Going Off the Wagon May Make Weight-Loss Harder

I know first-hand that it can be hard to “get back on the weight-loss” wagon once you have fallen off, but a new Swedish study shows that not only is it harder, but it may also make it more difficult for you to “relose” the weight. Read the study here.

The study just showed what I personally had experienced. It seemed that during my continual dieting, I found it very easy to gain weight after I had lost a few pounds. Does this example sound familiar to any of you?

During my early years of weight struggles, before I was morbidly obese, I tried dieting many different times. During one of those diets I actually lost 20 pounds and felt great about myself. I remember standing in my office door enjoying the compliment from one of my co-workers that I “looked great.” Well, unfortunately that great feeling didn’t last for long. Those 20 pounds that had taken me about four months to lose came back in just two short months. It was so incredibly easy to gain that “lost” weight back. I admit to falling back into my old eating habits – but even still – I remember being surprised how fast that weight reappeared. And the really sad part was that the weight didn’t just come back, it brought a few pounds with it.

Lose 20, gain 24. That was my pattern and cycle.

Does this tendency to easily regain weight and then struggle to get it off mean we should all quit? Of course not. But, it does validate some of the difficulty many of us have when it comes to weight loss and maintenance. Even though the struggle is real – the battle is winnable.

If you ever get discouraged about a regain, or feel frustrated when you count the number of times you have dieted unsuccessfully, you are not alone. I’ve been there too.

That last time I began my weight loss journey, falling off the wagon and regaining every lost pound was a bit frightening. But I didn’t let that fear deter me from trying. Even when I did see the inevitable jumps in weight during my journey, I tried to stay focused on how much better I was feeling and on how much I had improved physically. Those thoughts saw me through some tough emotional times.

I wanted to encourage you to not let past failures or fears deter you from continuing in your journey. Make a list of all the reasons you want to lose weight and post them on your computer, in your pantry or on your bathroom mirror. Here were some of mine. (I wish I had saved my little encouraging notes to myself.)

– Stop splitting my pants

– Feel more energetic

– Wear pants with buttons

– Feel more in control of my food choices

– Set a good example for my kids (they were seven, four and one at the time)

– Be able to walk without feeling tired.

Over the 14 months it took to lose the weight, the list evolved a bit. But keeping focused on what I wanted to accomplish and not worrying all the time about “falling off the wagon” helped me endure and succeed.


28 thoughts on “Going Off the Wagon May Make Weight-Loss Harder

  1. Miz says:

    Good reminder Diane
    It took me a while to reach my goal as well but I think that helped me keep the weight off, too!
    I learned that getting off my path and clawing my way back ON was all part of the process.

    all part of my new healthy life.

  2. Jane says:

    I also know from experience that falling off the wagon usually means gaining more weight than lost. It is not only devastating physically, but also emotionally. Every time this happens, it is more difficult getting back on again. That is why I am not sure if I should be eating trigger foods, such as candy, sodas, chocolate after or during my weight loss process.

  3. Kate says:

    I will forever be annoyed that it takes me a week to gain what it took me a month to lose. Having just experienced a brief fall from the wagon, it’s all very fresh in my mind. An ounce of prevention…it applies to clinging to that wagon for dear life before taking the tumble.

  4. Sharon says:

    I have just been through this very thing and although I had a reason (illness and death of FIL), we always can find a “reason” and those are nothing more than excuses. Fortunately, I only gained back a few of the pounds I’d lost, but you are so right in that finding the will to get back on the wagon is tough.

  5. Thetreadmilldiaries says:

    After past attempts at losing weight only to regain it, I was discouraged to say the least. It took me awhile to get back into the saddle. I realized I had to change my way of thinking this last time around. A mistake or a bad day had to be just that – and not the end of the whole weightloss effort. It wouldn’t be falling off the wagon but just a bump in the road that may shake the cart. I had to accep that I could get right back to doing what was good for me. And if I had more good days than off days, I would be better for it. 100 + lbs lost later I can thus worked for me and I continue to go after the last 10-15 lbs using this approach.

    Great post.

  6. Desert Agave says:

    Oof, I just fell off the weight loss wagon for a mere 3 days, and in those mere three days I saw a substantial gain. It can be discouraging, how easily and quickly the pounds can come back on. But, I’m not giving up. I’m back on the wagon and I’m going take care of that gain as quickly as I can.

  7. Michele @ Healthy Cultivations says:

    Clearly it’s best to stay on the wagon, but I also feel like falling off is real life… so long as we don’t stay off for very long. Getting back up and back on is what builds strength and the ability to have a better, more healthy relationship with food.

    Very good post.

  8. Mia says:

    I remember loosing about 25 pounds over 3 months and then gaining it ALL back in about 5 weeks over Christmas vacation. And it was 25 pounds of pure FAT that I gained back 🙁 I was devastated! I had had it! No more dieting for me. And THIS was the answer. Instead of dieting, I ate “normal” and started exercising every other day. Over 6-8 months, I lost 15 pounds. And kept them off!

    I have found that if I even think about dieting, it triggers a binge on all those foods that I’m giving up! Dieting does not work for me! Being patient, exercising regularly (to handle my stress), and eating the recommended fruits/vegetables, lean protein, healthy fats keeps the weight off. Also, every few days, I have something sweet! Without guilt.

  9. RNegade says:

    Great post Diane! I’ve been looking at several studies of a similar nature that suggest the “off the wagon” or short-term period of overeating may result in much more serious consequences than the pounds regained. Namely, a kind of neural pathway in the brain (a neurochemical switch) is activated whereby the compulsive urge to overeat remains turned ON until the former set point (higher) weight is reached. Also, the length of time spent overeating or eating too much high sugar/high fat foods, and the amount of overeating, does not need to reach epic (binge) proportions for this to happen. It can result from a relatively short period of overeating.

    Overeating after dieting or achieving goal weight is a bit like playing Russian roulette in that you never know if you might be risking much more than a few minor slips and a few extra pounds. For many people, it isn’t as simple as just getting right back to healthy eating after a few slips because the brain keeps signally to continue overeating, at almost any cost. Epigenetics is fascinating!

  10. Lisa says:

    I find that when I “fall off the wagon” it opens the door even more to letting other things go that I am trying to do to get healthy. 🙁

  11. Lizzie says:

    All great suggestions. I’ve been dieting for most of my adult life. The problem is we will never maintain the motivation. I finally gave up as suggested by my doctor and adopted the Mediterranean diet as a lifestyle – not a diet and I’ve never felt better. I don’t count calories, weigh or measure anything. I removed sugar and dairy from my life. The sugar cravings are gone and I’m not looking back!

  12. Dr. J says:

    I still think it’s easier to eat 500 calories a day more than what you have used than to eat 500 calories less. It might be more complicated than that, but I feel that doing the math and being consistent with your efforts works.

  13. Lisa says:

    This is part of the reason I don’t allow myself to fall off that wagon. If I’m sick or injured, I rest and then get right back on my feet. I still count my calories..I still make good choices. I do NOT want to gain back my weight!

  14. Jody - Fit at 52 says:

    Not giving up – YES to that!

    For me, I just never wanted to go back to what I was & how I felt then… now, it is so much about being able to take care of myself as I age & being healthy as long as possible!

  15. LovesCatsinCA says:


    This is SO TRUE. I also have to say, that when one is younger, one can “afford” larger weight fluctuations. I wouldn’t even call it “yo-yo” ing , but when I was in college, between hormones and eating “junk” while studying, I’d find myself up 10 pounds and go “oh, I should cut back” and two weeks later, it would be gone.

    More than 25 years later, I can’t gain 10 pounds and just drop them. It took a lot of effort to drop 30 pounds and I’m not going to let that creep back on–so I have my “yellow light” weight and my “red light” weight which are 3 and 5 pounds heavier than my usual heavier weight. And I disregard my menstrual week’s weight, but otherwise, I generally only fluctuate 2 pounds max. Yellow light means caution, slow down, cut back a little. Red light means I go all the way back to the disciplines–and lower calories–of my original weight loss mode.

    With vigilance, I intend not to have to re-lose weight. On the other hand, I do make allowances. If I put on a couple pounds over the holidays (but not 5), I am not going to fret. And I’ve found myself comfort eating over the past few days and just decided to let myself, within limits. My dad’s been in the hospital with pneumonia and my MIL is in ICU with a lifethreatening condition and we’re not sure if she’s going to make it. Tear out my hair or eat some carbs? Carbs–but with some portion control…

    Thank you for the link–that is even more motivation to keep my weight stable.

  16. John W. Zimmer says:

    Hi Diane,

    I got to my ideal weight for several years after reading the book, “Fit or Fat” back in the 90’s. I started gaining again after I started college… soon I was stressed and out of time – eating was my only comfort.

    I too have found when I go off the wagon… it takes days to get back on and it is hard. Great information as the holidays are on us again. 🙂

  17. Taryl says:

    Its so true! Falling off the wagon isn’t worth it, especially for a long duration. When I fall off (and I do, more often than I’d like) it is crucial I get back on the very next meal. That saves me. By sticking to that for the past two years, with only a handful of exceptions (like travel and’that awful end of pregnancy) I have kept my regains small and infrequent. Amen!

  18. Pam says:

    There is a lot of truth in this post. I cannot even count the times I have lost and regained, but when its happened this time, I got smart enough to stop it before all hope was lost. I am hoping I am back on the right path now. Its feeling more like it.

  19. Tami says:

    So true, each time I gave up the diet I gained back the weight I had lost plus more!

    I finally had to give up dieting and focus on living healthy. With this little change in mindset I found freedom. Freedom from the all or nothing thinking, the on the wagon off the wagon of the diet trap.

    If I am living a healthy life I can’t “fall off the wagon” of the healthy lifestyle. I might not make the healthiest choices one day but that doesn’t make me a failure and there is not falling off the wagon.

    I no longer strive for perfection every day and I am so much happier now. Since I no longer have rigid rules that I try to stick with my relationship with food is so much easier. All that forbidden food had lost it’s appeal.

  20. julie says:

    I lost 50 in 1.5 years, gained 10 back in 3 months. I’ve held steady for about 3 months, but am having a hard time losing the weight. I originally lost the weight as a smoker, haven’t lost any since quitting. Maybe that’s the only thing that really works, but I’m not going to go back to it. Frustrating.

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