Have you ever been on a diet? Have you been on and off many diets? If so, chances are you experienced weight loss, and then weight gain. In some cases, you may have gained more weight than you lost. This phenomena is known as weight cycling, or “yo yo dieting”.  A recent study of post-menopausal women found that weight cycling can increase heart disease risk. While blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood sugar all improve with weight loss, they often return to higher levels when weight in regained; even when only 70% of the weight is regained.

This study observed 100 women over a year who participated in a 5-month weight loss program and lost an average of about 25 pounds during that period. They were then monitored for one year. Most women regained 70% of the weight they lost, yet experienced worsened diabetic and cardiovascular risk factors, according to researchers. The women who maintained their weight loss did not have any increased risk factors.

This small study reinforces the important idea of weight maintenance. Rather than looking for quick weight loss programs, it’s far better to take a look at your overall lifestyle (how you eat, how much physical activity you get, your problem eating habits and behaviors), and gradually work on each problem area individually, losing weight more slowly over time, and maintaining that weight loss. Other studies have shown that a mindful approach is effective.

If you’ve found yourself in the yo-yo cycle with diets and weight – stop. As the new year approaches, begin to become more mindful of your eating and your actual hunger:

  • How hungry are you? Listen to your body, eat less when less hungry. Be sure to include a fruit or vegetable at any snack or meal when you notice your hunger is stronger
  • Slow down and stop eating when you are full
  • Enjoy each bite of food. Notice how it smells, feels in your mouth, and tastes
  • Try to eliminate distractions at meal times, so that you can focus on hunger level and fullness cues – pay attention to the meal or snack. Avoid reading, talking on the phone, working at your computer, or any other distractions

These simple techniques can help you come to terms with your problem eating behaviors. Ultimately, you’ll eat less, enjoy what you eat, and gradually lose weight. Try keeping a journal for the new year to help you tune in to when, how, why, where, and how much you eat. Make this year healthy, and happy.