The Boomerang Effect: Why Crash-Dieting Might Pack on Pounds

A recent study has unveiled that stress in conjunction with a history of dieting may make individuals more likely to consume high-fat foods compared to those without a history of dieting. Understanding the impact of dieting on our stress levels and subsequent food choices is vital for forging healthier habits in the long run, avoiding the frustrating and unhealthy cycle of weight loss and gain.

Diet and Stress: The Research

Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania conducted a study on mice to examine how a restricted diet impacts their behavioral patterns and hormone levels. After three weeks on the limited diet, the mice lost up to 15% of their body weight, comparable to the weight loss expected in a human on a diet.

The researchers found that the mice’s stress levels increased after the study period and identified changes in several genes that control stress and eating. They then utilized the mice that had previously dieted and compared them to those who had not dieted, carefully monitoring how much fatty food each group consumed.

The results revealed that the mice with a history of dieting consumed significantly more high-fat foods compared to the mice who did not diet, suggesting that crash-dieting may lead to eventual weight gain. Jeffrey Zigman, MD, a medical expert at the University of Texas, believes this study emphasizes the challenges human dieters may face in maintaining their weight loss goals.

Eating Healthy to Manage Weight

To better manage and maintain weight, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends incorporating fresh fruits and vegetables as well as calcium-rich foods into a well-balanced diet. In addition to these recommendations, the following strategies can help achieve sustainable weight management:

1. Focus on Nutrient-Dense Foods

Concentrate on consuming nutrient-packed whole foods, such as lean meats, whole grains, and legumes, instead of processed or junk food. According to Mayo Clinic, balancing your diet with nutrient-rich options provides essential vitamins and minerals without negatively impacting long-term weight management.

2. Implement Mindful Eating Techniques

Being mindful of each bite slows down the eating process and helps avoid emotional eating. When you take the time to savor your meal’s flavor, texture, and aroma, it becomes easier to recognize when you’re full, preventing overeating and promoting effective weight management.

3. Prioritize Snacking on Fiber-Rich Foods

High-fiber foods, including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, can keep you full for longer periods, reducing the temptation to snack on sugary and fatty foods. Harvard Health shares that consuming more fiber can help control blood sugar levels, improve digestion, and lower cholesterol levels – all beneficial aspects for healthier long-term weight management.

4. Consistently Engage in Physical Activity

Incorporating regular exercise routines supports sustainable weight management by burning calories and strengthening muscles. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week.

5. Establish Appropriate Portion Sizes

Overeating is a common contributor to weight gain. Ensure to follow appropriate portion sizes for each food group, as outlined by the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) MyPlate Guidelines. Consuming appropriate portions helps you maintain a healthy weight by consuming adequate nutrients without overindulging.


Diets with overly restrictive eating habits can negatively impact stress levels, leading to potential weight gain. Instead of crash-dieting, prioritize healthy lifestyle habits such as mindful eating, consuming nutrient-dense foods, and engaging in consistent physical activity. These strategies contribute to sustainable weight management and overall well-being.