Weight Fluctuation, Chronic Dieting and Bulimia

Weight fluctuations can be a common occurrence within a healthy individual. One’s body weight can fluctuate on average 2 to 4 pounds per day [1]. However, individuals who consistently engage in chronic dieting behavior, as well as individuals suffering from bulimia nervosa, experience weight fluctuations beyond the normal day to day variance.

In fact, the weight fluctuations one endures during deprivation, binging, and purgative behaviors can become so drastic, that not only does it take a toll physically on the human body, but also mentally, and emotionally. Often times, these fluctuations influence the individual to perpetuate, and sometimes even fuel additional disordered eating patterns and behaviors, in a failed attempt to combat weight instability.

Unfortunately, we live in a society dominated by an obsession and drive for thinness. Not surprisingly, fad dieting has become a growing epidemic. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition defines Chronic Dieting Syndrome as: “going on and off of calorie restricting for over two years”, as well as being “obsessed with weight and size.” More often than not, chronic dieters are faced with weight inconsistencies for several reasons.



First and foremost, many of the popular fad diets, whether it be a juice cleanse, “fast,” or an elimination of a food group diet, all have one thing in common – they are depriving, restrictive and do not meet the individual’s nutritional needs. Though the initial weight loss caused by inadequate food or fluid intake from dieting might seem appealing to dieters, there are markedly known side effects, with one being potential weight gain.

Research has shown that with dieting of any kind, most individuals are unable to maintain the initial weight lost for an extended period of time [2]. This is partly due to the fact that they are denying their bodies of the appropriate nutrients to meet their needs through sheer will power, and control.

They are in fact ignoring the body’s internal signals of hunger, leaving them extremely vulnerable, and in a state of primal hunger, which may fuel the urge to overeat/binge and for some purging afterward. This cycle is also known as the deprivation binge/purge cycle.

With this vulnerability, it is almost impossible to ignore in a world consumed by marketing and advertising. Food images are everywhere- social media, television, the internet, billboard, print ads. It’s inescapable. Consequently, weight fluctuation is inevitable for most.

In some cases, chronic dieting has shown to be a precursor to the onset of bulimia. In cases of bulimia nervosa, the sufferer is consistently engaging in recurrent episodes of binge eating, followed by compensatory behaviors such as vomiting, laxative use, diuretics, prolonged food restriction, or excessive exercise, in order to prevent weight gain [4].

Women Weighing Herself

Weight Instability

Weight instability often occurs for a variety of reasons related to binge eating behaviors in combination with compensatory behaviors. On average, an individual may consume anywhere from 1,500-11,000 calories in a single binge episode [3]. With this rapid consumption, it is often common for weight gain to occur solely because of the absorption of calories, even if purging is immediate.

Studies have shown that approximately 46-56% of calories consumed during a binge/purge episode are absorbed (or approximately 1200 kcals) [5]. In addition, compensatory behaviors such as laxative use, vomiting, and diuretics can cause dangerous shifts in weight variance. Often, these purgative behaviors, promote initial weight loss due to loss of fluid and dehydration, however, a rebound effect of weight gain may occur [3].

This weight fluctuation is commonly due to re-hydration, and fluid shifting. In some cases, individuals may be subject to experience severe edema, a condition characterized by an excess of fluid collecting in the cavities or tissues of the body [4]. Weight inconsistencies can be challenging not only physiologically but from a psychological standpoint.

Because they believe if they just have more willpower and control, sufferers will go to even greater lengths, and frequencies to achieve weight loss. Unfortunately, these attempts of weight control are like chasing a moving target. Weight fluctuations are imminent for everyone, but are even more extreme for chronic dieters and those suffering from bulimia nervosa.

These findings clearly indicate that weight changes can be expected when engaging in restrained eating, as well as behaviors common to those diagnosed with bulimia nervosa. Some of the weight variance experienced can be temporary.

However, weight instability may affect individuals long after dieting and purgative behaviors have ceased. However, there is hope for the chronic dieter and even those with severe eating disorders.


  1. Gingras, Jacqui ,, Vicki Harber, Catherine Field, and Linda McCargar. “Metabolic Assessment of Female Chronic Dieters with Either Normal or Low Resting Energy Expenditures.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 71, no. 6 (2000): 1413-420. Accessed 2015. doi:June 2000
  2. Bacon, L. (2008). Health at every size: The surprising truth about your weight (pp. 40-50). Dallas, Texas: BenBella Books.
  3. Reiff, D and Reiff, K. (1992). Eating Disorders: Nutrition Therapy in the Recovery Process. Gaithersburg, MD: Aspen Publishers, Inc.
  4. Stice, E., Presnell, K., Groesz, L., & Shaw, H. (2005). Effects of a Weight Maintenance Diet on Bulimic Symptoms in Adolescent Girls: An Experimental Test of the Dietary Restraint Theory. Health Psychology, 4(24), 402-412. Retrieved September 29, 2015.
  5. Mehler PS, Anderson AE. Eating Disorders A Guide to Medical Care and Complications 2nd Edition. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins Press 2010

Contributors: Gina Franceschi, PCCI, and Leah Huff, RD, of Montecatini

Montecatini provides a range of treatment services that provides healing and freedom from the vicious cycle. Find a life of trusting and listening to your body through Montecatini’s philosophy of variety, moderation and balance. Not just with food, but with all areas of your life!

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on November 4, 2015
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com

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