A little bit ago when I posted My Story, I mentioned that I was going to go into further detail about the actual eating disorder I had: Orthorexia Nervosa. Well this here is that post! When people think of eating disorders, they think of anorexia, bulimia, binge, etc., but orthorexia is a much newer disorder. I think it is important to inform everyone about this topic so that hopefully you can have a better understanding and recognition of it.
Like I mentioned,orthorexia is a newer disorder that has come about from the last couple years of healthy food train/trend. Orthorexia nervosa isn’t even currently recognized as a clinical diagnosis in the DSM-5, but many people struggle with symptoms associated with this term–and they may not even know that this is what it is. The term literally means “fixation on righteous eating” and that is exactly what it is. Generally, it starts out as a person wanting to just simply eat healthier and live a healthier lifestyle. Doesn’t seem so harmful right? And it isn’t at this stage, it’s not until they become so preoccupied with their eating and food that it becomes an unhealthy obsession and their habits become harmful.
It’s important to see here that anybody who is vegan, raw foodist, or just wants to eat healthier is not necessarily or automatically orthorexic. It’s only when that “healthy diet” becomes an obsession that it becomes a problem. And unfortunately, that is a very thin line that is not always easily recognizable. Most likely the person won’t even realize what they’re doing is wrong, and they may not see it as an ED. Although not always the case (wasn’t for me at the start), most orthorexics don’t think they’re fat or are trying to lose weight like other people with eating disorders are…they simply want to eat as clean and healthy as possible. But eventually their diet becomes so restrictive that they can become just as malnourished as those with anorexia. And although orthorexics may not be obsessed with weight and calories, their relationship with food and eating is most definitely disordered.
This may be harder to fully understand unless you’ve been through it or experienced someone who has because from the outside it’s probably easy to say how could eating healthy turn to this. I get it, when I was aiming to eat healthy and clean, I saw nothing wrong with it and couldn’t imagine me ever having an eating disorder. But very quickly, it can all change affecting your mental and physical state. Even after I stopped trying to lose weight, I continued to do so. Why? Because I was restricting so many types of food that I wasn’t getting enough calories or nutrition eating salads all the time. And as far as mental state goes, it messes with your mind just as any other ED would; it puts thoughts in their that makes you want to keep following the obsession and your harmful ways.
Now, I am NOT saying that healthy eating or diets are bad, you should want to fill your body with healthy, nutritious options. It only turns bad when you cross that line, when you become all consuming, overly-obsessed that it takes over your whole life and all your time. When you start feeling guilty if you stray from your diet, or almost every single thought is consumed with thinking of food: what you ate and if it was clean enough. I couldn’t stop thinking about food and seemingly judging others for what they were eating if I didn’t deem it “clean”. I would spend hours every day planning every meal making sure I didn’t eat something unhealthy, I couldn’t go out or have others prepare my meals because I couldn’t see what was in them. I started labeling foods as “good” and “bad” thinking I was great when I ate something :good” and hated myself when I ate something “bad”.
I found this great list (from Chocolate Covered Katie) that shows some of possible signs orthorexics may display:
- Feeling virtuous about what they eat, but not enjoying their food much
- Continually cutting foods from their diet
- Experiencing a reduced quality of life or social isolation because their diet makes it difficult for them to eat anywhere but at home
- Feeling critical of, or superior to, others who do not eat as healthily they do
- Skipping foods they once enjoyed in order to eat the “right” foods
- Choosing to eat foods based solely on nutritional value, instead of eating what they’re craving
- Feeling guilt or self-loathing when they stray from their diet
- Feeling in total control when they eat the “correct” diet
Now everyone may have the possibility of showing one of these from time to time. I don’t want you to panic–if you have had one of these possible thoughts–that you’re going to get an ED. Just be aware of these and don’t let me them start controlling your life. If you still enjoy all foods, don’t restrict, and enjoy life by listening to your body and cravings–you should be in an okay place. It’s when this takes over every part of your life that damage can start to be done.
Lastly, on the National EAting Disorders site, there are some questions you can ask yourself to consider if you have orthorexia nervosa. The more you answer yes to, the more likely you are dealing with orthorexia. If this is you or someone you know, please know that you are NOT ALONE. Talk to family members or friends, call the helpline, or see a doctor or therapist. Admitting the problem really is that hardest part and the first step.
Life is meant to be so much more than consumption of what you are eating, life is meant to be enjoyed. Recovery is possible and you too can enjoy life again. And remember, you are Beyoutifully Healthy.