Mary came to me for therapy. She weighed 305 and was told multiple times that her current weight was putting her at risk for serious medical issues. She was 28-years-old and the mother of a 5-year-old. She admitted that keeping up with her young son was becoming a problem.
Desperate, she started taking laxatives, vomiting and starving herself. She dropped over a hundred pounds, but was sent to me for eating disorder treatment. The harm she was doing to her body was due to the way she lost the weight. And her relationship with food was very negative. It was her battleground. Something she fought.
Mary is not alone. I have treated numerous patients who lose too much weight too quickly, using harmful methods. Unfortunately this may be a fall out related to all the obesity messaging we now have. More young people are developing eating disorders.
So while our obesity rates have leveled off to one third of the population, and we are actually seeing a decrease in low-income and preschool children, we have another problem. A subset of people are taking the lose weight message seriously, but doing so in harmful ways. Too dangerous, too much, too soon can lead to heart-rate abnormalities, fainting, heart attack and even death. The pressure to diet and lose weight can create a fear of being fat, social isolation and other symptoms that trigger an eating disorder.
In my opinion, without treating the psychological/emotional use of food and eating, the risk to go from one extreme to the other exists. We see this in hospital treatment–obese people go to the other extreme and develop eating disorders.
So while the message to lose weight is needed, it has to include developing a positive relationship with food and losing weight sensibly. Lifestyle messages are more important than the number on the scale. One of the fallouts from all the talk about overweight kids is that we have missed the more important message of being healthy and fit. Kids tend to see the number on the scale, get reinforced for losing weight because they look more attractive, and may get stuck in that mindset–I can be more socially acceptable, rather than, I can be healthier.
If you need to lose weight for health reasons, do so in a healthy way. Slow, steady, eating well, not viewing food as your enemy. Dieting is dangerous and one of the main entrees into eating disorders.