When skinny becomes an addiction

Sometimes wanting to lose weight isn’t a good thing. Sometimes it’s an addiction. It destroys the health of the dieter and can even destroy relationships.

Sometimes it happens without realization. Janny was overweight for her whole life. By the time she reached her mid thirties she was morbidly obese.

Janny joined Weight Watchers approximately 126 pounds overweight. She wanted to lose weight to get healthier. She was experiencing several health issues associated with both her weight and her unhealthy behaviors. She had two young children and she worried that if she didn’t do something soon to protect her health, she wouldn’t live to see her kids grow up.

She did what many people who’re worried about where their weight and habits are taking them – she joined Weight Watchers. Like a lot of people who want a complete health and body makeover, a weight loss program was only half of the plan. She augmented her efforts with a gym membership at the YMCA.

The Y offered a whole complement of exercise classes. The idea of classes appealed to Janny. She liked the structure that working with a group of people led by an instructor provided. She discovered that she just aimlessly wandered from machine to machine when she worked out on her own.

After sampling all the various classes offered at the Y, it was the water aerobics that really appealed to her. In fact, she liked it so much she signed up for two classes weekly. Meanwhile as she was happily immersing herself in exercise, she was faithfully following the Weight Watchers food plan 100%.

The weight started coming off. Janny was elated. She noticed the difference after the first 10 or 12 pounds were gone. Her friends, family and co-workers were slower to see the change in her. By the time 50 pounds were gone, everybody noticed that Elaine was getting thinner and seemed to be energized.

Indeed, It energized her! She upped her water aerobics to 5 times a week (she did some back-to-back classes) and continued to follow her food plan closely. She was losing weight, and feeling great and loving the attention and compliments. Her dedication to her weight loss was strong and unlike some people who begin to lose motivation after they have taken off enough weight to feel good and for others to notice, Janny was only getting more and more committed.

As Janny neared the 75-pound-weight-loss milestone, her rate of weight loss slowed. Up to that point she was consistently losing an average of 2.5 weekly. She still had about 50 pounds left to go. She was both upset and concerned over the slower progress. At this point, some people may have started to get sloppy about their weight loss efforts. The discouraging progress may have led to skipping aerobic classes and getting less precise in her approach to her food plan.

Not Janny, she accepted an offer to teach water aerobics. She taught 7 classes a week and as an instructor she committed herself to being there, plus she enjoyed the extra income. She also revised her food plan. She started eating less than the plan guidelines for her current weight.

Her weight loss progress continued to be slower, but at least it was moving. She had officially moved from morbidly obese, to obese, to overweight, to plump. She was working to reach her healthy weight and she did, but there was a problem. Somewhere through the process, healthy weight wasn’t going to be good enough. For the first time in her life she wanted to be skinny!

She upped her class schedule to teaching 12 classes a week driven both by the money, but more so by the idea of increasing her physical activity level. While she started exercising more, she continued to cut back and cut back on her food. She wasn’t eating enough to supply her body with the nutrients it required for good health.


One day she stepped on the scale at Weight Watchers and she reached her goal. She was happy, but she announced, “I’m not through! I want to be skinny.” Her concerned leader suggested that she “be careful” and to consider if “getting skinny” is a good idea. Janny wasn’t hearing anything that didn’t fully endorse her plan. Skinny became Janny’s addiction.

Janny went way below her food plan guidelines. She admitted to living on 3 energy bars a day. She scoured the shelves of the supermarket until she found an energy bar that was less than 200 calories. She was eating fewer than 600 calories a day. That is a very low-calorie diet (VLCD) and is dangerous. It’s so dangerous that it only should be done with a doctor’s close supervision.

Janny wasn’t seeing a doctor. She was stressing her body with too much exercise and too few calories. All that mattered was getting skinny. She did get skinny but nobody thought it was great except herself. Everybody else exclaimed concern and shock when they saw her. They saw a woman who was thin, yes, but who had never looked so unhealthy in her life. She had dropped way below her original goal.

Meanwhile Janny become afraid to eat, but was consumed with thoughts of food. Water aerobics, which was once a joy for her, became a torture. She didn’t want to reduce the classes she taught but she knew if she didn’t do it voluntarily, she could get fired and not teach any classes at all. She knew that she just didn’t have the energy to get through more than 3 classes a week.

The last time I saw Janny she was struggling to stay at goal. She was trying to stick to her meager diet of 3 energy bars a day and terrified of what would happen to her weight if she were to start eating more. I don’t know what happened, but I’m afraid that her skinny addiction eventually lead her back to obesity and perhaps with more health complications, although I hope I’m wrong.


Jackie Conn

About Jackie Conn

Jackie Conn is married and has four grown daughters and four grandchildren. She is a Weight Watchers success story. She's a weight loss expert with 25 years of experience guiding women and men to their weight-related goals. Her articles on weight management have been published in health, family and women's magazines. She has been a regular guest on Channel 5 WABI news, FOX network morning program Good Day Maine and 207 on WCSH.