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'Keep trying to lose weight': Yo-yo dieting not associated with cancer risk

Losing weight only to regain it back later can be frustrating, but a new study offers reassuring news about the effects it has your body.
/ Source: TODAY

Slimming down takes on an achingly familiar pattern for many people: You love your scale, you hate your scale. You love your scale again. You want to destroy your scale with a hammer.

Yo-yo dieting or weight cycling — the phenomenon of losing weight only to regain it back later — can be frustrating and feel unhealthy, but a new study offers some reassuring news about what impact, if any, it has your body.

There is no association between weight cycling and overall cancer risk, or risk for any of 15 specific cancers, for both men and women, researchers at the American Cancer Society report.

For people anxious about all those weight fluctuations and what they mean for their risk of developing cancer, the takeaway is simple, said lead author Victoria Stevens, strategic director of laboratory services for the American Cancer Society.

“They should keep trying to lose weight even though they may not maintain the weight,” Stevens told TODAY.

“It’s better to go ahead and try… rather than just being worried that there’s going to be something bad happening if you don’t maintain the weight loss and not trying at all.”

The study, which followed more than 132,000 men and women for 17 years, is being called the largest and most comprehensive study of weight cycling and cancer risk conducted to date.

At the start, all of the participants were asked how many times in their lives they had intentionally lost at least 10 pounds and then regained that weight.

Image: scale
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It turned out yo-yo dieting was pretty widespread, with 57 percent of women and 43 percent of men reporting weight cycling. Their incidence of cancer was compared to that of participants who did not yo-yo diet.

Weight cycling is very common, but it has not been well studied and there are a lot of myths surrounding the phenomenon, Stevens said. At the same time, doctors have known for years that obesity increases the risk of cancer, she added.

“We’re telling people that they should lose weight, but probably only about 20 percent of people who lose weight can actually maintain the weight loss,” Stevens said. “So you have huge numbers of people who are weight cyclers, and we really need to understand the consequences of that.”

Based on this study, there appear to be no consequences, at least in terms of cancer risk.

Other papers have debunked some common myths of yo-yo dieting.

A 2012 study found weight cycling doesn't mess up your metabolism or hurt your chances at future weight loss attempts.

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