This is the most difficult post that I have written. In fact, it is one of the most difficult things that have ever written, period.
Has anyone ever told you that you are 'too close to the situation'? I had quite a few people in my life tell me this throughout the past couple of years. I thought: "Nah... look at all of this research I do. Look at all of this information I have found. Look at all the progress I have made. Look at all of these people that have healed themselves this way. Look at all of this groundbreaking literature to back it up. Look at all of this HEALTHY stuff I buy!"
Since 2010 I have been on an endless search to heal various physical ailments through food elimination and diets. In doing so, I became acutely aware of all the nasty things that get put into packaged and processed foods, the dangers of this food and that food and benefits of this food and that food. And countless diets. Paleo, Primal, Raw, Vegan, Vegetarian, Pescatarian, Anti-inflammatory, Macrobiotic... seeking that perfect combination that would allow me to feel my best. Be the healthiest. The cleanest. The Purest.
During this same time, I continued to suffer from gastrointestinal issues (chronic diarrhea and bloating). So, in my mind, there was still something wrong. There was still something to fix.
What I have is called, Orthorexia. It is much different than Anorexia though it can have similar side effects. While anorexia typically has a fixation of weight, orthorexia is a fixation on eating healthy. They do overlap. And I believe my struggle with orthorexia, obsession with healthy eating and having a clean body also morphed into anorexia.
"Orthorexia' is defined as an obsession with 'healthy or righteous eating'. The phrase was first created in 1997 by California doctor Steven Bratman, and refers to people who create severely limited diets in the name of healthy eating. It often begins with someone's simple and genuine desire to live a healthy lifestyle. The person may choose to stop eating red meat, but eventually cuts out all meat; then all processed foods, and will eventually eat only specific foods that are prepared in very specific ways."
As with all eating disorders, the core issue is not about food. My struggle began at a time in my life when I was dealing with massive emotional stress. In the fall of 2010 I was sexually assaulted and during that same time, had recently left a relationship and entered into another unhealthy relationship (both unrelated to the assault) quickly after. With my life in disarray, and my emotions crying for help, food was something that I could control.
Or so I thought.
Note: This post is on MY battle. I do not believe that everyone on a restrictive diet has orthorexia. Though, this post may raise awareness that 'diets' can become an obsession. And can be a 'gateway.' Most of all... listen to your BODY. Always.
It was a slow progression. For much of 2011 I was 'tweaking' if you will, still maintaining a pretty 'healthy' diet and body weight but experimenting with elimination diets. And in 2012, I tweaked a bit more and become increasingly strict with what I allowed into my body. Following my hernia surgery in December of 2012, I became even more fixated on eating healthy, weighing in at 94 pounds at my doctor's appointment just a few weeks ago.
And then I got sick. Twice. And weighed 'who-knows-what' and then I landed myself in the ER with severe abdominal pain. This pain that I was feeling was on the surface, not dangerous. But the underlying cause - in sum, was that my body just did not have the reserves to sustain me while being sick nor did it have the strength to recover 'like a normal person.'
No doctor has ever told me that I should not eat the foods that I have eliminated from my diet. I truly believed that I was doing the best and healthiest thing for my body. I eliminated entire food groups. No processed foods, no packaged foods aside from bars and sweet potato chips, no refined sugar, no corn, no beans, no grains at all except for oats and brown rice (so no gluten, millet, spelt etc), no yeast, no soy, no dairy, and very limited other starches.
The consequences to this type of restrictive eating are massive.
The side-effects listed below are side-effects that I experienced. These are not researched and therefore I do not know if they apply to others with orthorexia/restrictive dieting.
- Insufficient nutrients/ malnourished
- Insufficient calories
- Dangerous weight-loss / unhealthy BMI
- Decrease in energy
- Dangerously low blood pressure
- Hormone inbalance
- Loss of appetite
- Obsessive-Compulsive behavior (measuring food, listing out meals, only eating at certain times)
- Fear (of food/ingredients)
There were many signs along the way that I chose to not recognize. For every sign, I had an answer. A rather good one, at that.
I had one woman I didn't even know straight up ask me: 'Do you eat?' I thought it was the rudest thing I had ever heard. And perhaps it was rude. But maybe it needed to be said.
During this time, I was cooking, baking, blogging about food and my love of food, helping to guide others in their path to a healthy lifestyle and so the thought that I could have a problem was downright absurd to me. Ha!
I would NEVER EVER advise someone else to do the things that I was doing. I re-read what is on my website after acknowledging that I have a problem and thought "Wow, I'm pretty dang intelligent. Why didn't I just listen to myself?"
Simply put, I got caught up in my passion. As a friend stated to me: "You know, people take great pride getting taken by their passion. You simply did that."
I was being dishonest with myself. But most of all, I was not loving myself. I was not nurturing myself and I was not accepting myself. I was loving and accepting myself in ONE condition. I was not loving and accepting myself through thick and thin (pun intended).
Although, I was doing all of these wonderful things like reading several different self-help books, doing affirmations, connecting with my spirituality and becoming very aware of myself and my surroundings, I was not recognizing the thing that I needed to face the most.
I hit bottom.
Through all of the deaths, break-ups, moves, sicknesses, and surgeries, this struggle, right here, right now, is by the far the hardest that I have fought. And I am honored and humbled to be able to share my experience.
And the work begins...
This Wednesday, I start an outpatient program and will be seeing both a nutritionist and psychologist. I am excited for this journey to begin!
Rest assured, I am still very much in love with food, cooking, baking and all that it has to offer. I cannot predict how this will unfold, but I can tell you this:
My posts will change slightly and my recipes will evolve but I will be here. Learning, pushing forward and sharing my experiences.
And I have an incredible support system. My family and friends have embraced me with loving arms and for that I am immensely grateful. Thank you.