Years ago, I decided to get serious about losing the 30 extra pounds I was carrying. I joined a weight-loss program and followed their guidelines dutifully, and the pounds started coming off. Although they started off well, things quickly got out of hand, and my healthy program became anything but. I found myself getting on the scale five times a day, checking to see how much each meal caused me to gain. The meals shrank each day until I was eventually eating about 400 calories daily, 600 on a heavy day. I exercised twice a day for an hour each time. If my exercise routine was interrupted by family or job, I was irritated beyond belief.
Being obsessed with weight loss like this is unhealthy, even if your weight does not drop below a reasonable number. If you don’t take in enough calories, your muscles can begin to waste away, your energy levels drop, and your body lacks the nutrients needed to maintain optimum health. Most women require a minimum of 1200 calories just to perform basic bodily functions like breathing and blood flow. Excess exercise causes the body to burn even more calories.
So how can you avoid becoming obsessed with weight loss and still stay on a healthy program?
Don’t weigh yourself more than twice a week. Your weight will normally fluctuate a bit from day to day, and scrutinizing every ounce won’t help you establish where (or if) problems lie in your eating patterns. It can be important to be sure you are still on track with your weight loss, so some checking is ok.
If you can’t stay off the scale, get rid of it. Instead of using one at home, stop at your doctor’s office to weigh in weekly. If you do use a scale in your house, make sure it is accurate but not too detailed. It’s very easy to become obsessed with the ounces you may lose or gain; stick to something that shows whole pounds.
Be sure the goals you have set are reasonable. Plan to lose no more than 10 pounds a month. If you don’t have much to lose, even that number may be a stretch. If the goal isn’t feasible, you may push yourself to extremes to try to reach it. Rather than setting goals for pounds lost, set them for healthy behaviors. Treat yourself if you exercise between 5-8 hours for the week, for instance. Plan for a reward after following a healthy program for three weeks. Choose goals other than something like “I will lose 8 pounds in the next two weeks.”
Get the specifics about a healthy weight loss plan from your doctor, and keep in touch with the doctor. If the doctor or other health professional shows concern about the rate of weight loss or other elements of your diet and exercise regimen, discuss options to fix the problem.
Watch for the signals that indicate you may be obsessed with your weight loss:
Lying about how much you exercise
Lying about how little you eat
Finding yourself unable to stay off the scale
Seeing yourself as much heavier than you truly are
Avoiding social and necessary activities in favor of exercise on a regular basis
Focus on health
I dropped pounds while I was obsessed with my weight loss, and I somehow managed to keep them off and stick to my regimen for a little over a year. But I suffered from fatigue and headaches. My relationships were damaged by my attitude. And my metabolism was actually lowered by the extreme reduction in calories. The long-term effects on my physical and mental health were not worth the compliments I received about my looks. Being obsessed is no way to achieve a healthy weight. Instead, staying focused on a well-balanced diet and regular moderate exercise is the way to go.
If you find yourself becoming obsessed with weight loss despite these precautions, talk to your doctor or seek counseling. Take back control of your health.
Lisa Cicciarello Andrews, Med, RD, LD. “The minimal calories needed?” netwellness.uc.edu.