help clients break
the yo-yo dieting cycle

For clients to achieve long term fat loss you must help them understand the psychological issues involved.

As a fitness professional you encounter them every day – the clients whose desperation to lose weight and achieve the perfect figure sees them embarking on the latest fad diets: no carbs, no sugar, no protein, and even the no food diet.

Yes, the weight comes off. But it doesn’t take long for the individual to regain all their previous weight – and more. At which point they get on board with the latest miracle diet. Ad infinitum… This is the world of the yo-yo dieter. So how can personal trainers help to break this cycle?

The simple answer usually provided to the weight conscious client is to eat less and exercise more. It’s all about energy consumption versus output, right? Of course, this is over-simplifying the problem. Often the basic problem of eating too much is only a symptom of what is really going on in a person’s mind.

As psychologists specialising in working with overweight and obese clients, we know yo-yo dieting is often an outward sign of a bigger internal issue. For some people, eating is closely connected with emotions, such as sadness or depression. Yo-yo dieters seem to believe that quickly losing weight will change the way in which they are perceived, both by themselves and by others. However, as fast as they lose the weight they regain it, leading to increased feelings of depression and anxiety about their inability to keep the kilos off. It doesn’t just serve no benefit, therefore – it actually exacerbates the problem.

The 30-second article
  • Yo-yo dieting is often an outward sign of a bigger internal issue
  • Those who lose weight too quickly often put it back on, plus an extra 10 per cent
  • Understanding why they overeat is the key to clients achieving sustainable fat loss
  • Feelings of deprivation, stress and low self-esteem set these dieters up to fail
  • PTs can offer support and practical solutions to break the yo-yo dieting cycle.

Emotional eating

For a personal trainer to be able to help their client, it is very important to have an understanding of the psychological issues involved. It is essential for someone trapped in the yo-yo diet cycle to understand why they overeat – and this is where you have the ability to support your client in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Yo-yo dieting can be very harmful for a client’s long term wellbeing. Initially, they may set out to eat less and eat right, and establish a regular fitness regime. However, this success is often short-lived for a number of reasons, usually involving emotional issues.


A yo-yo dieter can often begin to feel deprived of what they have given up in order to achieve their weight goal, and may find themselves reverting to the bad habits that led to them gaining weight in the first place. This can set up a vicious cycle of quick weight loss followed by rapid weight gain when the diet is abandoned. Research into yo-yo dieting even suggests that a person who is quick to lose weight will not only regain the previous amount, but also an additional 10 per cent.


However, it is not only feelings of deprivation that can cause a client to regain weight. Yo-yo dieting is often associated with reactions to stressful situations. These people are more likely to eat when they find themselves in a tough place and need some form of support. Unfortunately this support comes in the form of food. Beyond the physical symptoms, a yo-yo dieter will quickly become depressed about their inability to keep the weight off.

Low self-esteem

Yo-yo dieting can also be found amongst people who suffer from low self-esteem. For a variety of reasons a person may feel ashamed and lack confidence within themselves. This in turn can lead them to turn to food as a way of providing themselves with an easily accessible form of comfort.

Working with binge eaters

As a personal trainer you can help clients who are emotional binge eaters to understand their motives for eating the way they do.

Stop, question, take note

Helping clients identify the emotions that lead them to reach for that block of chocolate. Advise them to stop and think about why they are eating. Are they feeling sad, lonely or anxious? Are there other reasons? Being able to recognise a pattern of emotions experienced before, during or after a binge is a good way to start managing binge eating.

As is often said in other areas of management, you can’t manage what you can’t measure – so recommend to your client that they keep a diary of the binge-related feelings they experience. By doing so they are empowering themselves to recognise their behaviour and the reasons why they engage in it. Acknowledgement and understanding leads to change.

Embrace alternatives

Suggest alternative strategies to your client that can help them stay on target. Once a person is able to identify the feelings they are experiencing, it will be easier for them to find an alternative activity that can make them feel better. This could be any of a range of things, from socialising with friends or reading a book, to going for a walk or having a workout at the gym. Regardless of what their alternative is, you can help them work at finding another activity that can soothe their overwhelming emotions just as well as (if not better than) eating.

It is important for a yo-yo dieter to receive support to help them deal with their problem. As a personal trainer you are in a unique position to offer one-on-one support and to suggest alternative strategies for managing emotional cravings. By doing so, you can help clients break this frustrating and emotionally debilitating cycle.

Download the ‘Developing Healthy Eating Habits’ Client Info Handout here.

Kate Swann and Kristina Mamrot are Melbourne-based psychologists specialising in treating overweight and obese clients. For information on their books The Ultimate Guide To Training Overweight And Obese Clients, and Do You Really Want To Lose Weight, visit