Fifty Shades of Orthorexia: Including Grey

Those of you that know me, know that I am equipped with an extreme personality. Grey is hard for me. Middle is hard for me. Subtle is hard for me. Waiting is hard for me. In between is hard for me. Balance…is hard for me.

*Note: Fair-warning that many of my paragraphs and sentences in this post will begin with an I. 

You’ll either find me with my phone in hand, ever-connected, or, I am nowhere to be found with my phone on Airplane mode accessing only the camera and notepad.

I either have my music on the loudest decibel or I am relishing in complete silence. 

I am either involved in one activity after another – working, jogging, yoga, hiking, cooking, cleaning, errands – or I am laying in savasana doing absolutely nothing.

I am either teetoll’ing it, or I am indulging in a few (or several) nightly cocktails.

I have the ability to thrive in the middle of no where – nestled comfortably in the country – miles from any major city with sounds of roosters and crows peacefully waking me in the dawn hours, or smack dab in the middle a city – downtown amid the around-the-clock sirens, horns, hollers and, screeches.

I am either an Unconventional Cave-Woman Paleo-er… or  a Virtuous Raw Vegan.

I am all natural, or bright hot pink lipstick.

I am an all in... or... all out girl.

I am all black. Or, all white. 

It’s the in between that makes my palms sweat. The middle-sized towns with things like Walmart, Home Depot , car washes, and chain restaurants that are missing the local cafes, mom-and-pop hardware stores, and farmers markets but far away from the cityscapes, fitness studios,  fashion districts,  coffee houses, and Whole Foods.

Obsessions. Extremes. Addictions.

All of these lie at the heart of Orthorexia, an unhealthy fixation on being healthy - specifically eating healthfully.

Obsessions and addictions are interrelated and so often serve as distractions - anything to get us outside of ourselves rather than looking (or living…) inward.

To explore this notion of distraction a bit further, watch the video below with Amber Valletta on her struggle with living with addiction.

An eating disorder (ED) is very much like an addiction. When I am active in my eating disorders (Orthorexia and Anorexia), I am all-consuming. Utterly fixated on my food… specific ingredients, where they are sourced, whether or not they are organic, availability (will I be able to get these ‘superfoods’ if I were to travel?),  how clean they are, how much I will eat and at what times, and perhaps the biggest one of all – how it will effect me physically, mentally, and even spiritually (i.e. "will eating this raise or lower my vibration?") 

My addictive personality only amplifies my predisposition to live in an extreme way.

Coconut is a miracle food? Oh, coconut EVERYTHING! Lip-balm, hair mask, sunscreen, lotion, cooking oil, coconut water, coconut milk, coconut meat, coconut butter, anti-fungal, anti-viral….Ok really coconut is a miracle food but I have taken it to an extreme. And have even been called, “Coconut Head,” on more than one occasion.  Another example would be my most recent rabbit hole, of living as a Fruitarian. Consuming not one, not two, no…not three, but upwards of twenty bananas a day. Yes, twenty. And no fats or protein other than the minuscule amount that is in fruit and vegetables. So this meant no nuts, seeds, or legumes either. On the surface, it was an honest attempt to ‘heal’ my body from illness, disease, and pain. 

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The eating disorder(s) for me, only begin to scratch the surface. Beneath the fixation with food and being the healthiest that I can possibly be, I discovered that it was once again about control (a false sense of) and fear.  When I cut through the bullshit and take a good look back on this year and what sent me deep into the abyss of eating disorder insanity, the situation became very clear to me.

Earlier this year (2015), I felt scared. I felt defeated and helpless. And, I didn’t want anyone to know. Especially myself.

*Note: I have learned that denial with oneself can perhaps be the most damaging form of self-sabotage

Events that prompted my (recent) ED relapse:

This is not to BLAME any of these circumstances – these were stressors that occurred and triggered my Eating Disorder Demon

  1. Change in positions at place of employment
  2. Frequent travel for work
  3. Laid off from work
  4. Unemployment
  5. Selling/giving away belongings
  6. Moving out of my apartment
  7. Moving to a different city/town (3 times)

I was numb to my emotions and went on autopilot (survival mode).

I didn't admit ... to anyone that I didn’t feel ‘OK,’ that I may need some help… Instead, I ran. I left where I was living and went back to to a place that felt safe and comfortable.

I have learned that people (myself included) are doing the best that they can with the knowledge and resources that they have at the time.

While the debate is still out whether addiction is a disease, it is in fact, a mental illness. I am of the opinion that it is both. Addiction is complex, and wildly difficult to treat. 

While my intention wasn't to write about addiction - I feel that the behavioral aspect of addiction is so closely tied to that of Orthorexia, that I simply can't write about one without acknowledging the other. It seems that the word 'addiction' or 'addict' has a common connotation of drugs.. alcohol.. sex... gambling... but what about everything else? What about being addicted to things that are seemingly healthy?  Exercise, health foods, detoxing, cleansing, cleaning, working... even things like cooking, fishing, knitting... seemingly harmless - joyful activities can become an addiction. 

I'm reminded of an article that I read on Goop, "Why We're All Addicts." The article is so on point, that I could quote it all - so I implore you to give it a read. Though, below is an excerpt.

“Addiction is inside you no matter how far your soul has evolved.
The truth is that each one of us possesses the same attributes that fuel alcoholic binges, restrictive eating patterns, and marital infidelity. Yes, addiction is inside you no matter how far your soul has evolved. It resides in your psyche and binds you together with all other addicted beings in the world. Addiction is archetypal. This means that we all share its energy in the unconscious part of our psyche. It is a feeling that we know instinctively and is imprinted in our DNA. We could not shake it if we tried...
So, what is addiction anyway? This is a question that has sparked some debate in recent years. One contingent of prestigious psychologists considers it a genetic disease, while others would argue that it is a learned condition brought on by the trappings of one’s environment. I respectfully disagree with both of these theories. As someone who has faced my own addiction for over 30 years, I have come to know it well. It is my belief that addiction is simply energy. It is energy that flows through the body and lodges itself in the mind. Initially, it saturates the body with a sense of longing and fills the mind with invasive and obsessive thoughts. These repetitive thoughts will not cease until some sort of compulsive act has been committed. Here is an example. There is one homemade peanut butter chocolate chip cookie left in the tin and you are thinking about it relentlessly. You have already eaten two and by no means are still hungry but still have the urge to eat the last one. In fact, it is difficult for you to concentrate on anything else until it is in your mouth. You have just succumbed to addiction. Addiction is the inability to control your urges in the face of potentially negative consequences. You are attempting to stay healthy and that cookie does not correspond well with your proposed fitness program. But you couldn’t control yourself so you ate it anyway. When this behavior becomes a pattern, you are in the throes of an addictive cycle...
It is my belief that addiction is simply energy. It is energy that flows through the body and lodges itself in the mind.”
- Dr. Carder Stout

So here we are - faced with choices. Choices of extremes. Choices of balance. Black or white. And if we look close enough, we begin to see the shades. All of these different shades. 

What I a coming to understand is that Grey – grey represents flexibility.
Grey is neither good nor bad.


Fifty Shades of Orthorexia

*Note: This list pertains to behaviors, thought patterns, and actions when I am in the depths of my ED (not recovery)

  1. In the depths of my ED, I become numb to feeling, both physically and emotionally
  2. I deprive myself of the nutrients that I need to properly function
  3. Emotionally I shut down to feeling
  4. Eventually,  I am unable to cry
  5. It's difficult for me to relate others
  6. I lack empathy
  7. And physically, with little to no food to digest... or only digesting one type of food (like fruit), one cannot feel the food in their body as much
  8. You're literally empty inside
  9. I become infatuated by this emptiness
  10. And find a certain type of comfort in the nothingness
  11. When I succumb to the tight grip of Orthorexia, I lose sense of my roots
  12. I become off balance
  13. I am not grounded
  14. As an Orthorexic, I have a constant need to feel 'pure and clean' 
  15. On the flip side of that desire to feel or be 'pure and clean,' I think that there is a belief deep down inside of me that feels I am 'impure and unclean,' I am working on that
  16. When I feel impure or unclean, I find it nearly impossible to accept myself
  17. Or love myself
  18. No amount of green juice, salads, fruits, water, herbs, supplements, showers, detoxifying cleaners, yoga, running, or saunas, will make me feel clean or 'detoxed' 
  19. Orthorexia offers a false sense of control
  20.  Restricting my body of nutritions is one of the ways that I punish myself for things that I have not forgiven myself for
  21. Not only do I restrict my body of nutrients, but I will also find ways to deprive myself of other joys in life
  22. Joys such as going out with friends,traveling, having adventures, taking (healthy) risks
  23. Orthorexia becomes a way that I sabotage myself
  24. When Orthorexia is ruling my mind (and life), I act out of fear
  25. And make rash decisions
  26. When Orthorexia is ruling my mind (and life), I am in flight or fight mode
  27. (My) Orthorexic practices provide a false sense of safety
  28. (My) Orthorexic practices provide a false sense of security
  29. Through regimented and methodological behaviors
  30. When Orthorexia is ruling my mind (and life), it's difficult for me to relate to others
  31. Or feel accepted 
  32. Orthorexia becomes a way that I isolate myself 
  33. When Orthorexia is ruling my mind (and life), the way that I eat is not sustainable
  34. And therefore, I have an easy excuse to have to deprive myself
  35. Orthorexia causes me to feel that there is constantly something wrong with my body
  36. Orthorexia is way for me to feel safe in a world full of uncertainties 
  37. Orthorexia fuels my addictive and obsessive personality 
  38. The stress and anxiety of dining out causes me to lose all sense of focus 
  39. Or the ability to stay in the present moment 
  40. Or the ability to truly enjoy the the taste of the food in my mouth
  41. Stopping for a quick bite turns into an hour or more of finding something that is suitable based on onerous or impractical requirements  
  42. Because I am not getting the nutrients that I need, I lose all sense of my hunger 
  43. I eat in fear and worry 
  44. My body is so deprived that my mind is consumed with thoughts of food
  45. Thoughts different recipes occupy my mind
  46. I obsessively read about food, recipes, and stare at restaurant menus as though I haven't eaten in days
  47. Because my hunger gauge is off - I become uncertain of my portions. Is this too much food? Not enough? Is this a normal amount to eat for dinner? Should I be having less snacks? More?
  48. I become uncertain at the times of the day that I should eat rather than relying on my hunger cues
  49. And when I do have a mouthful of something that I have deprived myself of - my anxiety sky rockets with worry about what it will do to my body (even if it is something that is known to be healthy like sweet potatoes)
  50. My passion is health, sometimes, I allow my passion to turn into an obsession

Before I close, I'd like to thank Dr. Steven Bratman, who coined the term Orthorexia in 1996, for all of his time and work into the study of Orthorexia. 

"Enthusiasm for healthy eating doesn’t become “orthorexia” until a tipping point is reached and enthusiasm transforms into obsession.
Orthorexia is an emotionally disturbed, self-punishing relationship with food that involves a progressively shrinking universe of foods deemed acceptable. A gradual constriction of many other dimensions of life occurs so that thinking about healthy food can becomes the central theme of almost every moment of the day, the sword and shield against every kind of anxiety, and the primary source of self-esteem, value and meaning. This may result in social isolation, psychological disturbance and even, possibly, physical harm.
To put it another way, the search for healthy eating has become unhealthy."
-Dr. Steven Bratman

I am learning to live and be comfortable with grey. Embrace grey. And dance in the glorious and delicate balance of the rainbow of colors that surround grey.

So here's to the Grey... and everything in between,