Being over weight is very bad for our health and places stress on all areas of the body – from the knees to the back to the ankles to the immune system to the circulatory system. Those who are obese or overweight put themselves at greater threat of all kinds of medical conditions from heart attacks to strokes and aneurisms. The best way to deal with this problem is through a combination of dieting and exercising, but the irony is that when you take either of these things too far and end up losing a lot of weight then this can be just as or more threatening to your health. We’ve all seen how addictive dieting can be and how some people end up anorexic or bulimic, but how can this happen, and what is it about dieting that makes it become addictive?
Well firstly, dieting is something that sees gradual improvement over time – incremental rewards for your effort that can be displayed in a statistical readout. In other words it is possible to continuously check your progress by measuring your weight on scales for example and this then will be a continuous reward and motivation to try harder, while providing a source of pride. This is the same thing that makes a sport like golf addictive, or many computer games (any one who’s ever been addicted to World of Warcraft or Pokemon should sympathise). This might be worse with someone who feels they do not have much control in their real lives. Here then they may on an unconscious level be using dieting as a way to feel in control meaning there is an underlying emotional cause for their addiction.
At the same time though it is also more complicated addiction than that in that there is also a chemical addiction involved. Here essentially dieting can trigger a range of chemical changes in the body, for example it causes the mitochondria in the body to function better and increases the body’s use of ATP. Hunger itself meanwhile will alter the body chemistry changing the amount of hunger regulation chemical such as leptin. Of course being thin also changes the way your body feels and will make you feel lighter and more energetic and will give you the benefits of a lower blood pressure among other things. It is then possible to become addicted to any chemical as it begins to be produced more in the body as this becomes the ‘normal’ level. At the same time this can make us less sensitive to the chemicals meaning that we need more to achieve the same heights. It is also possible to become addicted to elements of dieting – for example to become addicted to exercise and the hormones released when we run or lift weights, and some behavioural psychologists have even suggested it is possible to become addicted to the sensation of being sick this way. This is also exacerbated where we learn to associate the feeling those chemicals give us with success and positive emotions, which causes us to actually ‘condition’ ourselves to seek out the rewards of dieting much as you would train a dog (but on a more unconscious level).
Other things then come into play too, for example ‘body dysmorphia’, in which the patient seems unable to recognise their real dimensions and often remains convinced that they are still overweight or even obese when in actual fact they are dangerously slim. In this sense the addiction stems from the fact that they actually think they have more to complete in order to be their desired size and weight – and these cases are of course highly frustrating for friends and family who can see them at their true weight. Dieting can become addictive in all manner of ways then, which makes it almost risky for those addictive personalities. To ensure that this doesn’t happen to you, you should first ensure that you are dieting for the right reasons and that you are stable emotionally, should ask others to help monitor your behaviour, and should avoid any extreme dieting methods that will cause large physical and chemical changes in your body. Be aware of the dangers and know when to stop and dieting can be a great way to improve your health and your weight.