in anyweight maintenance program.

3- Emotional status

Not coping properly with negative life events was found to be a reason for dieters to habitually overeat and relapse. It happens mostly with women. Most of the women suffering from relationship issues tend to link their poor body image as the cause of their relationship issues, but after losing weight, when things don’t get resolved , they just start emotional eating and relapse. Stress and low self-esteem make people prone to relapse, especially women. I always tell people to stop linking food with emotions and train your brain to get only energy from food and not the pleasure. 

4- Weight loss perceived as a difficult task

The perception people have of different aspects of dieting is an influencing factor . Weight management is perceived as ‘very difficult’ or ‘impossible’ by unsuccessful maintainers. It’s all in their minds.

If a person perceived weight loss as difficult, it made her/him more prone to relapse. 

5- Social influence (more common in women)

Friends and family are of great influence in starting a diet. If a friend recommended a certain diet, studies show that the participants were willing to try the diet. The prospective of dieting together was attractive for respondents. If friends were losing weight, the respondent also felt like losing weight. They didn’t want to be the only overweight person among friends. If people see a friend succeeding on a specific diet, they are more likely to try the diet. Unfortunately, it happens in some cases that if a friend successfully lost weight, then friends or family start distracting them as well by telling them that they used to look good before, or they look weak now, or otherwise make them feel miserable about their food choices.  This is where we see a relapse happening. Some friends do it out of jealousy unfortunately, but it’s on the dieter to realize that its for her own benefit and only she is the in charge of her body and mind. After all, it takes a lot of time and effort to lose weight so it’s quite easier to maintain it rather than regaining it all back.

Women are more prone to relapse because of this social influence.

6- Social norm on eating

The general perceived social norm on eating is that it’s fun to eat together and celebrate life events with unhealthy food. This is experienced by my women respondents generally.

7- Neighbors

The social dimension of the neighborhood had influence on my respondents; they often had drinks and snacks with neighbors which influenced unhealthy eating behavior 

Why is weight cycling so bad for your health ?

Weight cycling may increase the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, gall bladder disease and increased risk of heart diseases. Weight cycling may affect your mental health too, making you more likely to feel depressed about your weight.

Does weight cycling change metabolism? 

In my observation, weight cycling can make weight loss harder. The process of losing and regaining weight can slow your metabolism to a point where future weight loss attempts become more and more difficult. Metabolism slows down with age and the more you fall prey to weight cycling, the more you develop poor self image and ultimately lose motivation.

How to avoid weight cycling ?

The smartest way to avoid weight cycling is to pick a reasonable weight loss plan that provides slow and steady weight loss for long term.  

Once you’ve reached your goal weight, continue to exercise and watch what you eat. At some point, you will gradually begin to consume more calories, but you should never plan to return to the eating style that caused weight gain in the first place. Weight loss and weight maintenance are about making permanent lifestyle changes for long-term health and wellness.Y

If you have questions for Zainab, please send them to altM at asmauddin@gmail.com. We will feature them in our next Q/A with her.

If you’d like to reach out to Zainab, you can find her on WhatsApp at +971 52 986 5868 or via email at xainabsarwar@live.com

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