Preoccupation with ‘Careful’ Eating Leads to Unhealthy Weight Loss

By January 10, 2013

I unintentinally lost over ** pounds gradually over a year or so. I wasn’t doing anything other than constantly being “careful” and “healthy” so that I wouldn’t gain weight – not trying to lose and not being way radical. Anyway, the doctor recently told me to gain 20-25 pounds and to eat this and that and my response inside was alarming. For the first time in ten years, I realized/admitted to myself that maybe I had a problem. Is it really weird to be unaware for so long? My BMI is ** now. Is it really necessary for me to gain that much weight? Will that just happen as I eat with less restrictions? Or will I have to actually try to gain weight? I still have a period and am not extremely underweight, so what are the reasons for gaining that much weight? I guess I’m wondering: does it really make a difference? I have a hard time seeing a need, but I don’t think that I can trust my eyes right now. If it’s important enough I’ll work toward it – I want to do whatever I need to do to be healthy and to be free. I want to know that, even if it’s scary at first, Christ will give me the strength that I need and the truth to replace lies, in time. Thanks. – Anonymous.

Dear Anonymous,

My first thought is to wonder what life events occurred in the past year that may have ramped up your restriction or “careful eating” as you say. A ** pound drop in weight is not a small amount. It may indicate a more intentional effort than is comfortable to admit. I commend you for dialing into what those emotions might be underneath the weight loss.

As for the actual amount of weight to restore…I trust that your doctor has some qualifying reason(s) to make this recommendation, even if you don’t see it. More importantly however, is regaining your freedom with food (and life in Christ) such that you are not “controlled” by healthy eating, as subtle as that control may feel. In order to drop ** pounds in a year, there was likely a pretty strong, consistent message in your head around food/eating/exercise. Did this kind of preoccupation with careful eating enable you to fully experience relationships, work, play, service, worship?

My guess is that you do not want to always live in fear of weight gain thus worrying about every morsel that goes into your mouth. The best antidote to careful/restrained eating is intuitive eating: eat when hungry, stop when satisfied; eat with balance, variety and moderation. Instead of calculating calories, ask “what am I hungry for?” Eat enough that satisfies, not what a certain calorie level dictates. Sometimes finish the whole plate; sometimes leave a few bites behind. Allow all kinds of foods into your repertoire. Experiment with flavors, textures, combinations of food that you may not have allowed yourself in a long time. Erase the labels of “good” or “bad” foods; the only bad food is that which has mold growing on it!

If sensing hunger is hard at first, schedule eating times for every 2-3 hours until you are more in touch with physiological hunger cues. Delete or at least limit diet products (diet soda, fat-free, sugar-free foods) to truly allow freedom back into your diet. As you return to normal/intuitive eating, your body will likely return to the natural set-point weight that is healthy for you. The book, Intuitive Eating might be a good place to start the process of re-connecting with hunger/fullness cues. May God continue to bless your journey as you seek to honor Him in this area of your life. Go for it, you can do this!

Juliet N. Zuercher, RD