Confession: I Obsessively Dieted Down to an Unhealthy Weight

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Beginning in high school, many of my girlfriends began to call themselves "fat." They started to watch what they ate, drank diet soda, and would sometimes skip lunch (or eat very little). Now, not one of these girls was actually fat—or even slightly overweight for that matter. I didn't get it! To me, it was a bunch of drama and I paid little attention to it. I didn't think of myself as fat and I wasn't about to go on a diet. Many days, I would eat TWO school lunches (especially on pizza day!) because I was young, growing, and very active in sports, practicing for 2+ hours after school each day and lifting weights five times a week. I ate what I wanted—no matter what it was. Fast food value meals (I was the "Burger Queen"), french fries, candy, pasta—you name it. A fruit or vegetable scarcely crossed my lips, but I managed to stay fit and healthy (at least on the outside) because of my active lifestyle.

These girls probably had an effect on me whether I realized it or not. If they call their tiny size-4 bodies fat—what did that mean for me at a size 8? I always did feel "bigger" than my friends. I didn't understand why my thighs were larger than theirs were or why I weighed so much more than they did. (It wasn't until many years later that I realized my height—several inches taller than most of them—and muscle mass had so much to do with it.)

After high school, I developed a greater interest in nutrition and fitness. I had never paid attention to my diet before, but as I learned more about the importance of making healthy food choices, I started bypassing the junk food and fast food and chose whole grains, fruits and vegetables instead. High school sports were long over, but I continued with an exercise program five days a week with an hour of cardio (like running) and 30 minutes of weight training. It was a fun hobby—reading about healthy living, learning to eat better, and hitting the gym. Then I began to track my food on an excel spreadsheet, and because of the advice I read in magazines, I aimed for 1,200 calories per day. For the first time in my life, I started to lose weight. But more importantly—people started to notice. My life would never be the same again.

To be clear, I was never overweight to begin with, but my family, friends and acquaintances started to notice how I was slimming down and I received compliments left and right. My clothes were getting looser. It didn't take much effort, and I realized that with a little more attention, I could lose even more weight and finally be "tiny" like all of my high school friends were. I relished the attention and praise, and as a bit of a perfectionist (to put it mildly), I became driven to take it further. I added another day of exercise to my week. I also added an extra hour on all the other days, in addition to a nighttime yoga video before bed. I tried to be on the move constantly, walking for an hour after dinner, exercising in front of the TV, squatting while I brushed my teeth. Every moment was a chance to double-task and burn more calories. And when I found ways to cut calories or go without food, I did. Each time I felt hungry or heard a grumble in my stomach, I felt strong and in-control, thinking about all the fat my body was burning since my stomach was empty. Reading this now, you may realize how it sounds a bit obsessive—even unhealthy. But at the time, I thought I was making good choices and being the best example of health and fitness.

In a matter of months, I had dropped from my healthy size 8 to a size 4—smaller than I had ever been. I traded in my size mediums for smalls and extra smalls and bought a string bikini to wear to the pool. People at the gym began to tell me that I should be a model. I felt healthy, fit and confident—I was on top of the world!

The funny thing is, no one thought this was abnormal. I was not skeletal or anorexic—a body type that most people notice as a red flag that something was wrong. I looked really fit and toned—like many celebrities whose bodies we often envy. I was not starving myself. I just controlled my calories and chose healthy foods. When I visited two doctors before heading off to college, neither one was concerned about my weight loss—or even that my period had stopped for several months—so neither was I. It probably didn’t set off any alarms because I looked healthy and was still within the healthy weight range for my height. But all the warning signs were there.

I didn't know it then, but I really was hurting my body—and my mind. To reach that ideal size 4, I had to go hungry, eating fewer than 1,200 calories every day, and exercise for more than 2-3 hours a day. To maintain it, I had to keep up with the same routine. It wasn't until I got to college that my new "lifestyle" became impossible to maintain. I couldn't exercise for hours. I couldn't cook or eat the way I wanted. And I couldn't continue going hungry any longer. My body was not comfortable as a size 4. How do I know? Because getting there and staying there was nearly impossible. With the stress of college, I hit my breaking point. Instead of going hungry, which I had done for months, I ate everything in sight—even when I wasn't hungry! I stopped exercising almost completely. I rebelled, and I gained back all of the weight I had lost—and then some. I never had a weight problem in my life, and now here I was, bigger than I had ever been. I needed to shop for bigger and bigger clothes. None of my tiny, new clothes fit—and none of the clothes I wore before fit either. I felt miserable, but it wasn't just because of my increased girth, which made me self-conscious and depressed.

It is one thing to lose weight in a healthful way when you need to for your health or your own comfort level (and I did need to now, for I was overweight for the first time in my life). It's another thing to force your body to become something that it's not, especially when you're already fit and healthy. A "healthy weight" for your height is a range—not a single number—for a reason. You do not have to be at the bottom of the range to be healthy or fit. Sometimes, your "happy weight" (different then "healthy" weight, I define this as natural, comfortable and easy for you to maintain without killing yourself to do so) will be at the top of the range—that's where I am—maybe even slightly above or below it. It's just a chart. It doesn't really know YOU or what is best for you, so take it with a grain of salt. If you feel happy, confident, healthy and fit, then who cares what a scale or a chart has to say?

It took a few years of self-discovery for me to realize what I had done and what was really going on under the surface, the issues I had to deal with to stop obsessing over food or going to extremes with exercise. It took just as long for me to return to my happy weight. And what do you know, I settled back in to the size 8 I wore as a teenager—when I never watched what I ate or counted calories at all. Looking ahead, I see a life that is filled with meaning, memories and the occasional slice of chocolate cake.

Unlike that size 4, this is something I can maintain without depriving myself of any foods or exercising at every spare moment. This is something I can maintain even if I miss a few workouts or overindulge in wedding cake at a reception (as I did last weekend!). I may not match the "ideal" in my mind, but my body knows best, and I'm not willing to fight with it anymore. When I look back on my life, I realize now that being "thin" really didn't change my life or my level of happiness. It got me more attention, sure, but I was still the same person, searching for something that no amount of weight loss could help me find. For me, living the size-4 life wasn't all that it was cracked up to be.

Do you think your life would be better if you were thin? Have you found your own happy weight?

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KITTYHAWK1949 2/21/2021
interesting. thanks Report
LEANJEAN6 1/18/2021
interesting article--something to remember- Report
MUSICNUT 10/11/2020
Thanks for the great article! :) Report
SNUZYQ2 5/28/2020
Great article and something many of us can relate to. It’s so easy to slip from healthy into obsession when engaging in weight loss. Report
i feel like i read this before Report
Thanks! Report
Omg I love this story! Thank you so much for sharing! I tend to obsess and overdo it too so it's a good reminder to find balance and make a lifestyle change I can keep up for the long haul Report
Thanks Report
Excellent blog,Nicole!!! Report
Thank you for your confession! Report
I watch my weight closely and stay within a range because I could easily go down to and unhealthy low weight. Report
Normal is different for everybody. Report
Great info! Thanks! Report
Im a small person. Who does eat 1200 a day and work out 3 hours a day .im ok being a size 1. Report
Thanks so much for sharing your story. Several years ago I managed to get down to a size six & I loved the feeling since I had never been smaller than a size eleven. As I cared for aging parents I let the weight creep back on & ended up a size fourteen. Stress eating under control now, I hope to be a healthy size ten. Your story was very timely for me. Report
I'd just like to experience even a size 12 just for awhile. :) Report
Thanks for sharing! Report
This is perfect for me right now. I'm on the same journey you undertook but I'm just starting to "lose the diet mentality " and "make peace with food." It's so great to hear that you did it successfully and to see how wonderfully perfect you look. Thanks for sharing. Report
Thanks foR starting a thoght process. Report
This was such a big help to me! I am in the same situation and really appreciate the advice! (By- the - way, wonderful narration!) Report
Thanks for the info. Report
I have been a size 2 and at that never missed a period (done with that now) and felt fine but that is the thing- listening to our bodies. I am getting to gaol weight and am getting the comments of your getting to skinny- so it seems no matter what we do someone else will complain! I am a Mom to 4 and mid 50's and it seems people are more comfortable with me if I have some weight on me....We need to be happy in our own skin. The always being active thing would have been a bad sign to me. I like my down time!!!! Report
Mental self image, measures like bmi, and public response to thin really makes it hard to rate when your weight is healthy. Report
Great article! Report
First of all, anyone who thinks a size 8 is "fat" doesn't need a diet, but a psychiatrist ! Your body was trying to tell you something was missing your periods...I can't believe the Drs didn't see a red flag for that? This is common for the gymnasts who work out so much and try to stay a small size.
Don't let others tell you if you are fat or not. Listen to your body. You were eating anything and staying small, now you will always have to watch. That shows you it wasn't right for you. Models are not someone to look up to. They are all skin and bones...and starve themselves to stay that way --because they are paid big bucks to do so. Normal people don't have to look like that. We are NOT paid big bucks to look like that. Eat healthy, live healthy and let your body decide what is right for you. If others don't like it - they don't have to look ! At least that is how I feel. I went for 1 1/2 years on a diet from a Dr. He started me out on 1,000, then cut me down to 700. All it did was cause a lot of unnecessary pain for me and a weight gain after I stopped that took me way over what I originally was.....and he couldn't care less..just kept on saying to diet. Drs. and charts don't know everything....look at some of the Drs who tell you to loose weight --they need to practice what they preach. They are not trained for use common sense - it works better for you. Report
My happy weight seems to be about five pounds over the top of my ideal range.

I did the same thing you did and got down also to a 4 and down the lower part of my ideal range....and I was sick and unhappy and tired. It took a long time for me to not be afraid of food too. I'd rather be a happy 8-10 than an unhappy 4. Report
Well, that used to be me. From anorexic to bulimic. And although even as a bulimic I never became overweight, I damaged my health - even though back then I didn't fully realise how much I was hurting myself.
It took me ten years to finally beat the eating disorders, and even now (twenty years later) I know that if I get on the scales and see a number that I don't like, I'll be in trouble all over again. So I don't step on those scales.
I also cannot afford to look at how much calories my food contains. It will only lead me to disaster.
But I can eat a healthy diet, and I know I'm still at the same healthy weight I was 20 years ago. I still fit in the same clothes.
So this is my strategy: Eat healthy, avoid the scales and stay fit. Report
This is a great article. I think I am beginning to obsess like you did. Thank you for the gentle reminder. It is easy to deprive yourself to reach a target but that target is usually hard to maintain. Report
I loved reading this blog! Instead of leaving a very long comment about how I relate and how we can help younger girls so they don't have image problems-- I decided to write my comment as a blog
I love the observation that being thin didn't make change your life or level of happiness.
I'm trying to think in terms of fitness ability. The ability to do the things I want and need to do. Not in scale numbers or dress size. Report
thank you for sharing ... sometimes its the emotions that control the food, yes we all know healthy eating and working out is a must, but we get lost in the process of achieving 'that' perfect body. Just listen to yourself, not the scale, not how much you should weight every week ... be happy. Report
It takes strength to share this story. Thank you, Coach Nicole. I have struggled on and off with my weight since I was a kid. I always felt like I was the fat kid but looking back, I wasn't really overweight, I just wasn't as skinny as the rest of my classmates. My weight really ballooned when I got to graduate school (longs hours in the classroom and in the lab) so I made the decision to lose weight. I became the skinniest I had ever been. I actually had to purposely stop myself from losing anymore weight because I got to the point where I didn't feel comfortable with how skinny I was anymore. I could have been a couple pounds less and still been considered healthy but I knew just another 5 lbs lost would have been beyond my happy weight. I'm now struggling to go back to my happy weight and it's on the high end of what's considered normal for my height. I've come to be OK with that. I've come to realize it's not just about the pure numbers but also about how I feel. If I feel it's not right, then it's not. Report
It's crazy, because this is EXACTLY my story, perhaps a few years behind (I'm 20 and not quite at the happy ending yet). I never watched what I ate and was always a healthy, normal weight, until I started high school and began the comparison game. I followed that with restricting and overexercizing and forced my way down to ~105lbs -- like you, not "anorexic" looking, receiving many compliments, but not a healthy weight for ME. I began university and gained it back and then some, and hit myself with bulimia instead. At this point, I'm trying to simply regain control of my life, feel comfortable with myself and just enjoy being me again... Thank you for the inspiration, Nicole; this really does give me hope that it's not impossible for me to achieve those goals :) Report
Coach Nicole, thank you for the blog. I am stuck at 157. I have tried to lose more but it doesn't seem to want to come off. I have dropped to 148 and then over the holidays I ran it back up again. My favorite form of exercise is running, but during the colder months it just isn't a possibility for me. Inside exercise doesn't seem to cut it for me and weight loss. I wonder though, even if my ideal weight per my height is 137 at the top end, isn't quite what my body needs to be? I don't know. I want to lose more around the middle (who on here doesn't want to lose it there? lol) But, I am beginning to wonder if perhaps just getting down to 148 again maybe just where I need to be instead of striving for the 130something that the chart says.....I appreciate this blog. It does help to remember that charts are generic and do not take into account lean muscle mass and other factors. :) You helped me feel better in my own skin today, and as we all know, that is the hardest part of this process!!! Report
"Sometimes, your "happy weight" (different then "healthy" weight, I define this as natural, comfortable and easy for you to maintain without killing yourself to do so) will be at the top of the range—that's where I am—maybe even slightly above or below it. It's just a chart. It doesn't really know YOU or what is best for you, so take it with a grain of salt. If you feel happy, confident, healthy and fit, then who cares what a scale or a chart has to say?"

Perfectly said! I get so caught up in the fact that for over an year, no matter what I've done my weight won't go below the top of my range, in fact it teeters on above top, but I refuse to limit my cals anymore then I have, I know I eat well, with an occasional treat, exercise more then enough, but I want to be able to maintain my lifestyle not kill myself doing it. Yet the head still gets stuck on the "why can't it move just a few more?" Thank you for sharing!! I've been working hard on coming to terms with my body being happy and fit where it is! Report
Thank you. Very honest and informative blog once again. And by the way, you look great as is! Report
Excellent blog! This is a situation I've been struggling with for some time now. It's nice to know that it's not just me and that there is "a corner" waiting just up the road for me. Report
I am within my healthy weight range... My happy weight is something else altogether. But I am trying hard to bridge the gap :-) Thanks for sharing this!!! Report
Coach Nicole, thank you for your honest and heartfelt blogs of late. They have made me like you and your videos on Sparkpeople and DVD's even more. You are guiding me on a personal journey of weightloss and it is nice to have a virtual friend who "gets" it. Thanks! Report
OMG Nicole i just posted a blog just about this!!!
THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Report
Nicole - I'm struggling with the scale right now. I started my journey in March of 2010 to get to a normal BMI and healthy body weight for me. I had about 80 lbs to lose (according to WW) to do so. My goal was to do it by my birthday in April of 2011. It is now February of 2012 and I'm not there. I have 10 more lbs to lose for a total of 72 lbs. - I began to question what was normal for me and went to my doctor to help me determine where I will be. I understand plateaus, I understand my body adjusting, I understand the effects of stress and changes in habits that will keep the weight coming off. Those I am mentally fine with - my problem is that every time I don't see another pound come off, I freak that I am actually putting the weight I have lost back on. I NEVER want to go back. I would love to hear how people get comfortable with the new weight (or plateaued weight) maintain and keep working out and eating healthy without being paranoid of truly being obese again. I totally get how you can't know how you look and that you are too thin (or for years for me too heavy). What I saw in the mirror when I was fat is not what i see in pictures from that time now. Now I'm paranoid that what I see in the mirror isn't as fantastic as I think it is and that I will get lazy. Report
I started running with my dad 7 years ago and it was amazing and i lost a heck of a lot of weight, i looked really good, but i never appreciated that, I always felt fat and ugly, now, seven years later i see pictures of back then and i am like WOW...i can do it again, just taking one day at the time.
I am at 148# which is a BMI of 22. I am looking to take it down to 20, but I am working on building muscle too. I am surprised at how much I can weigh and be healthy weight on the BMI scale ! Report
I stopped by this blog after reading your swimsuit themed one. Just wanted to say thank you for writing it. I went through the exact same cycle of dropping from athletic and slightly larger than my friends, to too small, to far too big during my middle school and boarding school years. Knowing that you got back to where you started is comforting; I feel more certain that I'm going to get back there, too. Report
Clicked on this entry after reading your swimsuit confessional. This entry really resonated with me, as I recently gained back some of the weight I had lost previously. But not all.

I woke up this morning, feeling like a fat slob. None of my "skinny" clothes fit me anymore (especially the jeans). But your article reminded me that I am in a happy spot - recently engaged, still working out, eating relatively healthy. I am pretty sure that this is my body's happy weight. Report
Nicole, thank you so much for sharing this story! I have also suffered through years of poor body image, and gone through spurts of too much dieting and exercise, then binge eating. I'm finally coming to terms with my body and my size, but I will never forget that insecurity I felt for so long! Report
Sounds like my story almost! Size 4 was equally unhealthy for me (I got there through borderline anorexia) but I didn't look bad there so no one saw a problem. I'm only 4'11 which probably influenced that more than anything. I skyrocketed up to 160+ lbs (from my previous 109lbs) in college (don't know the size, I stopped wearing jeans at that point!) thanks to massively overeating and went up and down due to that and bulimia for a few years. Now at 27 I've been trying to lose from 165lbs the healthy way, my goal is about 120lbs give or take a few pounds. I weighed 115 for a while a few years ago and don't remember it being hard to maintain, then again I couldn't afford much food or transportation so ate what I could when I could and walked everywhere.

In short I don't really know what my happy weight is, but I hope to find it on this journey. Report
It is very important to learn how to listen to yourself and to focus on what is healthy for you. I stuggle with wanting to be what everyone else sees as beautiful and healthy, but other people do not live in my skin. It has been hard on myself image. I just need to find what is right for me and be okay with that.
You have inspired me. Thanks for sharing! Report
Healthy weight is something that concerns me. I've been obese since I was twelve and have no idea what is healthy for me. I am currenlty aiming for the highest weight in the 'healthy weight' range for my BMI (because I am rather large framed) but I have no idea where I should stop, so I hope for a doctor to be able to tell me when enough weight loss is enough. Report
I can relate to this powerful blog. I hope this reaches many people, especially those who are close to or at goal weight. My story is similiar and you can read it in my blog "my most recent "aha" moment" on my spark page. Sometimes we don't realize when we have taken it too far!
Thanks for such an informative and important blog! Report