20 Signs You're Too Obsessed With Your Weight
When healthy habits go haywire
You're trying to drop pounds, so you're running more, laying off pizza, and even wearing a fitness tracker to chart your progress. But then the mission starts taking over your life. "Engaging in these behaviors can be a slippery slope," says clinical psychologist Stacey Rosenfeld, PhD, author of Does Every Woman Have an Eating Disorder? ($17; amazon.com). "It's easy, especially for people with perfectionist tendencies or a genetic predisposition, to slide across the spectrum from 'normal eating' to 'disordered eating' to 'eating disordered.'"
Â And if you thought eating disorders were limited to teenage girls, you're wrong, says Adrienne Ressler, licensed master social worker and vice president of the Renfrew Center Foundation, one of the country's top treatment centers for eating disorders. "We've seen a great increase in mid-life womennow about a quarter of our patients are in their 30s and above," she says.
Check the following signs that your healthy habits may be swerving into unhealthy territory.
You weigh yourself multiple times a day
If you're stepping on the scale before and after meals, or if you adjust the way you stand on the scale to tweak the numbers, this is a compulsive behavior that will only get worse over time. "Unless you have a physician-prescribed reason to get on a scale, weighing yourself once a week is enough," says Bonnie Brennan, senior clinical director of adult services at the Eating Recovery Center in Denver, Colorado. A 2012 study from the University of Minnesota found that frequent self-weighing was linked to more weight-control behaviors (both healthy and unhealthy), more depressive symptoms and lower self-esteem in women. Weight naturally fluctuates throughout the day, so if you're inclined to step on the scale daily, Brennan advises doing it first thing in the morning, after hitting the bathroom and before breakfast for the most reliable data.
You count every calorie
You feel yourself up
You might absentmindedly feel for a hip bone or collar bone, check for lumps in your thighs or stomach or just assess your jawline or cheekbones in every reflection. "Body checking is a common sign of preoccupation with weight and body shape," says Marjorie Nolan Cohn, RDN, a national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and co-author of Overcoming Binge Eating For Dummies ($17; amazon.com). "Often people who body-check are doing it constantly, and it's somewhat, but not completely, OCD in nature." If you catch yourself sizing up your imperfections—we're not talking about checking your rear-view for panty lines or your teeth for stray lipstick—quickly switch gears to discourage the habit.
You believe thinness will solve your problems
You see food in black and white
Broccoli good; potatoes bad. "The more we use this phraseology, the more susceptible we are to judging ourselves by what we eat," says Christine Peat, PhD, assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "It gives food too much importance." Of course you don't want to eat only candy bars or doughnuts, but no food is inherently good or bad, Peat says. Try to think of foods as fuel for a healthy body. That means hitting all the micronutrients, like the potassium, magnesium, and vitamin C in potatoes, as well as the vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin B6 in broccoli.
You're adding more and more foods to your forbidden list
You're skipping social functions
Whether you're afraid you'll go hog-wild on the margaritas and mini hot dogs or that people will comment that you're not, isolating yourself to focus on weight loss-related pursuits is a red flag that your focus is getting too narrow. Brennan has patients who have a really tough time with holidays like Christmas and New Year's because they feel pressure to eat and see people. But isolation is not healthy. "When you close yourself off, you become victim to only your own self-deprecating thoughts and messages," Ressler says. "You're not getting any feedback that would challenge those unhealthy beliefs or assumptions." You can also feel like you're alone, which often spirals into depression and eating disorders, Peat says. Some of the most important checks on a budding disorder are friends and family saying, "Hey, I'm kind of worried about you." If you're saying no to drinks, dinners, and parties that might mess with your diet or exercise protocol, it's time to get in some healthy social interaction—and the support you likely need.
You have to cut your food into bite-sized pieces
Your workout is always your top priority
Every doctor will tell you that regular exercise is essential for just about every aspect of your physical and mental wellbeing. But it really can go too far. "People can develop a compulsive or addictive relationship with exercise in which they struggle to maintain a rigid routine," Rosenfeld says, "and they'll land in a sea of negative emotions when they're unable to work out." Compulsive exercisers will squeeze in a sweat session no matter what—even if they have to miss family or work obligations or ignore an injury or illness. They routinely push themselves too hard and suffer overuse injuries, burnout, and exhaustion. If you're putting exercise ahead of everything else, especially sleep, and if the thought of missing a workout makes you sweat, signs point to obsession.
You're always up on the newest diet craze
You check everybody out
And not because you're looking for a date. "When you meet someone, you immediately do a body scan and think, 'hmmm, she looks a little hippy—my hips are better,'" Ressler says. "You're assuming that size, shape, or weight is the most important thing about that person, and ultimately, it's an indication that you're obsessed with your own size and shape." You might also silently criticize people for their choices, like ordering pasta or drinking soda. Ressler encourages people to seek out other qualities to value, such as sense of humor, a warm smile, or trustworthiness. You'll not only deepen the social experience, but over time, you'll feel less insecure about your own body weight or shape.
You fetishize skinny pics
You have tricks to avoid eating
You're a slave to Fitbit
You eat only 100% organic, 100% of the time
You beat yourself up for bad behavior
You love your selfie more than yourself
Social media, with people snapping selfies all day long, has fanned the flames of disordered eating. "A lot of patients judge what they look like based on how many likes they're getting on a picture or whether people comment on how slim they look," Peat says. And time offers an opportunity for unhealthy comparison. "If a picture has been up for six months or a year, women might go back and say, 'when I posted that photo, people said I looked so slim and great, but that's not happening with this new photo—does that mean people think I look fat?'" It's okay to post pictures and relish compliments, as long as you don't let your 1,240 friends dictate how you should feel about yourself.