Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Red flags that indicate a food/weight obsession

There’s often a fine line between eating healthfully to slim down and becoming fixated with food. Here are some red flags that could indicate a food/weight obsession.

1. There's zero variety in your diet

You’ve had Rice Krispies with fat-free milk for breakfast every day for 10 years. For lunch, it’s always salad with the same fat-free dressing. And for dinner, what’s wrong with grilled chicken and steamed broccoli Monday through Thursday?

Fact is, someone who eats like this takes no pleasure in food. The satisfaction comes not from the experience but from knowing they’ve met requirements on a nutrition label. Another danger: missing important nutrients. Different grains, dairy, meats, nuts, beans, vegetables, and fruit means you get a variety of essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants every day.

2. You count every last calorie.

It’s one thing to watch your intake while you’re trying to lose weight. But over time, people can gauge how much to eat to maintain weight loss without poring over every label. If you’ve cut calories dangerously low (less than 1,200 a day for most women) and your life revolves around your food "rules," then you’ve taken things too far.

Calorie hawks also feel guilty when they don’t follow their plan—like the rest of the day is ruined. Severe restriction can lead to anorexia or thwart weight loss efforts by slowing metabolism—not to mention that you’ll feel hungry, exhausted, foggy, and grumpy if you don’t consume enough nutrients.

3. You view foods as "good" or "bad."

Bread is "bad"—so having a bagel for breakfast is a rare treat. Baby carrots are "good," so there’s zero guilt about eating them as a snack. If you compartmentalize food choices like this, you’re setting yourself up for a tricky tango later. Once you have a “bad” label on something, under certain conditions you’ll crave it more, lose all control, and binge. Research shows that people have only so much willpower; if you try to limit too many things at once, you’ll end up caving more quickly. Of course, certain foods are inherently healthier than others—so this doesn’t mean you can eat fast food whenever you want. But that’s where portion control comes in. Train yourself to have just one Munchkin and then concentrate on something other than eating.

4. You're 100% organic, 100% of the time.

We know organic, unprocessed, whole foods are healthiest, but some people take the mantra to an extreme. This could be you if you refuse to shop for groceries or eat at places that don’t meet your healthy standards, you decode every ingredient label and deem all foods with "unnatural" ingredients off-limits, or you perceive processed products as dangerous to your health. Loosen your standards a bit when you’re out and about. One nonorganic meal won’t kill you, or even hurt you, and you can feel confident that your health is benefiting from all the other healthy food you eat 90% of the time.

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