Feature Archive

8 Ways to Stop Obsessing About Weight Loss

Throw your scale away and learn how to lose weight and get in shape without driving yourself crazy.

By Sarah Albert
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario

As another year comes to a close, lots of promises to get in shape and lose weight remain unfulfilled. Let's face it, most of us have the same resolution over and over again, like vowing to give up junk food and start exercising on New Year's Day only to find ourselves on the sofa enjoying a bag of chips within a few days. While lots of folks will abandon their efforts in just a few days or weeks on the treadmill, others may find themselves obsessed with finally trimming the fat for good.

But how do you know when you've taken things too far? Is ordering your dressing on the side or having a daily weigh-in a sign of obsession, or are these just examples of some of the small ways you can help achieve your weight loss goals? We asked two experts to weigh in on some of the warning signs that you've taken your fitness or diet routine too far, and they offered tips for preventing obsessive thoughts and behavior.

Remember the Weight of Water

You might want to try scaling back when it comes to weighing yourself. In fact, you might want to skip the scale all together, says Olivia H. Beckman, MD, who is the medical director of the eating disorders program at Walden Behavioral Care. The only reason to have a scale, she says, is to monitor your weight for medical reasons. Otherwise you can leave it to your health care provider to monitor your weight even if you're trying to lose a significant amount. After all, it's natural for our weight to fluctuate by a few pounds on a monthly, even daily basis, especially for women. Beckman says if you find yourself basing your daily fitness and diet on what the scale says in the morning, you're likely to make unhealthy and unnecessary decisions, namely skipping meals or working out excessively. The solution to scale obsession might be as simple as throwing it away, and instead using how your clothing fits -- and how you look and feel physically -- as a weight barometer or guide.

If you need a little motivation for giving up your scale, keep in mind that often minor weight fluctuations aren't as real as the numbers would have you believe. "Quick weight loss is rarely fat loss that stays off but rather a loss that is a mixture of water weight, lean protein mass, and some fat," says Susan Mitchell, PhD, a registered dietitian working with a program to help promote the dietary intake of fruits and vegetables.

Eat Based on Nutritional Value Instead of Calories

"Portion size determines total calorie intake, but if all the calories are from marshmallow peeps, your body will not run like the fine-tuned machine it is designed to be," says Mitchell. "You may lose weight but you may also lose hair, have dry skin, awful nails, and that's just what you see on the outside." Mitchell says you can also lose muscle and bone mass from vitamin and mineral deficiencies, which can lead to osteoporosis.

Stop Playing Survivor at Home

If you're trying to lose weight, especially a significant amount of weight, do it gradually. Remember, slow and steady wins the race. In fact, starvation or rapid weight loss can actually trigger weight obsession, says Beckman. Long-lasting weight loss takes time, so planning to lose weight for a party or wedding or prior to a life change like starting college can also trigger obsession and lead to an eating disorder.

Beckman says if you're starving yourself or not eating enough you're also more likely to trigger binges. Instead, try having smaller meals more frequently or three meals a day, with snacks in between. "The metabolism does better and actually speeds up if you eat regularly," says Beckman. If you're struggling with an eating disorder or obsessive dieting, you should make sure you eat even more regularly to avoid an intense and sudden urge to eat large amounts of food. Try focusing on making smaller, more long-lasting, and less extreme changes. Just make sure that those small changes are in balance with the rest of your life instead of your primary focus.

Pass the Bread Basket

It's not a good sign if you start sweating and feel overwhelmed with anxiety every time you see, or even dare to eat, a doughnut or some other food chock full of carbs and sugar, especially around special occasions. You want to be reasonable in your consumption of all foods and eat some healthy foods and some junk foods, says Beckman, especially around the holiday season. Too much restriction can lead to late-night bingeing and obsessive thoughts about certain foods. If you're going to a holiday party, for example, check your food anxiety at the door and plan on enjoying a treat. That doesn't mean you have to camp out by the buffet table all night, but plan to enjoy some treats in moderation. Avoid going to the party hungry, which often leads to overindulgence.