Science tells us that when we restrict calories too severely, we automatically rebound by obsessing about food and feeling driven to overeat. This is the body/brain’s way of righting itself and staying in balance. Engage in this process often enough and you’ve got an eating disorder in the making. But there is another way that you can create an eating disorder—by using it to mask the more difficult problems and dilemmas in life.

It’s all too easy when you’re in the grip of fanatically seeking that “perfect” weight to make it the focus of your existence. Problems with family, in school, on the job, or within relationships fall by the wayside as you convince yourself that achieving thinness will make all your other troubles disappear. The truth is that if you get to that thin weight, you will still have all the other messes in your life; they won’t drop away with the pounds. Or you might arrive at that weight and panic at having nothing else to focus on, so you keep riveted on weight issues to avoid more difficult ones.

Being addicted to becoming thin can take on a life of its own. Every thought is about food; every action is directed toward weighing less. Obsessive thinking generates compulsive behavior. Before you know it, your life revolves around food and weight and crowds out everything else. Shoved to the back burner are other important life goals—changing partners, going back to school, working on your career, moving out from parents, etc. Painful as it is to be driven toward losing weight, it’s less painful than confronting other thorny dilemmas. Stay fixated on the scale and you won’t have to deal with the real pain in life that comes along naturally or is even of your own making.

It’s so easy in this culture to become addicted to having weight goals, realistic or not. Every time you push aside troubling thoughts and obsess about losing weight and being thin, you are doing yourself a disservice. You will only get over your thin addiction when you start addressing the real dilemmas in your life, stop restricting calories, and start practicing “normal” eating. This can be a very scary process, one which might need the help of a therapist, so don’t feel you have to go it alone. Most people who struggle alone, continue to struggle, and getting help is the pivotal turning point of recovery.

However, when you learn to let go of being thin as a primary life goal and start to deal with the rest of your issues, you will see amazing changes. Not immediately, but eventually, life will improve, so much so that you won’t mind that you’re not at a “perfect” weight because your happiness will not be derived from achieving a body ideal.