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Kathi Whitten, LCSW
When Weight Loss Stops Being Healthy
No. VA Psychotherapy Associates
. http://www.kathiwhitten.com/

When Weight Loss Stops Being Healthy

The theme this month is exercise, nutrition and weight control. Clearly this is an important topic in our society as we now focus more on the benefits of eating and exercising well.
But can you get too much of a good thing? The answer is yes. We are bombarded by messages about appearance and success, with the two often tied together. There is no doubt about the health benefits of eating and exercising wisely, but one must know what a healthy weight range is rather than letting the numbers on the scale become an end unto themselves.
Usually people feel good losing weight, often receiving compliments from friends, but they keep dieting efforts in perspective. But for some, there can be a strongly self-reinforcing quality to losing weight, with their efforts to lose taking on an urgency and an intensity that is not at first too noticeable to others. These people find it difficult to know how to let themselves ease out of the weight-losing in favor a lifestyle that maintains a healthy weight range.
It seems as though watching the needle on the scale moving downward, and fitting into increasingly smaller clothes long after a healthy weight is attained, satisfies a personal inner need that is different from the simple desire to achieve a healthy weight. Sometimes, through their prolonged dieting efforts, they have started to feel they are (or could be) in control of their bodies and become anxious at the idea of letting go of that.
Some people have difficulty forming an accurate mental representation of themselves. In a mirror, they do not see what others see. They view themselves as being too fat even while hearing friends and family plead with them to see that they have become far too thin. The weight-losing (or weight control) has commandeered most of the focus in their lives, and they will not allow themselves to do anything that feels as though they would risk losing what they have worked so hard to achieve. There are many other, often complicated, factors that can contribute to the inability to stop dieting.
Unable to grasp the serious often life-threatening consequences of anorexia (or of bulimia, a related disorder), this form of excessive dieting or exercising evolves into dangerous physical and emotional conditions, even while people caught in this nightmare of non-stop weight-control may actually and sincerely believe they are improving their lives.
Treatment for eating disorders is available. It typically involves a combination of psychotherapeutic, medical and nutritional assistance. If you or someone you care about is coping with some form of this illness, consider getting help for yourself starting with any one of the three professional areas mentioned above. Sometimes family members of people with eating disorders find it helpful to talk to a psychotherapist themselves, to find ways to cope with their concerns about their loved one. Excessive attempts at achieving or maintaining weight loss can be very serious.
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