You’re trying to lose weight, so you’re getting more exercise, cutting out pizza, and even wearing a fitness tracker to keep track of your progress. The quest, though, begins to take over your life. According to professional psychologist Stacey Rosenfeld, PhD, author of Does Every Woman Have an Eating Disorder? ($17; amazon.com), “engaging in these activities can be a slippery slope.” “It’s easy to move from ‘regular eating’ to ‘disordered eating’ to ‘eating disordered,’ especially for persons with perfectionist inclinations or a hereditary tendency.”
And if you think eating disorders are only a problem for teenagers, think again, says Adrienne Ressler, a licenced master social worker and vice president of the Renfrew Center Foundation, one of the country’s leading eating disorder treatment institutions. “We’ve noticed a significant increase in the number of women in their 30s and beyond,” she says.
Examine the signals that your healthy routines are veering toward unhealthy terrain.
You weigh yourself several times every day.
This is a compulsive behaviour that will only get worse with time if you step on the scale before and after meals, or if you modify the way you stand on the scale to tweak the numbers. “Weighing oneself once a week is plenty unless you have a physician-prescribed cause to do so,” says Bonnie Brennan, senior clinical director of adult services at the Eating Recovery Center in Denver, Colorado. Frequent self-weighing was connected to greater weight-control behaviours (both healthy and bad), more depressed symptoms, and lower self-esteem in women, according to a 2012 study from the University of Minnesota. Because weight changes throughout the day, Brennan recommends weighing yourself first thing in the morning, after using the restroom, and before eating breakfast for the most accurate results.
You keep track of every calorie.
Journaling meals and snacks is an excellent technique to avoid mindless snacking, but it also discourages intuitive eating, so you start selecting foods exclusively on the basis of their calorie content, disregarding crucial vitamins and nutrients as well as your personal sense of satisfaction. “There’s a delicate line between calorie monitoring and eating disorder thoughts, feelings, and behaviours,” Rosenfeld adds. “If you already have trouble controlling your eating habits or thinking, shifting your emphasis away from calories is an excellent option.” Fill half your plate with vegetables and whole fruits, one-quarter with lean protein like chicken or fish, and one-quarter with a whole grain like quinoa or brown rice to eat healthily without stressing.
You raise yourself.
In every reflection, you might unconsciously feel for a hip bone or collar bone, check for lumps in your thighs or tummy, or just examine your jawline or cheekbones. Marjorie Nolan Cohn, RDN, a national spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and co-author of Overcoming Binge Eating For Dummies ($17; amazon.com), states, “Body checking is a common symptom of obsession with weight and body form.” “Many people who body-check do so on a regular basis, and it’s partly, but not entirely, OCD.” Switch gears fast if you catch yourself measuring up your flaws—we’re not talking about examining your rear-view mirror for pantylines or your teeth for errant lipstick—to break the habit.
You think losing weight will fix your difficulties.
A voice inside your head may promise that life will be perfect after you reach a certain weight, or when your thighs stop touching, or when your abs are entirely flat. “It’s believing that if we simply get slender or pretty enough, everything else will fall into place,” Brennan adds. However, losing 5 or 10 pounds will not help you find work or improve your relationships, and this type of unrealistic thinking can lead to failure in other aspects of your life and hinder you from proactively working on actual difficulties. Consider how your life might be if you were at your ideal weight or shape. You’re probably putting harmful expectations on your body if you find yourself in a Barbie Dreamhouse, giving a White House briefing, or acting out a scene from a beer ad.
Food is seen in black and white.
Broccoli is healthy; potatoes are unhealthy. “The more we use this phraseology, the more likely we are to judge ourselves by what we eat,” says Christine Peat, PhD, an assistant professor in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s department of psychiatry. “It places far too much emphasis on eating.” Of course, you don’t want to live on candy bars and doughnuts, but according to Peat, no meal is intrinsically good or harmful. Consider foods to be fuel for a healthy body. That involves including all micronutrients in your diet, such as potassium, magnesium, and vitamin C in potatoes, and vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin B6 in broccoli.
You’re adding additional foods to your list of restricted foods.
Our bodies are built to function on a variety of nutrients, including carbohydrates, lipids, protein, and fibre. You may feel that avoiding sugar or gluten will enhance your health, but it’s really just a means to cut calories—and it’s easy to fall into this trap. “Restriction often breeds restriction, with diets becoming increasingly restricted over time,” adds Rosenfeld. Having “forbidden foods” can lead to disordered eating and even binges as your body begins to crave the nutrients it lacks.
You’re avoiding social gatherings.
Isolating oneself to focus on weight loss-related pursuits is a red flag that your concentration is becoming too narrow, whether you’re frightened you’ll go crazy on the margaritas and little hot dogs or that people will notice you aren’t. Brennan has patients that struggle around holidays like as Christmas and New Year’s because they feel obligated to eat and socialise. However, isolation is unhealthy. “You become a victim of only your own self-deprecating ideas and messages when you lock yourself off,” Ressler explains. “You’re not getting any feedback that challenges those unhealthy assumptions or views.” You may also feel isolated, which can lead to depression and eating disorders, according to Peat. Friends and relatives stating, “Hey, I’m kind of worried about you,” are some of the most critical checks on a developing disorder. If you’re avoiding cocktails, dinners, and parties because they could interfere with your diet or exercise routine, it’s time to engage in some healthy social interaction—and obtain the assistance you need.
You must cut your food into small pieces.
Or perhaps the foods won’t mix on your plate, you can only eat with chopsticks or a small spoon, you can only eat at specific times, or you have to chew each mouthful 10 times before swallowing. “Food rituals cross the line when they’re no longer a method to eat healthily but a technique to take control,” says Nolan Cohn, who adds that if the ritual isn’t completed, terrible feelings are likely to follow. “A key indicator of an eating disorder is every meal needing to be strictly regulated with food ritual practises.”
Your workout should always come first.
Every doctor will tell you that regular exercise is beneficial to your physical and mental health in some way. However, it is possible to go too far. “People might develop a compulsive or obsessive connection with exercise,” Rosenfeld says, “in which they strive to maintain a tight regimen and end up in a sea of unpleasant emotions when they can’t work out.” Obsessive exercisers will fit in a workout no matter what it takes, even if it means missing family or job obligations or ignoring an injury or illness. They frequently overwork themselves, resulting in overuse injuries, burnout, and tiredness. If you prioritise exercise over everything else, including sleep, and the prospect of missing a workout makes you sweat, you may be suffering from obsession.
You’re always up to date on the latest diet fad.
You’re always investigating the latest eating fad, whether it’s veganism, Paleo, or Bulletproof. “If nothing else,” Peat argues, “it’s probably insane-making” because of all the competing counsel available. Worse, if that’s how you spend your time, it keeps your weight, diet, and appearance at the forefront of your mind, limiting your pursuit of other hobbies and eventually creating a feedback loop where that’s all you can think about, according to Peat. Restriction the number of articles you can read per day, or set a 5- to 10-minute time limit for reading about weight reduction, if you find yourself clicking on every new diet or exercise headline promising pounds lost or inches off.
You scrutinise everyone.
Not because you’re on the hunt for a date. “You perform a quick body scan when you meet someone and think, ‘hmmm, she seems a little hippy—my hips are better,'” Ressler says. “You’re presuming that that person’s size, shape, or weight is the most significant thing about them, and it’s a sign that you’re obsessed with your own size and form.” You could also silently criticise other people’s decisions, such as ordering pasta or consuming soda. Other attributes to value, according to Ressler, are a sense of humour, a pleasant smile, and trustworthiness. You’ll not only improve your social skills, but you’ll also feel less uneasy about your own body weight and form with time.
You’re into slim photos.
It’s one thing to pin a wedding photo to the fridge as motivation to lose weight; it’s quite another to obsess over your 17-year-old physique or peruse mags for skinny models (who are guaranteed to be Photoshopped anyway). “It’s not necessarily their objective in the moment for people who look at skinny photos, but an ideal of bodily perfection,” Brennan explains. “They usually gaze at the pictures with a mixture of longing and embarrassment.” Ressler suggests looking for a snapshot of oneself as a child, which may seem odd. She claims that talking to the youngster in the image is sometimes easier than talking to your adult self. “Consider what you can do to help that young lady. What message does she require in addition to the ones you’re sending her?”
You know how to avoid eating.
Isn’t it natural to chew gum or drink water or coffee to quell hunger pangs? Not so quickly. “This’strategy’ aims to suppress normal hunger signs while interfering with intuitive eating,” Rosenfeld explains. “The issue is that these practises are motivated by a limiting mentality.” Although a glass of water may make you feel full, you are not providing your body with the right nourishment if it requires food. While some individuals turn to diet sodas to fill a gap in their stomachs, studies show that sugar replacements can boost sugar cravings. Drink water and chew gum between meals if you like, but feed your stomach real food when it growls.
Fitbit has you enslaved.
Receiving feedback on your eating and activity might help you stay on track—if you only took 1,200 steps today, you didn’t move enough (experts recommend about 10,000). Tracking too religiously or in many ways can cause problems. Food-tracking applications like MyFitnessPal, according to body image specialists, can lead to disordered eating since they encourage hyperawareness of data. “Using devices to track workouts, steps, and calories can lead to a disordered, counterintuitive relationship with exercise,” says Rosenfeld. “Activity turns into a numbers game, and you can always do more.” In fact, according to a Duke University study to be published in the Journal of Consumer Research, Fitbits and other monitoring devices can potentially take the fun out of an activity by quantifying it. Instead, Rosenfeld suggests finding an activity you enjoy doing for the sake of doing it, so you can leave the trackers at home and simply move for the sake of moving.
You only eat organic foods 100 percent of the time.
Maybe only raw, or only locally sourced. “A lot of people say it’s for health concerns,” Peat explains. “Is it true that adopting vegan, Paleo, or eating organic has health benefits? Obviously. But not when it’s used as a thinly veiled justification for calorie or portion management.” According to a 2015 research from Bates College, orthorexia (a pathological concern with food) is “a illness disguised as a virtue.” “Although motivated by a desire to achieve ideal health,” the researchers write, “orthorexia may lead to nutritional deficits, medical issues, and a poor quality of life.” Any form of self-restrictive diet raises a red flag for Peat. “Regardless of the exact warning indicators, the level to which someone is rigid is the primary thing we observe,” she says. “There isn’t any sense of adaptability. It’s this idea of having rules and needing to follow them.”