Yo-yo dieting is a no-no for your heart

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Weight fluctuations linked to greater heart risks

For people with heart disease, constantly losing and gaining weight like a yo-yo is associated with doubling your risks of heart attack, stroke and even death, according to new research.

“This study agrees with what we already know about the effects of fad diets on your heart,” Caitlin Giesler, MD, Seton Heart Institute cardiologist and Women’s Heart Center medical director said. “There is no cardiovascular benefit in following quick weight loss diets that often result in weight re-gain.”

Seton is part of Ascension, the largest nonprofit health system in the U.S. and the world’s largest Catholic health system

Researchers looked at health records of 9,509 people gathered from about five years. All study participants had significant heart disease and were part of a cholesterol-lowering statin drug trial. Those with greater variations in weight had double the risk of a heart attack, stroke or death, when compared with those who experienced weight variations of two pounds or less.

The study also found increased risk of developing diabetes for those who had greater changes in weight.

More harm than good

Managing weight is key in overall health and keeping heart disease risk factors at bay. While the study does not show cause and effect, the link between weight fluctuation and higher heart disease risks may suggest that losing weight in the first place doesn’t outweigh the harm done when someone regains the weight.

“We assume this association may be related to reasons behind weight gain in general—including lack of exercise, high stress and poor food choices—all of which can increase heart risks,” Giesler said.

Experts say body weight and heart health often go hand-in-hand. According to the American Heart Association, being overweight or obese can lead to high blood pressure, high LDL (“bad” cholesterol) and low HDL (“good” cholesterol), all conditions that put you at greater risk for heart disease and stroke.

The stress of up and down

Weight isn’t the only thing that can go up and down when you yo-yo diet. Known as the stress hormone, cortisol regulates blood pressure and maintains immune function, among other things. Rapid body weight changes can stress out your body and lead to excess release of cortisol. In large amounts, it can wreak havoc on your waistline and heart health.

“Excess cortisol from elevated stress can cause weight gain and elevated sugars,” Giesler said. “It can make artery-blocking plaque more likely to form and more likely to break open and cause heart attack or stroke.”

It’s also important to realize the toll yo-yoing can have on your psychological health.

“Multiple attempts at weight loss followed by regain can be discouraging and cause a negative psychological impact,” Kim Morris, registered dietician and certified diabetes educator at Seton Diabetes Education Center.

Slow and steady wins the race

When it comes to losing weight and keeping it off, quick fixes just don’t work.

“Slow and steady weight loss is what lasts, and according to this study, is most beneficial,” Geisler said.

Focus on a healthy lifestyle that includes eating lots of plants and whole foods, exercising regularly, moderating stress and maintaining healthy relationships–advice everyone can take to heart.

For heart patients looking to shed some pounds, Morris recommends a five to seven percent weight loss at a rate of one to two pounds per week.

Though you may need to be extra careful if you have heart failure or side effects from medications, Geisler says more activity for almost all patients is better. So talk to your doctor about what exercise plan is best for you.

Try these tips for making weight loss stick, not the extra pounds:

  • Cut out sugary drinks. Fruit-infused water is a tasty and refreshing alternative.
  • Always use portion control. Limit highly processed foods and opt for lean meats, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables.
  • Set attainable nutrition and exercise goals. A food diary and exercise partner can help keep you on track.