If eating disorders were simple to understand, they might not be such a huge problem in our society.
The truth is eating disorders aren’t simple; they’re incredibly complicated and can masquerade in so many different ways.
Of course, anyone who has an eating disorder has a distorted body perception and often won’t recognize the symptoms without help. I think it’s helpful, though, for us as a society to be aware of all the different types of eating disorders, which leads me to my story.
Giving My Eating Disorder a Name
When I was 24 years old, I truly believed I was cured of the eating disorder I had dealt with for more than a decade. I had finally stopped binging and purging and I even used the word “recovered.”
What I didn’t realize was I was transitioning from bulimia and anorexia to something called Orthorexia.
I’ve found Orthorexia isn’t a term people use often, and in fact, most people – like me at the time – have no idea what it is.
For two years, I dealt with Orthorexia. I wasn’t binging or purging, I was simply obsessed with what I was eating and only eating food I deemed to be healthy. While on the surface that sounds like it could be part of a nutritious eating plan, my diet was far from healthy.
People made comments during this time about my eating habits and how fit I was. They would joke about the level of intensity I devoted to my new diet.
I just thought they didn’t understand. I truly believed any type of snack food or something I deemed high-calorie was actually poison.
While it has been a topic of recent discussion, Orthorexia is yet to be fully classified, but you can read a pretty full definition here. Basically, Orthorexia is an obsession with healthy eating characterized by obsessive-compulsive behaviors and delusional thoughts.
Orthorexia takes over the brain in much the same way other eating disorders do. I was relentless in my desire to only consume things that wouldn’t “damage” my body or my brain. Part of this obsession included hours and hours of research about food and its effects.
During some of this research, I actually stumbled upon the definition for Orthorexia. I denied it at first, but I couldn’t get it out of my head, and very slowly, I began to realize that I fit the definition perfectly. I started to take note of the fact that I was missing out on opportunities – missing out on life – because of my irrational fear of certain food.
The process of recovery for this eating disorder took time, of course. Initially, I told myself if I only ate 10% unhealthy food and 90% healthy food that would be OK. What I had to learn, however, was I needed to let go of my compulsive behaviors in their entirety.
I had assigned such negative connotations to food it was all I could think about. I spent so much time obsessing about whether something was poisoning my body that it was hardly worth eating at all. With the help of others and constant awareness on my part, I eventually introduced other food back into my diet and began to let go of my obsession with what I was eating.
The Next Step for People with Orthorexic Tendencies
I’m sharing my story to shed light on the dangers of eating disorders and how they can get seriousness without others knowing. In today’s society, we often glamourize someone with extreme self-control. We envy someone who can say “no” to carbs. We emulate someone who is health-conscious.
While I whole-heartedly believe we should be conscious of what we put into our bodies, I think we are in danger of not noticing when someone truly needs help.
An eating disorder is not a blanket problem that can be fixed with one solution. Eating disorders look different on different people. Accusations don’t do any good, either.
Awareness and understanding can go a long way in helping ourselves and helping those we love avoid the dangers of one of the many eating disorders that plague people in today’s body-image obsessed world.