Gain weight. Lose weight. Gain weight. Lose weight. It’s the yo-yo cycle. I’m not talking about gaining weight due to pregnancy and then losing it. I’m referring to weight fluctuations outside the realm of growing and delivering a baby.

Much of the yo-yo weight cycle stems from carrying a little too much weight and then using unsustainable methods to lose some or all of the excess body weight…only to gain it back – with possibly more pounds attached.

The New England Journal of Medicine followed 9,509 adults for five years. People whose weight fluctuated were more likely to have any type of heart or cardiovascular problem, including heart attack, heart failure, chest pain, stroke, and sudden death compared to those whose weight held steady. Those who yo-yoed the most had more than a 100% greater risk of heart attack, stroke, and sudden death than their stable weight peers. Wowza.

These risks can seem so far off – especially when we’re running after toddlers, changing diapers, and figuring out 5th grade math. We’re light years away from a heart attack, right? Maybe. But we are increasing our risk the more we yo-yo; even if we are still getting carded on a regular basis.

It’s easy to get sucked in to the yo-yo cycle of weight loss/weight re-gain. For example, I gain weight during pregnancy and for whatever reason, cannot lose the last fifteen pounds. I have a ball (or reunion or vacation or wedding or whatever) coming up so I do a crash diet to lose weight quickly to fit into my fab dress. Unfortunately, the strict diet rules are unsustainable so I go back to my previous eating habits and gain all the weight I lost back plus a couple more pounds because I indulged in all the foods I could not have. Now I’m up 20 pounds, rather than the 15 I held on to after baby was born. The new year rolls around and I resolve to lose the weight. I try the latest fad diet and lose about ten pounds in a month. Yet again, the restrictive unsustainable diet rules fail to make it long term and I regain my lost weight. And so the cycle continues. Rather than making lifestyle changes, I jump from diet to diet losing some but never keeping it off. This is the health-threatening yo-yo cycle.

For those of us who have pounds to lose but are not in dire need, we need to take a different approach. Unless the weight is life threatening – brittle diabetes, severe cardiac disease – quick-fix diets are not really fixing anything. A sustainable approach is needed to prevent the yo-yo cycle and really yield lasting results.

I love how Full Plate Living, a healthy recipe website, puts it: “Permanent weight loss takes time, because you’re slowly replacing unhealthy habits with good ones. Quick weight loss happens due to deprivation. And at some point, when you revert back to old habits, the pounds will pile back on.” The focus of sustainable weight loss should be on improving lifestyle habits, rather than losing a certain amount of pounds.

While it might be tempting to turn to a crash diet to shed pounds quickly, it’s not healthy. So forego the weight loss sprint and tune your mind to a healthy lifestyle marathon. Focusing on the positive changes you are making – such as eating more veggies, enjoying your meals, drinking more water – will provide motivation rather than keeping up with your deprivation list – all the foods you cannot have on your crash diet.

Ditch the yo-yo mentality. You’ll find so much satisfaction in changing your habits and seeing the weight stay off! In improving your nutrition habits you’re also setting a firm foundation for your kiddos as you walk the walk of a healthy lifestyle. Regardless of where your nutrition habits are right now, you’ve started this firm foundation by taking your kids to SLAM! They see you Sweat Like a Mother and want to try…it will happen with healthy nutrition habits too. The only difference is that eating broccoli may not be as cute as your three-year-old doing burpees!