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How to counteract the yo-yo effect

The yo-yo effect is one of the biggest fears of people who wish to lose excess weight. Those few pounds that have disappeared as a result of strict diets and dedicated workouts soon seem worthless when the scales reveal the old weight again after a short amount of time – or often even more than before. How do some people manage to maintain their weight after a diet whilst others seem to be caught in a vicious circle of constant losses and gains?

In theory, losing weight is quite simple. As soon as the point is reached at which more energy is being used rather than being consumed, the body is forced to fall back on its own energy reserves. In reality, however, simply reducing your calorie intake usually only leads to short-term weight loss.

The body essentially reacts the same way to going on a diet as it would do to starvation. It responds by reducing its energy consumption as much as possible. A further disadvantage is that the body requires less energy for movement due to its decreasing weight. Falling back into old eating habits is then accompanied by rapid weight gain as the body tries to accumulate reserves for the next period of deficiency. This results in the notorious yo-yo effect.

Studies show that the majority of people gain weight again following a diet. But how do some people manage to lose weight whilst also maintaining these losses in the long term? In order to answer this question, researchers at the University of Colorado studied so-called "weight loss maintainers", who were successful in losing weight and maintaining weight loss of at least 30 pounds over the course of one year. The group who took part in the study consisted of both normal and overweight people who were in good health. During the course of the study, all participants were set the goal of maintaining their weight whilst eating and exercising as usual. The researchers then determined their resting energy requirement (RER) and total daily metabolic rate. They took the difference between these in order to calculate the metabolic rate attributable to physical activity.

The comparison showed that the total daily metabolic rate of the "maintainers" was around 300 kcal above that of the participants with a normal weight and was comparable to that of the overweight subjects. Furthermore, they were on average around 180 kcal more active per day than participants in both comparison groups. This was also reflected in the researchers’ analysis of step counters. According to data, the "maintainers" took on average 12,000 steps per day whereas people with a normal weight recorded 9,000 steps and those with excess weight only 6,500. The results showed that the subjects who were able to successfully maintain their weight consumed as many calories as the overweight subjects but, at the same time, performed a significantly higher level of physical activity. This enabled the researchers to confirm the findings of previous results, which had concluded that long-term weight loss depends largely on physical activity. 

Even though reducing calorie intake and dietary changes may lead to rapid weight loss, sport and regular exercise seem to be the key to long-term success.

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