Is Yo-Yo Dieting Normal?

Is it realistic to expect to stay the same size forever?

How often has your weight changed in the past few years? According to a new survey of 2,300 British women, about 21 percent of us have yo-yo-dieted at least five times. In fact, 11 percent said they'd done that at least 10 times, while six percent have yo-yo dieted more than 20 times.

Let's be clear on one thing: Yo-yo dieting is bad news. That's where you lose a bunch of weight by drastically cutting calories and then put it right back on, quick like a bunny when you go back to business-as-usual eating. Pretty much everybody knows by now that this style of weight loss wreaks havoc on your body, to say nothing of the toll it takes on your body image, as you constantly battle feelings of failure and the whole good food/bad food dichotomy.

But whenever I hear stats like these on the prevalence of yo-yo dieting and the expected handwringing responses of oh my God, we're all so unhealthy and getting fatter, I have to ponder whether the subjects in these studies are really oscillating between Master Cleanses and McDonalds binges on the regular -- or if they just think they must be doing something unhealthy because their weight keeps shifting.

We're conditioned to think that health equals thin -- so, to be truly healthy, we're convinced you need to be perennially thin. And the diet industry plays right into this, by promising that if you'd only follow this pay-per-pound diet plan or eat these weird lollipops or buy whatever else they're selling that you'll lose the weight and keep it off forever.

But then life happens. You decide to write a novel or learn French or buy a house and spend all your free time working on those projects instead of exercising. Or you have a baby and suddenly, just showering seems like a major time management achievement. Keeping your weight exactly the same requires constant vigilance, time and effort. And there are times -- maybe even whole years -- when you don't have any vigilance, time or effort to spare. When maintaining that so-called perfect weight just can't be your top priority. Nor should it be, because life is about so much more than your bikini size. If you're out there living a full and happy life, your weight is going to change. Sometimes it will go up, when life requires you to pay more attention to something else. Sometimes it will go back down, like when you find the kind of exercise that makes you so happy, you're hopping off to do it whenever you get the chance.

When I stopped to think about this, I realized that in the past 10 years, my own weight has fluctuated across a 30 pound range several times. Some nutritionists would say that's unhealthy -- maybe even evidence that I've been yo-yo dieting. They advocate weighing yourself every day so you can stay on top of even one or two pound changes in your weight.

I say, you're looking at a full life. The year I decided to run two half-marathons? I hit the low end of that range. The year I took on an intense reporting project requiring long hours and meals eaten on the fly? I hit the high end. Do I wish I was always running half-marathons and never taking on crazy work projects? Absolutely not, because both experiences were amazing and rewarding and made me proud and happy in different ways.

Obviously, I'm not in favor of crash diets or any other extreme measure that causes your weight to spike up and down. But a big part of a healthy body image is understanding that your weight is going to change and that's normal. In fact, it just might be a sign that you've got a pretty wonderful life.



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