Skip to main content

Military Health System

Ask the Doc: The Dangers of Yo-Yo Diets and How to Avoid Them

Image of Senior Airman Thomas McMurray with the 387th Expeditionary Support Squadron Force Protection prepares for a bench press at Al Mubarak Air Base, Kuwait, May 13, 2021 . Senior Airman Thomas McMurray with the 387th Expeditionary Support Squadron Force Protection prepares for a bench press at Al Mubarak Air Base, Kuwait, May 13, 2021 (Air Force Airman 1st Class Kaitlyn J. Ergish).

Recommended Content:

Total Force Fitness | Physical Fitness | Nutritional Fitness | Ask The Doc

Dear Doc: I suppose I'd consider myself a "gym rat." I've got quite a bit of muscle mass. I guess I'm what you could refer to as "stocky." This tends to be a problem around PRT (Physical Readiness Test) time. I'm a perfectly healthy guy in my 20s, but I have a lot of anxiety when it comes to weighing in.

I often resort to practically starving myself for a few weeks before the PRT and then recovering by eating a few sizeable meals after.

I've heard that this kind of "yo-yo dieting" isn't exactly the smartest thing to do and, honestly, I usually don't feel very good for a few days after. I also try to stay away from the many "fad diets" out there (Keto, intermittent fasting, Paleo, etc.), but I'd really like to know what I can do to avoid either of these things. Also, what are the dangers of what I'm currently doing and these types of diets?

-Petty Officer 2nd Class Jim Ratt

Illustration of a male face with the words Dear PO2 Ratt: Many service members face the same issues. I found just the person to talk to about this. I contacted Army Maj. Jordan DeMay, nutrition domain lead for the Army's Holistic Health and Fitness (H2F) program at U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command's Center for Initial Military Training at Fort Eustis, Virginia. Here's what he said:


Weight is one measure used to determine how healthy a person is. It is not the end-all, be-all. However, in the military, that notion is complicated, to say the least. But there are several steps that you can take to improve your physical readiness without sacrificing how you feel.

Physical activity is a key component of maintaining one's health. A mix of cardiorespiratory, resistance, and flexibility training should be included as a part of an ongoing exercise plan. However, you cannot out-exercise a bad diet. Therefore, you must also have a healthy eating pattern that you can maintain long-term. In doing so, foods should not be labeled as 'good' or 'bad.' Instead, a healthy eating pattern should be centered on a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains, with other foods added in moderation.

The reason dietitians recommend staying away from yo-yo dieting or weight cycling is due to the way you may lose that weight. If you attempt to lose a lot of weight fast, you likely will lose fat (which is good) and muscle (which is bad). When you combine that with overeating after meeting your goal weight, you compound the problem as most of those extra calories are going to be stored as fat. In this case, you most likely will have a decrease in muscle mass and an increase in fat mass. Rather than crash dieting, a smart strategy to lose weight is to aim for losing about a pound or two a week, while incorporating all components of your exercise plan (cardio, resistance, and flexibility) and establishing a healthy eating pattern. This will allow you to maintain your lean mass while losing fat mass.

In terms of fad diets, the mere definition of fad is the primary reason to avoid such diets. A diet should not be short-lived. Instead, aim to establish an eating pattern you can maintain for the long run. It should provide the proper amounts and types of food necessary to fuel your body for the demands you place on it. This may look different if you have a physically demanding job compared to someone with a more strategic or cognitive role. While there are circumstances when your diet may change temporarily, such as during deployment, maintaining a consistent, healthy eating pattern is the primary goal.

Beyond achieving a healthy eating pattern, I would encourage you to focus on developing healthy eating behaviors. While more emphasis is often placed on what you eat, it is just as important to consider why and how you are eating. To do so, there are a variety of self-reflection questions you should consider.

-How Well do you plan?

If you are going to maintain a healthy eating pattern, you must have access to the foods you need to be successful. Create a weekly menu for your meals and snacks. That menu is then your guide to developing a shopping list. This will ensure you have the right foods available when you need them and help keep you on budget by stopping you from buying foods you do not need.

-Think about why you are eating?

Are you truly hungry or are emotions driving the amount or types of foods you are choosing? Perhaps certain social situations impact your food choices, such as when a coworker brings donuts to work. Or is your environment influencing your food choices? Examples of environmental factors are the number and type of food outlets you pass on your way home from work or product placement to induce impulse purchases at a grocery or convenience store. The better you can identify factors that affect your food choices, the better you will be at limiting those influences that can derail your progress to a healthier lifestyle.

-Which foods are you putting in your body?

Putting low-grade fuel or skipping tune-ups will eventually cause your car to break down. The same is true for your body. Limiting processed foods (high in fat, salt, and sugar) and focusing on high-quality items (foods with a high vitamin and mineral content compared to the number of calories) will help keep you in tip-top shape.

-Do you practice other mindful eating tactics?

Try to listen to your body's cues. Your stomach will communicate with your brain when you are full. The only problem is that this takes about 20 minutes. Slowing your pace of eating can help you to recognize these fullness cues. It is also helpful to just eat, when you are eating. Distractions can mask signs of fullness. Playing on your phone, watching television, or reading can all cause these distractions.

By this point, you may be saying to yourself, "but eating healthier is so much more expensive." While that is the case in some situations, there are ways we can lessen the cost and still eat a healthy diet. Buying fruits and vegetables seasonally can increase variety while decreasing your grocery cost. Also, some people often associate lean proteins only with meat products. However, nuts, beans, seeds, and legumes pack a hefty protein punch at a much lower cost than meat products and you will get some fiber and other nutrients to go with it.

I know I've covered a lot. The best place for you to start is to set a few short and long-term goals. These goals can include diet and physical activity, but also consider other aspects that can positively impact your health. Look to improve your sleep, mainly the duration and quality. Additionally, stress management is another area that can influence how you feel and your overall health. Tackle goals that are 1.) the most attainable for you and 2.) the ones that will have the biggest impact on your health. If you need more information or resources, check out the Warfighter Nutrition Guide found on the Human Performance Resources by CHAMP website. Best of luck!


PO2 Ratt, If you're looking to lose a few pounds (or more), it looks like slow and steady is your best bet. It also looks like awareness and planning are key factors in facilitating real change in your diet and exercise routines.

Hopefully, you can take Maj. DeMay's tips and adapt them to best fit your schedule and lifestyle. Additionally, here's hoping you can get to a place where you're satisfied with both your muscularity and your weight. I don't think you necessarily need to give up one for the other.

Good luck my friend and as always…take care out there!

You also may be interested in...

Army Dietician Shares Importance of Healthy Eating: Snacking

Video
8/3/2022
Army Dietician Shares Importance of Healthy Eating: Snacking

With the start of school right around the corner, Capt. Caitlyn Shaver, chief of clinical nutrition at Blanchfield Army Community Hospital, explains the importance of healthy snacking.

Recommended Content:

Nutritional Fitness | Back to School

Army Dietician Shares Importance of Healthy Eating: Meals on the Go

Video
8/3/2022
Army Dietician Shares Importance of Healthy Eating: Meals on the Go

With the start of school right around the corner, Capt. Caitlyn Shaver, chief of clinical nutrition at Blanchfield Army Community Hospital, explains the importance of balanced meals-on-the-go.

Recommended Content:

Back to School | Nutritional Fitness

Wellness Fair Showcases Ample Resources at Naval Hospital Bremerton

Article Around MHS
8/2/2022
Military personnel demonstrating a grip therapy

Naval Hospital Bremerton hosted a holistic Wellness Fair in late July 2022.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Performance Nutrition: Fuel Your Body and Mind | Total Body Preventive Health - Dental, Medical & Mental | Nutritional Fitness | Health Readiness Support

Ask the Doc: Can I Develop Sudden Food Allergies?

Article
8/1/2022
Allergy Test

Have you ever had an allergic reaction and not know you had an allergy?

Recommended Content:

Nutritional Fitness | Ask The Doc

How Performance Nutrition Can Help You Maintain Readiness

Article
7/29/2022
A person serving himself a salad

Performance nutrition is a major key to force readiness.

Recommended Content:

Performance Nutrition: Fuel Your Body and Mind | Total Force Fitness | Nutritional Fitness

Yoga Shield: Building Mental and Physical Resiliency

Article Around MHS
7/27/2022
Military personnel doing yoga

More than 30 Airmen assigned to the Ohio National Guard’s 178th Wing and the Iowa National Guard’s 132nd Wing began a week-long, 60-hour yoga training program July 18 at the 178th Wing in Springfield, Ohio.

Recommended Content:

Physical Fitness | Psychological Fitness

Mind-Body Mental Fitness

Article Around MHS
7/27/2022
Mountain view

The lifestyle of active duty service members and their families comes with unique stressors that can often be compounded by living overseas. What most people don’t realize is that stress is a normal part of life. The feelings of stress are just indicators that something in our life needs attention, and even presents a possibility for positive change and growth.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Physical Fitness | Psychological Fitness | Stress | Mental Health is Health Care

Teddy Roosevelt, Navy Medicine, and the Birth of Physical Readiness

Article Around MHS
7/25/2022
Military personnel in exercise drill on deck of Navy ship

Today’s U.S. Navy espouses a “culture of fitness,” and “physical readiness,” but this was not always the case. In the early 1900s, many including the president himself, Theodore Roosevelt, were appalled by the lack of physical conditioning in the Navy.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Physical Fitness

How Registered Dietitians Can Help You Fuel for Peak Performance

Article
7/25/2022
A woman leads a presentation.

Registered dietitians can help service members reach their goals with healthy and safe options.

Recommended Content:

Nutritional Fitness

Registered Dietitians Take a Run at Performance Nutrition

Article Around MHS
7/22/2022
Military personnel at a run relay

There’s a nourishing parallel between running a 200-mile relay to conducting flight deck operations or being involved in field exercises.

Recommended Content:

Nutritional Fitness

August Performance Triad Month

Article Around MHS
7/21/2022
Color graphic depicting aspects of wellness.

As part of its August “P3 for All” campaign, the U.S. Army Public Health Center is encouraging all Army leaders, soldiers, family members and soldiers for life to embrace the synergy of sleep, activity and nutrition, the core components of the Performance Triad, along with the important elements of mental readiness and spiritual readiness.

Recommended Content:

Total Force Fitness | Physical Fitness | Nutritional Fitness | Sleep

Power Plate: Eat to Fuel Your Performance

Article Around MHS
7/19/2022
Infographic for Power Plate

Food is our secret weapon. When planned and executed well food can supply everything our bodies need to thrive, whether we’re running a marathon or taking a rest day.

Recommended Content:

Performance Nutrition: Fuel Your Body and Mind | Health Readiness & Combat Support | Nutritional Fitness

The Need for Speed Requires Intense Training

Article
7/18/2022
 Military personnel conducts routine ops in US 3rd Fleet

Tom Cruise has nothing on real military pilots and their training.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Education & Training | Physical Fitness

How Diet, Lifestyle and Mental Health Impact Your Overall Health

Article
7/13/2022
Military personnel holding a cookie and broccoli

Think you might need to lose a little weight? You're not alone. Even in the military, where maintaining physical fitness remains a job requirement and a key component of military readiness, thousands of service members struggle with weight.

Recommended Content:

Nutritional Fitness | Performance Nutrition: Fuel Your Body and Mind

JBLM Army spouse combats PTSD with physical fitness

Article Around MHS
7/13/2022
Military personnel in physical training session

Stress and anxiety are a normal part of life, but anxiety disorders like PTSD, which affect 40 million adults, are the most common psychiatric illnesses in the U.S.

Recommended Content:

Physical Fitness | Psychological Fitness | Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
<< < 1 2 3 4 5  ... > >> 
Showing results 16 - 30 Page 2 of 11
Refine your search
Last Updated: February 24, 2022
Follow us on Instagram Follow us on LinkedIn Follow us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Follow us on YouTube Sign up on GovDelivery