Because of the pervasive belief that thinness is more important than the health and the multibillion-dollar weight-control industry, weight loss obsession is extremely common in today’s culture.
Many Americans get caught up in calorie counting, managing macros, or avoiding certain foods to lose weight. However, this behavior can have serious health consequences.
Eating a healthy, balanced diet and regular exercise can lead to weight loss, which is a welcome benefit in some cases. There are cases in which the drive to lose weight becomes so overwhelming that it interferes with a person’s day-to-day activities.
Signs of Weight Loss Obsession
It’s easy to get sucked into the media’s illusion that thin bodies are the only desirable bodies in today’s world. Although a healthy diet and regular exercise are crucial for preventing disease, making weight loss obsession is your only goal can be stressful and even dangerous.
Obsession with food is a red flag if it interferes with your daily life.
A further indicators could be:
- Keeping a close eye on what you eat all the time, whether it’s calories, macros, or the total
- Testing one’s weight or other physique metrics regularly
- Fear caused by a diet plan that involves severely limiting certain foods, like those high in carbohydrates or sugar
- Having strict dietary and physical activity guidelines
- Eating certain foods while feeling bad about yourself
- Binge eating and other forms of food control loss
- Methods of increasing caloric expenditure, such as exercise and fasting
- Trying out the latest diet trends
- Weight swings, or yo-yo dieting,
Some people may develop an unhealthy preoccupation with only consuming “healthy” or “high quality” foods, such as organic, vegan, non-GMO, or some other label. This is medically classified as orthorexia Nervosa. Orthorexia often results in weight loss, even if that isn’t the primary objective.
Risks of Unrealistic Weight Loss Goals
It’s risky to base your weight loss obsession goal on what a social media influencer, diet commercial, or fad diet book claims is possible. To make a profit, the diet industry is rife with exaggerated claims and deceptive practices.
Most oversold schemes have scant scientific backing. After 5 years, more than 80% of the weight lost by the study participants who had been treated for obesity resurfaced, according to a meta-analysis of these treatments. The real danger is believing in impossible diets, which increases the likelihood of failure and subsequent disappointment.
Setting unrealistic weight loss targets can be harmful for other reasons as well:
- The long-term success of a change may be impossible to guarantee, leading to yo-yo dieting and disappointment.
- The lack of essential nutrients in many diets, such as vitamins and minerals, can cause serious health issues (osteoporosis, heart disease, etc.).
- Strict under-eating regimes have been linked to developing eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and binge eating.
- Poor eating can result in complications with our metabolism, heart, temperature regulation, heart rate, digestion, and hormones.
5 Signs of Weight Obsession
1. Eating Disorders
As defined by the National Institute of Health, an eating disorder is characterized by an excessive preoccupation with one’s weight, “a medical condition that leads to extreme dietary changes, like eating very little or a lot. An eating disorder may also be characterized by extreme distress or concern about one’s weight or appearance.”
As a whole, there are three major categories of eating disorders:
- Females with anorexia nervosa have an irrational fear of gaining weight and severely restrict their caloric intake, resulting in a distorted body image and the cessation of menstruation.
- Bulimics, in contrast to anorexics, tend to consume excessive amounts of food. These binge eating episodes are followed by feelings of guilt and extreme measures like forced vomiting, laxatives, diuretics, excessive exercise, fasting, or a combination of these.
Compared to other eating disorders, which typically cause dangerously low body weights, the binge-eating disorder may cause the opposite effect. That’s because people who binge eat tend to eat more than they intend to, but they don’t counteract this behavior by purging, cutting calories drastically, or overdoing physical activity.
Binge eating disorder (BED) is the most prevalent eating disorder, and it can lead to serious health problems such as obesity, Type 2 diabetes, high blood cholesterol, high cholesterol, gallbladder disease, and heart disease because the foods associated with BED are typically high in fat and low in protein.
Strengthening muscles and bones, relieving stress, enhancing coordination, and preventing conditions like hypertension and osteoporosis are all possible through regular exercise. Unless, of course, it isn’t.
Exercising excessively, which can happen when one is preoccupied with weight and appearance, can reduce muscle mass and cause heart damage. Those who suffer from compulsive exercising, also known as anorexia athletica or obligatory exercise, put their workouts ahead of everything else in their lives, even if it means sacrificing relationships with friends and family or continuing to exercise despite physical discomfort.
Feeling guilty about skipping a workout and then working out harder the next time is another red flag that your exercise routine may be doing more harm than good for your health. The same is true if an exercise addict worries about eating too much before his workout.
Constant exercising can be fatal if coupled with an eating disorder like anorexia (of which more will be said below).
3. Calorie counting and severe restriction
Keeping track of the calories you consume daily is a good idea. When healthy behavior becomes an unhealthy obsession, warning signs include excessive preoccupation with calories, chronic hunger due to inadequate intake, and strict rules regarding what and how much you can eat.
Although calorie needs vary by age, gender, and activity level, the National Institutes of Health recommends that men consume about 2,500 calories per day and women consume about 2,000 calories per day [source: NIH]. You can use the calorie and fat counter provided by the American Heart Association to determine the precise number of calories you need to maintain your current weight or to relieve excess pounds safely. If you’re eating significantly fewer calories than are recommended, it may be because you must try to lose weight quickly.
Restricting one’s diet to a single food group (such as pastes or gels), drinking only water, or chewing gum instead of eating is another symptom of this obsession.
4. Keeping a Constant Scale Over Your Head
The measuring stick. It has the potential to be both a helpful tool in the fight against unhealthy weight gain and an unhealthy crutch for those who already suffer from an unhealthy preoccupation with their weight.
Once a week at the same time, checking your weight will give you a good idea of how your activity and calorie intake are affecting your body composition. You may be too preoccupied with your weight if you check it more than once daily. Compulsive weighing is bad because it adds stress to your day, but it’s also harmful because your weight naturally rises and falls throughout the day.
Another symptom of being “scale obsessed” is placing too much weight on the number you see in the scale’s window, treating it more like a judgment than a piece of information, and letting it affect how you feel about yourself throughout the day.
The scale’s allure can be overcome by considering that it’s just one of many health indicators. The state of your health depends on more than just how your clothes fit; it also depends on how much energy you have and the quality of the foods you eat.
5. Having an Unrealistic Self-Perception
An important first step and source of motivation on the path to weight loss obsession is an honest assessment of one’s appearance in the mirror. The reflection in the mirror can be as distorted as Alice’s growing and shrinking body in Lewis Carroll’s classic tale.
You may be developing body dysmorphic disorder if you find yourself obsessing over the size of a specific body part (like your abs or triceps), even if that part is within the average range for that body part’s thickness. Those who suffer from this condition, also known as “imagined ugliness,” are overly self-conscious about their appearance, have an unrealistically low opinion of themselves, and check (or avoid) mirrors obsessively. As a result, they may withdraw from others and develop an introverted personality. Extreme cases of body dysmorphic disorder may also involve a person’s repeated attempts to find happiness through invasive cosmetic procedures.
The most common medications used to treat body dysmorphic disorder are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, but cognitive behavioral therapy is also an option (SSRIs). Antidepressants like SSRIs are widely used because they prevent serotonin from being reabsorbed by neurons in the brain, thereby increasing the concentration of serotonin, which has been shown to normalize emotional states.
Where to Look for Assistance?
Talk to a doctor if your eating habits are taking over your life, interfering with your daily activities, or becoming too much to handle on your own. It is a good idea to seek help from a therapist or dietitian knowledgeable in eating disorders.
Calorie counting and food elimination diets are two practices that, at first glance, may seem “healthy,” but they can quickly become obsessive and detrimental. Eating disorders are serious medical conditions caused by extreme cases of disordered eating and preoccupation with food.
Wrapping It Up
Your best bet is to forego using weight loss obsession as a means of inspiration and instead focus on nurturing yourself. Achieving this goal may entail accepting food for what it is, eating well while still listening to your body, and engaging in meaningful physical activity without the intention of “working off” the calories you just consumed. Consult a therapist or dietitian trained in intuitive eating if you need assistance getting started.
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