Watching the Line Between Healthy and Obsessive Dieting

By Amanda Ferrara, Student at New York University

Walk through any college campus and you’ll hear a multitude of conversations among groups of young women that often have a common theme: scheduling gym sessions, what they ate for lunch, how much weight they lost or how fat or bloated they feel. Statistically speaking here is a not-so-fun fact: 91 percent of college women are on a diet or are attempting to diet (according to this Forbes blog).  An even less fun fact: 64 percent of college women exhibit some degree of eating disorder behavior.

While there is nothing wrong with eating your veggies and exercising often, at what point do your habits cross the line from trying to be healthy into being straight-up obsessive?

Exhibit A

Healthy: A girl I know had gained a few pounds during her senior year in high school and wanted to get back to her normal weight before she entered college. She started running a mile on the treadmill every day and cut herself off from her nightly bowl of ice cream.

Crossing the Line: This girl decided shedding the pounds felt so good that she kept losing past her previous weight. While she never looked unhealthy or too skinny, she would feel insanely guilty every time she indulged a little (and by indulged I mean she ate a brownie after dinner or had pancakes on a Sunday morning).

Exhibit B (a more extreme example)

Healthy: A former roommate of mine got the idea in her head that she wanted to lose a few pounds. She stopped eating meat, walked to classes instead of taking the bus and went to the gym every morning. 

Crossing the Line: While battling a pretty disgusting illness one winter weekend, my roommate still woke up at 5 a.m. to, in her words, force herself to go to the gym for an hour. She skipped the soup and ice cream and instead, barely ate afterwards. She continued to get so thin that she lost the glow in her face, she was regularly freezing cold and would have problems sleeping.

A common link between these two girls and the 91 percent who have similar stories is that they can identify their habits but do not always see them as being more harmful than beneficial.

Here are some signs that you or someone else is overdoing a health kick:

  • Not taking at least one day off a week from your workout routine
  • Starting to feel weak or tired on a daily basis
  •  Having your period significantly change or stop entirely
  • Counting calories to the point where you won’t eat if you do not know the calorie count or if you have reached your limit despite still being hungry
  • Having feelings of guilt or shame when eating more than usual or when skipping a gym day

If you or a friend are changing up your health routine, make sure that you are doing it for the right reasons. Go to the gym and exercise because it feels good, eat a salad for lunch because you want to give your body the proper vitamins. Have the goal of being healthy, not just skinny.

Some cool places to check out regarding body image and health routines are: An awesome website to see what other people with your height and weight look like. You’ll be surprised by how positively you judge others with the same measurements that you critique in the mirror.

Eating for Life Alliance: The ELA works to provide resources with the ultimate goal of having everyone "eating and thinking about our bodies in a way that supports life, not its destruction," even where we are in a culture that promotes such a complicated, impossible, yet seemingly necessary physical ideal.

And from someone who is a total health nut, here is some advice: Always, always remember that the occasional gym-ditching, movie-watching, chocolate-eating day never hurt anybody.


Image: zirconicusso /

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