Back to Top Skip to main content Skip to sub-navigation

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...

Don't Fumble Food Safety on Super Bowl Sunday

Article
2/10/2022
Marine with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit participate in a football tournament in Spain.

Here are some USDA food safety tips to enjoy a safe Super Bowl Sunday.

Recommended Content:

Total Force Fitness | Nutritional Fitness

Why Today’s ‘Gen Z’ is at Risk for Boot Camp Injuries

Article
2/8/2022
Military personnel during boot camp

Today’s military recruits are more likely than ever to sustain a serious injury at their initial military training. Here’re some tips for how to prepare before shipping out.

Recommended Content:

Total Force Fitness | Physical Fitness | Nutritional Fitness | Readiness Capabilities

How a Dietitian Can Help You Lose Weight and Maintain Readiness

Article
1/31/2022
Military personnel posing for a picture with a banana

Working with a professional dietitian or nutritionist can help people reach and maintain their weight management goals safely and with positive, long-term results.

Recommended Content:

Nutritional Fitness | Total Force Fitness

A Healthy Mind and Body: The Psychological Aspects Weight Loss

Article
1/27/2022
Marines with 11th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, participate in a regimental run to celebrate St. Barbara’s Day at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, Jan. 13.

It’s essential to dispel the belief that weight loss is a reflection of willpower or discipline – basically, that you can’t lose weight because you don’t want to or you’re not trying hard enough.

Recommended Content:

Total Force Fitness | Physical Fitness | Nutritional Fitness | Psychological Fitness | Weight Management for Lasting Health

The 'BodPod' Measures Body Fat and Fat-Free Mass

Article
1/27/2022
Meagan Loughanne, a health educator at Aberdeen Proving Ground Army Wellness Center, Maryland, conducts a BodPod assessment on Sgt. Abdel P. Moluh. This simple and effective assessment provides clients with an accurate measurement of their body fat percentage, fat-free mass and fat mass in pounds. Based on the client’s goals, the health educator will provide tailored education and coaching.

The BodPod is an egg-shaped machine that will give a detailed analysis of your body composition in five minutes, including measuring your fat mass, your fat-free mass, including blood, organs, and muscle.

Recommended Content:

Total Force Fitness | Physical Fitness | Nutritional Fitness | Mobile Apps

You’d Be Surprised How Eating Habits Affect You, and Your Readiness

Article
1/20/2022
Military personnel picking out broccoli

From Overweight to Fit: Experts Advice

Recommended Content:

Nutritional Fitness | Total Force Fitness

Make Healthy Choices Even When You Are Dining with Others

Article
1/19/2022
A soldier is eating healthy foods.

It can be tough enough to fight your own cravings and busy schedule, but it can be even harder when you throw family, friends, and social outings into the mix. So how can you stick to your meal plan, even when you’re not dining alone? The key is planning ahead, asking for support, and taking it one step at a time.

Recommended Content:

Nutritional Fitness

Six Immediate Health Benefits You Will See If You Lose a Little Weight

Article
1/14/2022
A soldier assigned to the 256th Combat Support Hospital, Twinsburg, Ohio, drinks water from a gallon-sized jug during Combat Support Training Exercise 18-03 at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, March 26, 2018. The 256th CSH implemented a goal setting competition, dubbed Dandy Camp, to teach and encourage soldiers to monitor their total carbohydrate intake during the field exercise. The overall goal of Dandy Camp is to educate soldiers about healthy eating choices and encourage soldiers to set and meet goals for themselves.

Losing even a little weight now can have a major impact on your health and quality of life. This long list of benefits might help motivate you to adjust your habits to achieve a happier, healthier lifestyle.

Recommended Content:

Physical Fitness | Women's Health | Heart Health | Nutritional Fitness | Psychological Fitness | Sleep

The British 'Limeys' Were Right: A Short History of Scurvy

Article
1/10/2022
Scurvy, a disease caused by lack of vitamin C, sickened sailors who had no access to fresh food supplies, and killed more than 2 million sailors between the 16th and 18th centuries alone.

How citrus fruits quelled the scourge of scurvy.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Nutritional Fitness | Military Medical History

Safe and Effective Weight Loss

Video
1/5/2022
Safe and Effective Weight Loss

If you're resolving to lose weight in 2022, make sure to do it safely by avoiding crash and yo-yo diets. Talk to your doctor to make a plan for the safest and most effective way for you to manage a healthy weight in 2022. Visit tricare.mil/weightmanagement for even more tips.

Recommended Content:

Weight Management for Lasting Health | Nutritional Fitness | Physical Fitness

Quality of Life

Video
1/5/2022
Quality of Life

Nearly half of people making resolutions for the new year are resolving to lose weight. While there are several long-term benefits to losing weight - avoiding or managing other chronic health conditions among them - losing just a little bit of weight right now can have immediate effects on your quality of life. From less joint pain to more energy to better sleep, you can start seeing and feeling the benefits of healthy weight loss nearly right away. Visit tricare.mil/weightmanagement to learn more.

Recommended Content:

Weight Management for Lasting Health | Physical Fitness | Nutritional Fitness

Dietary Supplements: Educate Yourself First Before Trying Them

Article
12/28/2021
Photo of a dinner plate with food and dietary supplements next to it

Operation Supplement Safety is your one-stop guide to dietary supplement information

Recommended Content:

Total Force Fitness | Physical Fitness | Nutritional Fitness | Weight Management for Lasting Health

Don’t Underestimate Mother Nature: Winter Safety Tips for Cold Weather

Article
12/23/2021
Military Personnel training

Don’t fool with Mother Nature in the winter: Be prepared

Recommended Content:

Environmental Fitness | Winter Safety | Total Force Fitness

Ask the Doc: How Do I Get Rid of the 'Dark Cloud' Over My Holidays?

Article
12/13/2021
A mask hanging on a Christmas tree

Doc talks to Jane Olien, a licensed clinical social worker assigned to Behavioral Health Clinical Operations, part of the DHA’s Medical Affairs/Clinical Support Division, in San Antonio, Texas, about combatting feelings of depression around the holidays.

Recommended Content:

Psychological Fitness | Total Force Fitness | Ask The Doc

Self-Care is as Easy as Downloading an App

Article
12/3/2021
Self Care

Those in the military or medical field face unique situations that cause for overwhelming distractions. The DHA Connected Health Branch provides several tools that promote mental well-being and help develop self-care habits.

Recommended Content:

Total Force Fitness | Podcasts
<< < 1 2 3 4 5  ... > >> 
Showing results 31 - 45 Page 3 of 10
Refine your search
Last Updated: February 24, 2022

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing. Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.