When Healthy Eating Becomes an Obsession


This is my story about how I got obsessed with eating perfectly.

The beginning

I have been dieting for as long as I can remember. I was trying to shrink myself to fit the mold. But it never worked.

3 years ago, I got married. And the pressure to prepare for pregnancy was on.

In addition, 2 months after the wedding my husband and me went on to live in China for 2 years, because of his work.

So, I decided to use this time to become my thinnest self, so when we returned, we’ll be having the most perfect and healthiest babies.

What did I do

I went into my “read like it’s your job” mode. I was focusing on sustainable weight-loss combined with optimal health outcomes.

Then I didn’t believe that I could be both healthy and overweight. It just didn’t compute. So, I was focusing on losing weight without ruining my health. Ironic, right?  

As you know keto is all the rage now. And it’s sold like the healthiest way to live. And also, the best thing for your future children. And I bought it.

I was in a new place, around new people, but it was only temporary. So, I made the decision to sort my eating out and not socialize too much. As keto and socializing don’t go well together.

So, I started keto (the hard-core type). It was great at the beginning. It was different than what I had tried before. I was really enthusiastic. I lost a bit of weight at first. But that was it. The scale didn’t budge anymore.

The next thing I did was to add more exercise, but this just made me gain weight.

So, the next logical step was fasting.

But I didn’t lose any more weight… I even gained some.

I know this doesn’t sound healthy. But think about all the health-o-cholics you know. Do their obsessions sound and look healthy?

What was happening

I was so convinced that this is the best way to live and that I am just not doing it right. I was just trying to find the right buttons to push and I was convinced that the next restriction will sort out all the problems. But there were so many things that I was just not paying attention to.

The physiological signs:

  • My hair was falling off (I thought it was from my hair dye at this point – it wasn’t).

  • My nails were brittle.

  • I was cold all the time – I was walking around with a jacket in July and drinking tea like a crazy person.

  • I was tired a lot and it took me a lot of willpower and discipline to do my work and to exercise 2, 3 and sometimes 4 hours a day.

The psychological signs:

  • I was irritable.

  • I didn’t want to eat out, at all. It didn’t matter that we’re in a different country with amazing food.

  • I didn’t want to meet new people, because I was self-conscious of my weird habits.

  • When I was coming back home, I didn’t call a lot of my friends. I was staying under the radar as much as possible. I was trying to meet with people over coffee or for a walk. Never in a restaurant.

  • I was obsessed with exercise – it was impossible to take a rest day. I needed to deserve my food.

  • I was obsessed with food – it was on my mind all the time. What I was going to cook, what I was going to eat, what we have eaten before, but I can never have again. I was reading and collecting recipes.

How did I get out of this?

I want to tell you that I am out of the woods and that I am completely cured now, but it will be a lie.

What happened was, when we returned home for good, the change in environment gave me a positive jolt. We spent more time with friends and family and around people in general. I was wondering how these people are even alive with all their bad habits. I didn’t know if they were having a problem, or I was.

I started reading about different points of view on eating. I got into “Health at every size” and “Intuitive eating”. And I bought a few books on how diets are making us fat. This helped me a lot to get a fuller picture of what’s going on. Until then I was looking at just the one side of the coin.

Now, I am in the process of repairing the relationship between me and my body. I am listening more, and hearing more. I am paying more attention to my hunger and satiety cues. And also, to my appetites and preferences. And I have help – I hired a therapist, because my friends and family don’t really understand the issue and are not very supportive.

It’s hard to tone down the normative voice in my head. It’s a process and I am not perfect. But at least now I know that I don’t have to believe it and take it so seriously. For now that’s a win.  

Being able to hear what I want, and not what I am supposed to want has been a game changer for me. I am a kinder and accepting to myself. And it has spilled over to all other areas of life.

I couldn’t be happier that I am going through this journey, because even though it was very hard, it’s worth it.

Now I am a more accepting, kind and in-tune human. And I am more comfortable with myself. Which was the point all along.

Written by: Vania Nikolova, PhD, is the head of health research at RunRepeat.com. She uses her academic knowledge and experience with an eating disorder to shed light on why dieting is bad news.