The yo-yo effect - when you lose weight quickly only to end up heavier than before

The yo-yo effect - when you lose weight quickly only to end up heavier than before

Almost everyone who has ever been on a diet is aware of the dreaded yo-yo effect.

In this article you will find out what it is, what causes it and how you can avoid it in order to maintain your dream weight for good.

What is the yo-yo effect?

For weeks you cut out all sugar and count every single calorie only to weigh more after a few weeks than you did before the diet. Most diets drastically reduce your calorie intake – but usually only for a short time. This way you lose a lot of weight in a short period of time. This may sound tempting at first, but beware it won’t last long.

The faster you lose weight, the higher the risk that you will gain it back again. As soon as you increase your calorie intake, the number on the scale will rise again. Your final weight may even be higher than where you started from. If you go on several diets in a row, your body weight will go up, down and up again like a yo-yo. Despite all this, about 20 percent of people who have been on a diet do manage to maintain their weight loss long term. Set yourself a new goal and be one of the success stories!

How to achieve long-term weight loss without the yo-yo effect

The yo-yo effect - when you lose weight quickly only to end up heavier than before

In order to maintain your dream weight long term and not fall into the viscious yo-yo effect cycle, you should consider the following things:

Lose weight slowly.

Of course it sounds tempting to lose 10 kilograms within 4 weeks. However, in order to achieve long-term success and not damage your health, you should avoid diets in which you very suddenly and drastically reduce your calorie intake. A healthy rate of weight loss is about 1 kilogram per week. And, even if you lose less than this, after 3 months your weight loss will have added up. Small successes day after day will lead you to your goal. Be patient and give your body the time it needs! This will help you to be more successful in the long run. Remember this parable: “in the race of life, the tortoise beats the hare every time”.

Change your diet for good!

In order to lose weight and keep it off, you need to make permanent changes to your diet. In addition to giving you a positive body feeling this is also good for your health. If you only change your diet for a certain period of time and then fall back into old habits, there is a high risk that the lost pounds will simply reappear.

Do without empty calories!

Empty calories are found in foods that provide many calories but few nutrients. These include white bread, soft drinks and fast food. Instead, you should eat foods that are rich in vitamins and nutrients. These include wholemeal products, fruit and vegetables. Our free of charge food list shows you how to replace unhealthy foods with healthy foods.

Stay strong and resist unnecessary snacks!

Sweet snacks and sugary drinks have been proven to make you feel hungry again soon after you have consumed them. To avoid this, you should avoid unnecessary snacking. This will definitely pay off! If you are very hungry between meals, then you should choose a healthy snack such as a piece of fruit or vegetable sticks.

The yo-yo effect - weight loss diet

Incorporate more movement into your life!

Increasing the number of calories you burn in everyday life can be very easy. Take the stairs instead of the lift, and walk or cycle instead of taking the car or bus. Going for a walk during your lunch break or after work is not only good for your mental health, but also burns calories.

Increase your training program slowly!

In order to maintain your motivation long term, increase your training program slowly and don’t overdo it at the beginning. If you are starting from a sedentary lifestyle, do not attempt a long distance run on day one. Just going for a walk is an improvement on before. You can gradually build up towards doing longer and more intensive units.

Build muscles and maintain them!

It is important to build and maintain muscles, since they burn more calories than fat, even at rest. The best way to achieve this is to incorporate regular strength training into your exercise programme. Since muscles are made up of protein, you should eat a protein-rich diet to assist their growth. Take a look at our article which has compiled everything you need to know about protein and a table of the most protein-rich foods. Our delicious low carb recipes for losing weight will assist you with this perfectly.

Motivational tips to stop you falling into the yo-yo trap

two happy women sitting on the beach eating watermelons
  1. Keep a calendar or diary in which you tick off each day you successfully stick to your plan! At the end of each week you can see what you have achieved. Don’t beat yourself up if a day didn’t go to plan, instead, try to analyse what went wrong.
  2. Setting goals is important! But if you set yourself the goal of losing 20 kilograms by the end of the year, the goal will seem too far away and simply unattainable. Therefore it is helpful to formulate smaller sub-goals, in addition to your overall goal, e.g. “What do I want to achieve this month?”.
  3. Always keep your goal in mind! To do this, put small notes or photos on your desk, refrigerator or coffee table. This helps to keep you motivated so that nothing stands in the way of your goal!
  4. Share your plans and goals with friends and family! This will encourage you to persevere and not give up

Causes of the yo-yo effect

Diets usually reduce your calorie intake drastically and abruptly. As a result, your body puts your metabolism on the back burner and reduces your energy requirements. Your body goes into starvation mode.

Since fat is the main form of energy storage in our body, carbohydrate and protein reserves are the first to be used up during a diet. Only then are the fat deposits attacked. The consumption of the protein reserves leads to the breakdown of muscles. Since muscles use up a lot of energy, as your muscle mass decreases, so does your basal metabolic rate. To lose weight you need to consume less calories than before your diet. If you then increase your calorie intake again, your body will first replenish its fat deposits leading to an undesirable effect of fat storage. As a result, you gain weight and after a while you usually weigh more than before the diet.

Avoid the yo-yo effect - its effects on body and mind

yo-yo effect weight loss psyche diet

In addition to drastic weight reduction, diets can lead to a number of unpleasant side effects

  • For example, frequent fatigue, feeling limp and listless and a decrease in your concentration and attention span.
  • Your immune system is weakened. Your susceptibility to diseases increases and existing diseases can be fought less effectively.
  • Your nails can become brittle, and your skin flaky, dry and flabby. Hair can become dry, and limp and hair loss can occur. 
  • Your musculature will break down due to the reduced amount of calories. This can have enormous consequences on the internal organs, including the heart muscle (it can lead to a disturbed heartbeat). Lung performance also decreases which can lead to shortness of breath and thus to quicker fatigue.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) has documented in several studies negative effects of the yo-yo effect on blood pressure, the risk of heart attack and even mortality rate.
  • Headaches, indigestion, dizziness, bad breath and gum disease can also occur.
yo-yo effect diet weight loss nutrition

In addition to these physical aspects, crash diets with a subsequent yo-yo effect also have an impact on your psychological well-being

  • Fluctuating body weight has a negative effect on your self-esteem.
  • You may experience feelings of failure and loss of control because you have not reached your goal again. This often ends in self-reproach.
  • Comments, such as “Have you gained weight again?” or “Well, that didn’t last that long!” support these thought processes
  • Constant weight fluctuations can also lead to depressive moods and addictions.
  • Ultimately, constant weight fluctuations and the failure to achieve your goals affects your motivation. You do not tend to experience the same high level of motivation in your third diet as in your first. In the back of your mind are the two diets that failed, if they had worked you wouldn’t be on the third diet.

So what is the alternative to the yo-yo effect?

Have you been on countless diets but the scale still shows the same old weight or perhaps even more? You are not alone! 72 percent of women and 59 percent of men living in Germany have followed at least one diet, but only very few have been able to maintain their reduced weight after the diet. To make sure that you belong to the group that does keep the weight off, don’t reduce your calorie intake too quickly.

For long-term weight loss success, you should not only eat a balanced diet but also make sure that you do not lose weight too quickly. Stick to the following:

  1. Drink plenty of water.
  2. Make sure you get at least 7 hours sleep.
  3. Add spice to your foods if you can tolerate it.
  4. Eat lots of protein and vegetables and a few healthy fats
  5. Exercise regularly.

Frequently asked questions and answers

Yes, even without a diet you can still reach your dream weight. The most effective way to achieve this is to eat in a way that is tailored to your individual needs. An individual nutrition plan helps you to reach your goals without the yo-yo effect and to keep the weight off for good.

By dieting you often limit your nutrition, which means that your body is not supplied with all nutrients it requires. With a personalized nutrition plan, you can be sure that your body receives all the nutrients it needs. Food cravings are kept at bay and you do not have to fear the yo-yo effect.

Your calorie requirement depends on your height, age, sex, weight, body composition and activity level. You can calculate your basal metabolic rate with a formula and add a PAL (= physical activity level) factor.


  • Prof. Dr. Froböse, I. (2011). Das Anti-Jojo-Prinzip. Einmal Abnehmen für immer. München: GU.
  • Ramage, S., Farmer, A., Eccley, K. A. & McCargar, A. (2014). Healthy strategies for successful weight loss and weight maintenance: a systematic review. Journal of Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 39 (1), 1-20.
  • Wing, R. R. & Phelan, S. (2005). Long-term weight loss maintenance. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 82, 222-225.

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