“How to tell when you’re dieting dangerously” by Cara Rosenbloom (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 5/24/16, E8) tells it like it is: “It doesn’t matter whether you eat clean, follow a vegetarian diet or eschew carbs; when choice and flexibility turn into obsession and rigidity, an issue is brewing.” This warning flies in the face of the barrage of advice we get every day to watch out for carbs, eat clean, eliminate red meat, ditch fats, and reduce portion sizes. In my book, those well-meant suggestions have a name: dieting. The problem is that we think we’re doing something healthy for ourselves when we live by rigid eating advice—no carbs, only fruits and vegetables, and portions that would leave a child hungry. We’re in trouble when we view such recommendations as edicts that we must adhere to rather than as suggestions that we can use as a general guide.
Use your critical thinking skills. Here are some warning signs that you’re eating in a self-endangering manner (no matter what you or someone else think):
1. “You feel guilt and shame when you deviate from your diet.” If you feel like a bad person when you stray from rigid food rules and are filled with negative self-talk about your failures and “relapses,” you’re heading for the danger zone.
2. “You’re cutting out entire food groups.” There’s a substantial difference between cutting back or down versus cutting out. A directive never to eat foods from a particular food group should give you pause. It’s okay if you’re allergic or they make you ill. It’s not okay if you’re doing it because you feel you “shouldn’t” eat from them.
3. “You avoid social events where food is served”: If you’re making excuses to avoid social functions because you’re afraid you’ll feel out of control and eat something you’re forbidding yourself, you’re digging a hole that will become harder and harder to climb out of. Look for friends, family and food to bring you pleasure.
4. “You feel superior and lecture others about their poor eating habits”: When you’re enjoying the high of being a perfect eater and start instructing others to follow suit, you’re likely to hurt your relationships while setting yourself up for failure. Eyes on your own plate, please. Don’t become like religious zealots over food.
5. “You spend a ton of time planning your next meal—or the next 10”: It’s one thing to mull over what you want to eat and feel pleasure shopping for making special foods, but it’s quite another when these activities become the sum total of your life.
Be honest. Are you in danger of mental and physical harm due to the way you view food, eating or weight? Consider if this is true of any of your friends. Get help or give help. Heed the warning signs of dieting and focus on becoming a “normal” eater.