How to Tell if Your Healthy Eating is becoming an Unhealthy Obsession
It was April 2009 when I returned from my working holiday in Australia. I had come home to Ireland after fun and frolics in the sun to a financial crash and a lot of snow. There were no jobs and cash was running low, so I couldn’t afford to join a gym.
At this point, I had decided that I wanted to train to become a fitness instructor. After my own transformation of a 15kg drop in weight, I felt I had finally found the answer to weight loss and wanted to “heal the world.”
I was your average gym bunny. I was there every day. The treadmill and bicep curls being my favourites. I ate super healthy, clean eating all the way. Friends wanted to catch up but I only wanted to train. I skipped nights out and found new ways to bond with my friends; spa treatments, girlie nights in over a cupa, cinema, and dinner parties (but only the ones I held because then I was still in control of what I ate).
I avoided eating out in restaurants, because I didn’t know how things were cooked and if I did go out for lunch it was a salad for me.
I avoided nights out partying, because the alcohol would set me back. Instead I would either not go out at all or I wouldn’t drink.
I even avoided girlie nights in, because I was afraid my friends would think I was boring if I didn’t drink or get a take away. They just didn’t understand my goals!
I avoided anything that would trigger any amount of weight gain and I resented people for taking up my precious meal planning/ gym going time.
People would say things like “Oh you’re so disciplined,” “You’re so healthy,” or “I wish I had your willpower.”
I was stressed if I couldn’t get my daily workout in – What would happen? Would I gain weight? Would I undo everything that day? And I won’t even tell you how I felt when injured my shoulder!
When people asked me why do you train so much, I would say “for my health of course! I am passionate about fitness. I love what I’m doing and how it makes me feel.”
And this was true to a certain extent, but this so called “passion” was slowly turning into an unhealthy obsession.
The week I landed in Dublin home from Australia in the snow, I had no job and I had no gym. I thought if I don’t run, I’m going to explode. I was anxious, irritable, and my mother was sick to death of my moaning.
So, I had the bright idea of running in the snow. Most people would have chosen to rest up, chat with family and friends, or even take the safer option and train in the home or ehhhh take the day off, but no not me, I’m a rebel! So, I slipped and slid all over the path. This wasn’t working I thought and figured it would be “safer” to run on the road where it was gritted.
What was I thinking? I could have broken my neck or worse! It’s amazing what we can rationalise if we try hard enough.
THERE IS A FINE LINE BETWEEN BEING HEALTHY AND BEING OBSESSED.
If you can relate to this, you might understand where I’m coming from. I exercised and ate healthy out of fear, not pleasure, enjoyment, or passion as I told myself and others. Losing those 15kg gave me increased energy, better moods, less irritability, enhanced health (I wasn’t sick all the time like I was before), and so I was paranoid about losing all of these positive benefits that this weight loss, healthy eating and exercise had given me.
I panicked. I thought that if I lost momentum, those 15kg would pile back on. I was in a rut. Stuck on this treadmill, pounding the pavement out of fear when all I really wanted was to enjoy my life again but I thought that this is what it took to maintain a level of skinniness that I so desired. So, I went to extreme lengths to make sure that that the weight gain would never happen again.
This is where the fine line between passion becomes an obsession. Part of being healthy means being able to spend time with family and friends and not have to worry about where you’re going to fit your next training session in, having a bar of chocolate, or a glass of wine without guilt, regret, or feel the need to “work it off”.
In reality, this fear about getting fat again was probably more unhealthy than the previous 15kg.
The thing was, I was so caught up in getting fat that I forgot to live and enjoy my life. Yes, I was happy, but I really did miss the relationships and friendships, the fun we had over a glass of wine, the giggles we had over a nice dinner, the bonding we had over a box of milk tray, and I gave all this up for what? My health.
Do you find yourself crossing the line between being healthy and being obsessed?
Here are some of the tell tale signs:
When it gets to the stage where you are distressed or anxious if you cannot do your daily workout or meal planning
If you avoid nights out with friends for fear of drinking alcohol, because it will cause you to put on weight
If you avoid eating in restaurants, because you don’t know how its cooked, cant weigh the calories to count them, or are unsure of the ingredients
Or any other social exclusion for fear of putting on weight or as some people call it “undoing all the hard work”
You won’t eat in your parents house, because “they eat unhealthy” or “they don’t get your goals” or “they pick on everything I eat”
You would rather be in the gym than with friends or family
You feel the need to “work off” every meal
The weighing scales dictates your moods
You are faking happy (i.e., you feel that if you put on weight you will be unhappy and vice versa)
You feel major fear , stress, or anxiety if you cannot exercise or eat the way you want to
If these resonate with you, you may be on your way to being obsessed. These are all borderline eating disorders that should be managed, in most cases by a professional.
Your health should not control you or lead you to feeling out of control. Weight loss, improved health are really positive goals, and if we create a journey that is full of stress and fear and negativity, we will find it harder to reach that goal and maintain it.
I ALWAYS TELL MY CLIENTS, NOTHING POSITIVE EVER COMES FROM A NEGATIVE JOURNEY.
By all means priorities your health but being healthy doesn’t need to mean that you “only eat clean food” that you “only eat vegetables that are picked that day” or that you “can’t eat chocolate or drink wine ever again.”
Yes, get nutrition advice if you need to lose weight and of course you may have to sacrifice the odd social night to attain your goal, but it’s when this starts to dictate your whole life that it becomes an unhealthy obsession. Nutrition and exercise should enhance your life not take away from it.
If this resonates with you, you will also love our podcast “Beyond the six pack with Danny-J Johnson” available now.
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Elysia Doody is a Functional Nutritionist & Exercise Coach specialising in female health and wellness.
She’s embraced Functional Medicine to address her health concerns, and is now helping as many women as possible in a similar position. Taking everything she’s learned through education, her own health, and working with clients, she’s keen to share it all through online programmes.
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