Is Fat in Your Future?

Skipping Meals, Yo-Yo Dieting Can Backfire Later On

By Jeanie Lerche Davis
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD

If you're a light eater or a yo-yo dieter, look out. A decade from now, you're likely to find yourself overweight. A recent study provides a sort of crystal ball for women, a clue to who will be overweight in middle age.

"Light eaters are often sabotaging their own efforts to stay trim," says study author Paula A. Quatromoni, DSc, RD, an assistant professor of Nutrition Studies at Boston University School of Public Health.

"They are not taking the most sensible approach," she tells WebMD. "They are eating fewer foods, but not necessarily the low-fat foods. They skip meals, but are not replacing them with nutrients they need. That kind of restrictive eating is difficult to maintain for long."

In her study, published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Quatromoni and colleagues analyzed 12 years' worth of eating patterns for 787 women. All were about age 45 when the study began, and none was overweight at that time.

The researchers calculated each woman's risk of gaining weight over the 12-year study period, based on her age, level of physical activity, her usual weight pattern, and the amount of calories she ate - as well as whether she smoked, was menopausal, or dieted. They identified five basic eating patterns, which they called Empty Calorie, High Fat, Wine and Moderate Eating, Light Eating, and Heart Healthy.

No surprise: Women who ate an "Empty Calorie" diet -- heavy on animal fat and sweets -- had a much greater chance of becoming overweight than other groups. Some 41% of this group became overweight during the 12-year period, compared with 29% for the group as a whole, and 24% for those who ate the "Heart-Healthy" diet with more fruits, vegetables, low-fat milk, and other low-fat and high-fiber foods. The "Empty Calorie" eaters tended to be younger, were more likely to diet, and were also more likely to smoke.