I vividly remember the feeling that overwhelmed me when I realized there was a name for my eating disorder. Orthorexia wasn’t all I was battling, but it was just one component to a network of chaos.
Eating disorders aren’t easy to talk about, especially when you’ve kept it hidden away from just about everybody. When I was in my eating disorder, I thought I could control it, that it was just temporary or “just a phase.” Deep down, though, I had this unsettling feeling that something wasn’t quite right. I was skipping date nights with friends to be in the comfort of my own apartment – and my own food.
In my senior year of college, I became hyper-focused on eating clean. I ate nothing from a box or package (frozen vegetables and frozen chicken don’t count!) and wouldn’t touch anything that had an ingredient I couldn’t pronounce. I ditched foods like honey, yogurt, and even fruit because “they contained sugar.” I convinced myself that “white” foods would make me fat – white rice, white potatoes, white flour, white sugar. So my diet was bland, and I didn’t love myself at all (which is a whole separate story!). So began orthorexia, the unhealthy obsession with consuming only the healthiest of foods.
I admit that it was being skinny that I really craved. My diet during the week only consisted of eating foods I deemed “clean”, so when I was surrounded by all those foods I normally missed out on (Mom’s cakes, dinner out with friends), I lost all control. That degree of restriction led to severe binges. I knew I shouldn’t have anxiety when I went to family reunions, but I stood at the buffet table, heart racing, head completely clouded. I just thought that was what life would be like from now on.
After each binge, I told myself it would never happen again, that I’d “get it right this time.” I made up for the binges by either restricting my diet more during the week (AKA eating much less food), over-exercising, or eating as clean as I possibly could the following week.
On the outside, most people would applaud me for “being so healthy” and “having so much willpower.” But I remember literally having to sit on my hands to keep myself from digging into the cookies, downing a dozen at a time.
On the surface, orthorexia appears to be motivated by the pursuit of health, nothing more.
It wasn’t until I got deep into counseling that I realized there were MANY more underlying motivators.
- Compulsion for complete control
- A strong desire to be thin
- Numbing out the real world and escaping true fears
- Improved self-esteem
- Using food to create an identity for yourself
- Preventing poor health
- Turning to food to solve bigger issues, like a religion
Do any of those resonate with you? I think they all do for me.
Orthorexia recovery is not an easy road. It looks different for everyone. For me, orthorexia recovery required a multidisciplinary approach. I went to counseling, read all the books I could find about binge eating disorders and “clean eating”, confided in family and close friends. I practiced techniques I learned in counseling like mindfulness and tools to reduce anxiety. I left my apartment and wandered through Target when I felt a binge coming.
Two years later, my life is much different. I love any and all forms of chocolate and eat them regularly with a mindful approach. I order what I want at restaurants and get dessert if I’m feeling it. And I totally am in love with eating healthy, even after orthorexia.
Ask yourself if you identify with any of these things like I did:
- Do you find yourself obsessing over eating only “clean” foods?
- Does it give you anxiety when someone else serves you a meal and you have no control over what you’re eating?
- Have you avoided a social event because you don’t trust yourself not to binge?
- Are you food-obsessed? Do your thoughts become consumed by food and does it interfere with your life?
There’s nothing worse than knowing that something is wrong but having no idea how to change. Orthorexia recovery can take a while, but it’s SO worth it to try!
I’m grateful for what I went through because it gives me this opportunity to open up to others struggling with the same thing. And I really just want you to know that there’s hope, and that if I overcame it, so can you.
Start getting help today. Start by grabbing my FREE guide below and I’ll give you my best pointers to start the orthorexia recovery process! Seriously, don’t wait one more day! This is your chance for change.
There’s a brighter future for you than one controlled by your eating disorder.