For many years I was a yo-yo dieter.
My weight would fluctuate violently at times as I tried quick fix solutions to drop body fat.
But, although my yo-yo dieting wasn’t conducive to the physique I desired, I learned a lot of things along the way.
Experience gives you the inside track when it comes to knowledge of this sort.
It takes self-reflection to be fully honest with others, and, most importantly, yourself, when it comes to revealing the crux of the problem — which are myriad.
Here are some things I realized were lacking in me when it came to yo-yo dieting:
- lack of discipline
- desire to return to bad habits
- lack of self-respect
- incomplete knowledge
Of course, there may be some yo-yo dieters out there that don’t fit all of the listed traits.
All of these points are somewhat interrelated.
I’m not a psychologist — and I make no pretenses that my knowledge of psychology is any more than basic — but I believe that anxiety plays a large part in yo-yo dieting.
I also believe that anxiety can be linked to all of the other characteristics.
Throughout my life, I suffered from anxiety.
I was the fat kid at school. I was an only child with parents who had me later in life. My father, bless his heart, was passive; while my mother, bless her heart, suffered from Narcissistic Personality Disorder and was domineering — I know, a recipe for disaster.
Thankfully, I got off lightly; a little bit of periodic obesity and anxiety. Some aren’t so lucky.
Anyway, I don’t mean to bore you — you’re not on the clock!
The first time I ever yo-yo dieted, I was 10 years old.
My mother would love bomb me with junk food — and I would gleefully comply, being a kid.
Although I’ve always been sporty, my weight was a hindrance and needed to go as I began to come of age.
So I embarked upon my first diet.
The diet was nothing fancy: loads of water, three balanced meals, plenty of exercise — basically what the average “nutritionist” would prescribe.
And it worked.
The problem was Christmas Holidays came and derailed my momentum.
A few weeks prior to this, I had plateaued; I had lowered my calories too quickly and didn’t have anywhere to go.
As a result, bad habits creeped in, I suffered a devastating knee injury, and within a couple of years I was dozens of pounds heavier than where I started.
Fast forward to age 14, I was close to 250lb.
My diet was insane for a young teenager; it was in the vicinity of 6000 calories a day.
Again, as I was sporty, I could mitigate a lot of the weight gain, but even with 2-3 hours of sport a day, I couldn’t outcardio my bad diet.
They tried to hire me a nutritionist, but she failed.
Change comes from within — you can’t force it.
So, as a young teen, I took initiative to lose the weight by myself.
Now, this diet was dreadful; I had read somewhere that grapefruit could facilitate weight loss, therefore, I implored my dad to buy me gallons of grapefruit juice.
The other part of my diet consisted of one big bowl of muesli with semi-skimmed milk.
And, of course, lakes of water.
Looking back, my diet had very little protein and most of my meager daily calories came from grapefruit juice.
But what was I to know — I was only a kid; a kid whose fitness knowledge came from tidbits off Men’s Health style magazines.
During this time, I also began lifting weights. Nothing fancy, just curls, side lateral raises, dumbbell presses, etc, for sets of 3×10 everyday.
It was a hellish period; I was always hungry; but I managed to lose the weight in about five months of going starvation mode. Overall, I lost around 50lb in this time.
Then, as I was going through puberty, I managed to get in great shape, but my diet royally sucked.
I became a devout cardio bunny until I discovered beer, cigarettes, and other things I don’t particularly want to list.
Before turning 17, at 6’2, I weighed around 200lb. I naturally have the shoulders of an Olympian and thighs of an international prop forward. My body fat percentage must have been sitting in the mid-teens.
When I started partying, I completely lost control over my weight. A few months after turning 18, I ballooned up to around 290-300lb at my heaviest.
In my denial, I chalked up my expanding waistline to my growing abdominal muscles and muscular gains elsewhere.
The reality was that incessant partying and pigging out on pizza, pasta, and junk food everyday led to my catastrophic weight gain.
Over the course of the following year and a half, I managed to get back down to around 200lb again — despite never stopping to party.
I would eat around 600-1000 calories of food a day while getting my other calories from alcohol — and that seemed to do the trick.
Cigarettes and stimulants kept my appetite in check throughout this period.
Then I moved halfway across the world to “calm down.” I dropped out of college and realized that my lifestyle was totally unsustainable and running me to the ground.
Before moving, I began to hit the weights seriously.
Although I lost around 10 or so pounds in the first 4 months, I gained a lot of muscle in the process.
My bench press increased from around 60kg to 100kg; my deadlift went from 70kg to 140kg for reps — all in a couple of months.
I loved the feeling of accomplishment, but I couldn’t keep a handle on my diet.
When I moved, I gained around 20-30lb in 3 months.
I was binge-eating pizzas on the weekend and drinking a truckload of beer.
(Side note: if you want to get fat quick, beer and pizza is hands down the best combo)
After this point, at 20, I gained another 10 or so pounds over the course of the year as I stopped pigging out so much over the weekend.
Then I slightly damaged my liver and stomach lining after a holiday to Chile for 6 weeks after finding out that my father, who I loved dearly, was terminally ill.
The self-inflicted damage — from a diet of mostly just steak, red wine, beer, and spirits — killed my appetite for about 2 months.
I felt sick after eating more than a banana.
One of my go-to meals was sautéed mushrooms and onions — nothing else.
I could only muster the energy to train twice a week and my strength faltered during this period.
After partying like a rock star for around six months once I recuperated, I decided to try to get to 10% body fat.
In my stubbornness and ignorance, I tried to do weights every day, cardio twice a day and live off 1000-1500 calories.
Surprisingly, I managed to do two six-week bouts of this diet — with a weeklong intermission of drinking and partying — and lost a net 15lb at my lightest.
Then, after turning 22, I met a girl and my reasons for the hard dieting became less apparent. The summer had also come to its end and I landed a job at a bar.
Of course, working at a bar means access to an abundance of ale.
The three months following getting down to my leanest in years, I gained 35-40lb.
But, like most yo-yo dieters, I was in denial.
My distending midriff and puffing muffin tops were due to… reasons?!
For around three years, I managed to maintain the weight I’d gained while making big strength and muscle gains.
I had gone full bear mode.
But the worst is yet to come!
At 25, I was finishing my degree. In my final year, I thought I’d try to do a slow cut — this meant no alcohol and cheat meals that fit my macros.
I lost about 7lb in 13 weeks.
It was, in my opinion, piss poor, but something.
If you haven’t realized so far, there is a running theme: whenever I left my diet and went off the rails, I’d binge drink and binge eat over the weekends.
The girl I met at 22 was a distant memory and I was with somebody else. Our relationship at the time was on the rocks as I came into my final exams.
That slow cut had gone out of the window as I tried to focus on my exams. I’d drink and binge eat on the weekends to blow off steam — undoing all the work I did on the slow cut and getting even bigger than before.
Throughout the summer after finishing my exams, I got a job at a bank. Shortly after securing that job, I broke up with my ex.
It wasn’t a clean break; she tried to get back into my life for around two months after we split.
And here’s where it all went Pete Tong.
Last month, I was chatting about this dark period of my life with my wife and we managed to figure out that during the week, I’d be on 4,000-5,000 calories a day, and then on the weekends, I’d be on 10,000+ calories a day.
This whopping caloric surplus made me PILE on the pounds.
I never gave up the gym, though, and during this time, I managed to bench three plates, then three plates for reps, for the first time.
Although I was too ashamed and embarrassed to weigh myself, looking back, I’d say I was close to 330lb at my fattest — if not, more.
I’m an absolute tub of lard in my graduation photo.
Then I moved continent again — this time, to do my Master’s degree.
Once I settled in, I began a slower, more sustainable approach to weight loss.
It does help being the wrong side of 25 where not only do you get bad hangovers from drinking excessively, but you also get food hangovers from eating fast food or junk.
In fact, overeating makes me feel like garbage — making it easier to stay in a caloric deficit.
Slowly, but surely, I managed to get down to 250-260lb in a couple of years.
Admittedly, there have been hiccups along the way, but nothing that maintaining a healthy diet can’t fix.
I gained around 30lb in a couple of months when I went to visit my then-girlfriend now-wife in the US in my late 20s. I then gained 20-30lb when I got married, honeymooned, then spent our first Christmas together shortly thereafter.
But, the point is: you need to learn discipline, portion control, and what foodstuffs make you gain weight.
For me, it was beer.
I haven’t touched beer since the Christmas period and if I drink alcohol, it’ll be single malt whisky.
A serving of single malt whisky has about a quarter of the calories that a serving of lager beer contains.
I love beer, but it doesn’t love me
If anything, you’ve got to learn yourself.
Some habits are hard to break, but you can mitigate the damage they cause by taking precautionary and preventive steps.
For example, if you’re going to cheat on your diet, reduce your calories throughout the day, week, month, or whatever.
If you’re in a caloric deficit at year end, you’ll lose weight.
You can have sushi, pizza, cake, ice cream, beer, anything — just make sure that you’re not in a prolonged caloric surplus.
The other thing you need to realize that, if you’re fat, you cannot relapse into the habits that drove you into becoming overweight or obese.
That was one thing in the back of my mind as a yo-yo dieter; I thought that, if I got down to 10% bodyfat, I could just revert back to my old habits but in a more toned-down fashion.
You cannot do that. Long term weight loss can only be effective if a lifestyle shift comes accordingly.
You have to choose a diet that’s right for you and that you can uphold for a LIFETIME.
The days of downing sugary drinks, eating chocolate, putting away a crate of beer, casually ordering pizza on a weeknight are behind you.
You can drink soda — as long as they’re diet.
You can have some chocolate — as long as it’s in moderation.
You can have a night on the beer — as long as you subtract the number of calories per beer a day from your diet for as many days as beers consumed.
If you had 15 beers, guess what, you’re going to take off 250 calories off your daily caloric limit for the next two weeks.
Finding the right balance for you might not happen overnight. For most, it may take years.
Even though I loved lifting weights since I first touched a dumbbell at age six, my diet was never under control until my late 20s.
Overeating, in my opinion, on the whole stems from deeper psychological problems.
If you’ve ever watched ‘My 600lb Life‘ you’ll find that 95%+ of the participants had extremely traumatic and dysfunctional childhoods, often indelibly marked by physical and/or sexual abuse.
Earlier in the post, I mentioned anxiety as a contributing factor to all the negative personality traits associated with yo-yo dieting.
Wanting to get lean yesterday comes from a harmful perception of self-image and a lot of it comes from pleasing others, and not oneself.
Discipline and anxiety sometimes don’t mix. Anxiety can also nihilistically lead one into forming irrational justifications for self-destructive attitudes, in my experience.
Habits — bad habits — offer some form of stability which can act as a refuge for somebody suffering from anxiety, which is why it’s so easy to return to one’s former ways.
The lack of self-respect and anxiety seem to be linked with low self-esteem.
Honestly, being overweight/obese is no fun — there is simply no upside to it.
It’s physically uncomfortable, spiritually crushing, and deleterious to your health.
I mean, who wants to have diarrhea, heartburn, breathlessness, low immune system, low testosterone, stretch marks, poor skin, insulin resistance, metabolic damage, hunger, and poor health all the time?
Who wants to struggle walking, doing simple exercise, attracting the opposite sex, putting the fork down, fitting into their pants, etc?
In this day and age with fat positivity and the like, people can gain popularity by spouting harmful narratives surrounding obesity.
The reality is, it’s not attractive to 99% of people, it’s not healthy, and quality of life is significantly reduced within a reduced life expectancy.
The ticket is to find an equilibrium.
Enjoy the foods, drinks, and everything else you like.
But you’ve lost control over your eating before, so you’re gonna have to work a little harder than the rest of the population to keep it reined in.
Deal with it; download a calorie and step tracker to keep yourself in check — oh, and drink my homemade magic fat-burning potion.
But first, make sure you at least begin to address the deep-seated issues that put on the yo-yo dieting track.
Whether it is anxiety or issues concerning self-image, you should seek professional help before change can be effected.
So there is my two cents as a former yo-yo dieter. I hope that this post helps at least one person out there.