Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

At War with Their Bodies or at War with Their Minds? A Glimpse into the Lives and Minds of Female Yo-Yo Dieters-The Curtain Has Lifted in U.K.?

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

At War with Their Bodies or at War with Their Minds? A Glimpse into the Lives and Minds of Female Yo-Yo Dieters-The Curtain Has Lifted in U.K.?

Article excerpt

Abstract

Yo-yo dieting is a common phenomenon yet little interdisciplinary research has been carried out on dieting, food and nutrition in the social context. This study investigated the effects of yo-yo dieting on social and psychological well-being using qualitative methods. Data were collected by conducting semi-structured interviews with women who yo-yo diet. A total of 9 participants, 20-51 years old, were recruited by purposive and snowball sampling techniques from the University of Roehampton, London, U.K., where the first author was a student at the time of the study. Thematic analysis derived four major themes: the physical and/or mental impact of yo-yo dieting, the similarity of reported symptoms with those associated with eating disorders, familial and sociocultural pressure for initiating diets and the struggle for control and/or identity. Furthermore, there appears to be a link between yo-yo dieting and interviewees' references to depressive mood episodes. The implications of these findings for the risks of developing eating disorders are discussed.

Keywords: weight cycling, yo-yo dieting, disordered eating behaviors, body image, identity crisis, qualitative methodology.

Introduction

Weight cycling/yo-yo dieting is a common phenomenon yet little interdisciplinary research has been carried out on dieting, food and nutrition in the social context (Germov & Williams, 1996). Weight lost and then regained can be described as a single weight cycle (Kensinger et al., 1998; LahtiKoski et al., 2005; Venditti et al., 1996). Nevertheless, the number of cycles required to satisfy the criteria of weight cycling varies across studies which in turn makes it difficult to determine the prevalence of yo-yo dieting (Kensinger et al., 1998; Lahti-Koski et al., 2005). Muls et al. (1995) state in their review that, as there is yet no precise definition of weight cycling, different methods have been used in several studies such as: (1) Calculating self-reported losses and regains of weight of less than or equal to 4-5 kg, 3-9 kg, less than or equal to 9 kg or less than or equal to 10 kg, (2) Weight loss during the lifetime, (3) Difference between the highest and lowest weight over the past year, or as an adult, (4) The average rate of fluctuations in weight per year, and (5) Frequency of weight cycling and the amount of weight loss achieved. However, according to Friedman et al. (1998), three different methods have been used to measure and assess weight cycling: (1) Recollected history of weight loss and regain over time, (2) Weight regained following weight loss during a treatment program, and (3) Subjective assessment of a person's capability to maintain weight loss. A very general definition of yo-yo dieting is: Going on and offa diet at various times which consequently causes the weight to be lost and regained (Brownell & Rodin, 1994; Muls et al., 1995; National Task Force on the Prevention and Treatment of Obesity, (U.S.A) (1994) and this is the definition that has been used in this study carried out in London to recruit participants as there is yet no precise definition.

Dietary/Physiological Studies on Yo-yo Dieting

While some studies indicate physiological alterations such as the lowering of Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) occurring in the body and/or weight gain due to going on and off diets repeatedly (Field et al., 2004; French et al., 1994; Pasman et al., 1999) others have concluded that no lasting physiological impairment occurs due to weight cycling (Jebb et al., 1991; Prentice et al., 1992; Wadden et al., 1992). Furthermore, although several previous studies (Blair et al., 1993; Lee & Paffenbarger, 1992; Lissner et al., 1991) suggested that yo-yo dieting is associated with increased health risks, other studies (Lissner et al., 1990) revealed inconsistent results. Hence, one of the aims of the current study were to determine whether yo-yo dieting has a negative impact on health physiologically as well as psychologically. …

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