Weight loss, the most established therapy for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), is frequently followed by weight regain and fluctuation. The aim of this study was to investigate whether body weight change and variability were independent risk factors for incident NAFLD. We conducted a longitudinal cohort study. Among the 1907 participants, incident NAFLD occurred in 420 (22.0%) cases during median follow-up of 5.6 years. In the multivariate analysis, there was no significant association between weight variability and the risk of incident NAFLD. The risk of incident NAFLD was significantly higher in subjects with weight gain ≥ 10% and 7% < gain ≤ 10% [hazard ratios (HR), 2.43; 95% confidence intervals (CI), 1.65–3.58 and HR, 1.73; 95% CI, 1.26–2.39, respectively], while the risk of incident NAFLD was significantly lower in those with −7% < weight loss ≤ -−3% (HR, 0.33; 95% CI, 0.22–0.51). Overall body weight gain rather than bodyweight variability was independently associated with the risk of incident NAFLD. Understanding the association between body weight variability and incident NAFLD may have future clinical implications for the quantification of weight loss as a treatment for patients with NAFLD.