DOI: 10.1177/10497323231221666 ISSN: 1049-7323

A Qualitative Model of Weight Cycling

Lynsey Romo, Sydney Earl, Katelin A. Mueller, Mary Obiol
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

Weight cycling is a likely consequence of striving to lose weight after internalizing body image ideals, making upward social comparisons, and experiencing weight stigma. Despite weight cycling’s potential physical and psychological consequences, the interplay of weight cycling, social pressures, and experienced and internalized stigma have not been qualitatively explored. Thus, through in-depth interviews of 36 weight-cycling adults, this study sought to understand how people negotiate weight cycling. Interviews informed the development of a qualitative model of weight cycling, which was derived from a theory-neutral inductive analysis. The model’s stages included entering the cycle, undergoing the cycle, and challenging the cycle. Participants were triggered to enter the cycle due to weight stigma caused by social pressures. Within the cycle, interviewees internalized weight stigma and engaged in disordered weight management behaviors. Some participants challenged the cycle by becoming more self-aware and mitigating their toxic dieting behaviors. However, it was very difficult, if not impossible, for many to fully exit weight cycling and the restraints of previous weight management thinking and patterns. Our investigation underscores the seriousness of weight cycling and suggests ways to combat weight cycling on both macro and individual levels. It may also be useful to consider weight cycling as disordered eating in hopes of shifting society’s dangerous focus on rapid weight loss.

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