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“I want my body back!” Then stop weight cycling!

Michelle May


Weight cycling (weight loss followed by weight gain), is the frustrating but predictable outcome of yo-yo dieting. Often the common refrain, “I want my body back!” is followed by restrictive dieting that only leads to more weight cycling! Here’s why and what to do instead.

I want my body back!

I overheard this conversation in the dressing rooms next to mine: Stop-weight-cycling

Woman 1: I want my body baaaaaack!

Woman 2: Me too Mom! After the kids, “things” never went back to the way they were. I’ve deprived myself, tortured myself at the gym, and even begged my doctor for a pill!

Woman 1: I know honey, but I hate to tell you. It isn’t going to get any easier as you get older.

Who “has” your body?

I couldn’t get that phrase out of my head… I want my body back!

Where did it go? Who has it? Why did you give it away? Whose body do you have now? How does your body feel about being unwanted?

That familiar phrase, I want my body back, captures a feeling you might identify with too: Feeling so disconnected from your body that you don’t claim it anymore, and instead, wish for a body you “had” in the past—ironically, a body you probably didn’t want then either!

Why does this happen? And what would I have told these women if I’d had the nerve?

How you “lost” your body in the first place

There are many changes that occur naturally over time affecting the shape, size, and function of your body: Maturation and hormonal changes, childbirth, aging, stress, illnesses and injuries, changes in your environment, activity, and diet—to name just a few.

Fortunately, your amazing body has the incredible ability to morph and adapt to these constantly changing forces. After all, you’re alive and reading this now, aren’t you?

The problem with the natural process of adaptation begins when you head down the wrong path: Disparaging self-talk about your changing body and restrictive dieting to “get your body back.”

You see, there’s a lot of evidence that diets don’t work long term. This is because your body weight is defended by a powerful biological system that reacts to a negative energy balance by lowering your metabolism and increasing hunger, food preoccupation, and hedonic (enjoyment) responses to food.(1)

The eat-repent-repeat cycle that ensues further disconnects you from the body that was doing exactly what it was supposed to do: adapting to change. The added frustration and guilt contribute to internalized weight stigma (which is what I overheard those women expressing in their dressing rooms).

Little did I know that my first diet around age 12 would start me down the path of yo-yo dieting and weight cycling that I faithfully followed for over 25 years. And now I’ve helped thousands of people who had been yo-yo dieting and weight cycling for even longer than that!

Why weight cycling matters

Weight cycling takes a huge toll on your health, energy, money, time, and joy. In fact, some of the issues that have been blamed on weight may be caused or exacerbated by weight cycling!

  • Weight cycling is associated with greater weight gain, less physical activity, and a higher prevalence of binge eating.(2)
  • Women who weight cycle gain more weight.(3)
  • Weight cycling is associated with greater symptoms of depression (3).
  • It is also associated with osteoporosis with fractures, high blood pressure, certain types of cancers, heart disease (4), and diabetes.(5)
  • In one study of over 500 men, weight cycling was associated with increased mortality, whereas stable “obesity*” did not increase mortality.(6) (*The term “obesity” is often used in research but pathologizes body size, while studies like this raise questions about that.)

Stop weight cycling and reclaim your body!

I resisted the urge to call out over the dressing room wall:

Stop! Don’t talk about your body that way! It’s right there and it can hear you! Stop subjecting it to cruel and unusual punishment for defending itself! There is another way! Even if you don’t know how to do it yet, or it sounds too hard or too good to be true, there IS another way! You AND your body deserve it!

Later I wondered if I should have just said it anyway. I know it would have been rude since they didn’t ask for my opinion—but what if I they had been willing to listen? I could have saved them both many more years of pain and unhappiness.

But you’re not in the dressing room next door. You’re reading this, so I can safely assume you’re at least willing to listen.

STOP. Take your body back and treat it with the respect it deserves!

Take your body back!

One of the keys to reclaiming your body is to stop subjecting it to yo-yo dieting and weight cycling. That’s what we teach you how to do at Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Programs!

Here’s what you’ll learn:

  • How to make decisions about food that don’t require you to look anything up or write anything down.
  • How to eat the foods you love without losing control or feeling guilty.
  • How to love the foods you eat – mindfully and joyfully – without paying penance with extra exercise or future deprivation.
  • How to meet your emotional needs without turning to food all the time.
  • How to nurture your whole self and create a self-care buffer zone to increase your health, energy, and appetite for life.

If you’ve been reading about mindful eating for awhile but just haven’t taken action, this is your time to overcome the doubt, fear, or inertia that’s keeping you stuck!

  1. Start reading (or rereading) Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat (even just the first chapter which you can download from this link free!)
  2. Get guidance and support. We provide Mindful Eating Workshops, a Support Community, self-paced programs, and coaching.
  3.  If you’re ready for transformation, join me for our next Mindful Eating Retreat.

(1) Mauldin, K., May, M., Clifford, D. (2022). The consequences of a weight‐centric approach to healthcare: A case for a paradigm shift in how clinicians address body weight. Nutrition in Clinical Practice. https://doi.org/10.1002/ncp.10885

(2)  Field, A. E., Manson, J. E., Taylor, C. B., Willett, W. C., & Colditz, G. A. (2004). Association of weight change, weight control practices, and weight cycling among women in the nurses’ health study II. International Journal of Obesity, 28(9), 1134–1142. https://doi.org/10.1038/sj.ijo.0802728 

(3) Madigan, C., et al. (2018). Is weight cycling associated with adverse health outcomes? A cohort study. Preventive Medicine, 108, 47-52.

(4) Tylka, T., et al. (2014.) The weight-inclusive versus weight-normative approach to health: Evaluating the evidence for prioritizing well-being over weight loss. Journal of Obesity.

(5) Park, K.-Y., Hwang, H.-S., Cho, K.-H., Han, K., Nam, G. E., Kim, Y. H., Kwon, Y., & Park, Y.-G. (2019). Body weight fluctuation as a risk factor for type 2 diabetes: Results from a nationwide cohort study. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 8(7), 950. https://doi.org/10.3390/jcm8070950

(6) Rzehak, P., Meisinger, C., Woelke, G., Brasche, S., Strube, G., & Heinrich, J. (2007). Weight change, weight cycling and mortality in the ERFORT male cohort study. European Journal of Epidemiology, 22(10), 665–673. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10654-007-9167-5 

This article has been updated from a previously published version.

If you enjoyed this article, here are three more to help you:

Diet culture: An outdated paradigm whose time is up

How Long Does It Take to Learn to Eat Mindfully?

Four common eating challenges

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