Dr. Day is a cardiologist and Medical Director of Heart Rhythm Services at his practice in Salt Lake City, Utah. He graduated from Johns Hopkins Medical School and completed his residency and fellowship in cardiology at Stanford University. He is board certified in Cardiology and Cardiac Electrophysiology.
4 Reasons Why Dieting Is Bad For Your Heart
Studies show that up to 98% of diets fail. According to new research, dieting might increase your risk of a heart attack as much as smoking. In this article, I share four reasons why dieting is bad for your heart.
Dieting Is Bad For Your Heart Study
Unless you were on a media fast this past week, you probably heard about the dieting study the whole world was talking about. This study was done by Dr. Sripal Bangalore and colleagues from New York University and was published in the most prestigious medical journal in the world.
To better understand the effects of yo-yo dieting, or weight cycling, on the heart, they studied 9,509 people. I should mention that these 9,509 people all had known heart disease so it was definitely a high risk group of people.
They then compared those people with the highest fluctuation in weight (weight loss followed by gaining the weight back) to those who were consistently overweight. Below are their four findings of why dieting is bad for your heart.
1. Dieting Increased Heart Attack Risk by 117%
As up to 98% of diets fail, almost everyone who has ever gone on a diet could be considered a “yo-yo dieter.” This is because when people go off their diet the weight comes right back.
In this study, weight loss followed by gaining the weight back, increased the heart attack risk by 117%. To put this into perspective, other studies have shown that smoking increases your heart attack risk by up to 124%.
Of course, these are two different studies and it would be like comparing apples to oranges. However, I shared this to point out that the magnitude of risk might be comparable.
2. Dieting Increased Stroke Risk by 136%
In many ways, a stroke is like a heart attack. With a heart attack, one of the arteries to the heart suddenly gets blocked off and the heart muscle downstream from the blockage dies.
In most strokes, the same thing happens. An artery feeding blood to the brain suddenly becomes blocked and the brain tissue downstream of the blockage dies. Thus, anything that increases the risk of a heart attack would also be expected to increase the risk of a stroke.
3. Dieting Increased Diabetes Risk by 78%
In my mind, this was probably the most striking finding of this study. Somehow, the diabetes risk of weight fluctuation was worse than just being overweight all of the time. This finding raises the question that perhaps yo-yo dieting somehow damages the body’s metabolism.
4. Dieting Increased Premature Death Risk by 124%
As heart disease remains the number one cause of death in the Western world, it comes as no surprise that anything that increases your risk of a heart attack would also increase your risk of a premature death. As I have consistently shared in previous blog articles, living a heart healthy life is the key to avoiding most chronic medical problems and living a long life.
Do other studies show dieting is bad for your heart?
You can never believe the results of a single study. Too many things can go wrong with a study that could give you false results. Thus, before you accept anything as “truth,” you want to make sure multiple credible studies have all come to the same conclusion.
With regards to weight cycling and the risk of heart disease, studies from as far back as 1991 have shown that dieting is bad for your heart. I should point out that not all studies have shown a risk from weight cycling. This is likely because these studies were much smaller and didn’t include high risk people.
Based on the data available, unless you can keep the weight loss off long-term, dieting is bad for your heart. In younger and healthier people, the risk of dieting probably isn’t high enough to make any measurable difference.
Why may dieting be dangerous?
It is not clear why weight cycling may be dangerous to the heart. Given the high risk of diabetes observed in this study, it is possible that weight fluctuations damage the body’s metabolism.
Alternatively, it could be that repetitive “diet failures” may put people at risk for depression. As we have discussed in previous blog articles, depression is a well-known risk factor for heart disease and a premature death.
Would it be better to just accept being overweight?
Based on the results of this study, you might come to the conclusion that it would be better to just accept being overweight. The only problem is that being overweight also increases your risk of a heart attack, heart failure, atrial fibrillation, and a premature death. Thus, the answer is neither dieting nor just living an overweight life.
The real answer is a new lifestyle. As the risks of weight fluctuation are real, you need to find healthy lifestyles that you can maintain for the rest of your life. While diets don’t work long-term, healthy lifestyles do.
What should you do if you are overweight?
My advice to anyone overweight would be to not go on a diet. Diets don’t work, nobody enjoys dieting, and the risk of gaining the weight back is just not worth it.
Rather, look for ways you can live a healthier lifestyle. The goal would be to gradually adopt a new lifestyle that you can maintain for the rest of your life. With a healthy lifestyle, your body will naturally shift to a healthy weight.
When it comes to healthy lifestyles, if you can’t envision yourself doing it for the rest of your life then it probably won’t work for you. Below are 16 simple lifestyle changes that have brought about effortless and long-term weight loss for hundreds of my patients.
1. Make it hard to access processed foods, added sugars, or fast foods in your life (create the junk food free home).
2. Replace any chairs or couches is front of your TV with a treadmill, stationary bike, or elliptical machine.
3. Stop eating for the day after an early dinner (a form of intermittent fasting).
4. Make your plate mostly vegetables with every meal.
5. Track your daily steps and exercise.
6. Only drink water.
7. Replace any processed grains with intact grains or no grains at all.
8. Never multitask while eating.
9. Embrace your daily stress with yoga, meditation, exercise, prayer, etc.
10. Never compromise on sleep.
11. Give your body a food break between meals (another form of intermittent fasting).
12. Keep a food journal.
13. Spend most of your time with people who are in to physical fitness or healthy eating.
14. Cut all sugars out of your life.
15. Get a dog that forces you to go on multiple daily walks.
16. Only allow yourself to work on a computer if you are on a standing, treadmill, or bicycle desk.
Take Home Message
The key take away from this article is that dieting is bad for your heart. This is because up to 98% of people simply gain the weight back after they are done with the diet.
Popular or fad diets may pose an even greater risk. As diets don’t work long-term, always be on the lookout for healthy lifestyle changes you can maintain for the rest of your life. With a healthy lifestyle, any extra weight will naturally come off.
What simple lifestyle changes have helped you? Please share what has worked for you below to the other 43,980 people who regularly follow this blog. If you liked this article, please be sure to sign up for my free weekly newsletter and podcast.
Disclaimer Policy: This website is intended to give general information and does not provide medical advice. This website does not create a doctor-patient relationship between you and Dr. John Day. If you have a medical problem, immediately contact your healthcare provider. Information on this website is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Dr. John Day is not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your medical decisions.