“An Unhealthy Obsession With A Healthy Lifestyle”

From April 7, 2016

​According to Mirasol.com, 10-15% of all Americans are suffering from an eating disorder. more that go unnoticed. That’s a striking statistic; one that cannot and should not be ignored.

According to National Eating Disorders Awareness, orthorexia nervosa is defined as “an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating.” Orthorexia is not recognized as an official eating disorder, but is becoming more common as our society becomes more fitness and health-oriented. While recently there has been a push towards body positivity, there’s still a huge pressure to be visibly fit.
Orthorexia exists. I would know; I’m a victim.

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Here’s the “ideal image”:
A toned stomach (but not a serious six pack; that’s too ‘masculine’), shapely legs with no cellulite, thin ankles, big calves, a tiny waist, a perfectly rounded butt (also with no cellulite), perky breasts, thin and toned arms with no jiggle, and God forbid you have love handles.

That “ideal image” is completely unattainable. But, it’s what social media and magazines tell us is “beautiful”. Ironic how they smear the headline “Confidence is SEXY!” over their cover model, who happens to be completely altered. How are women and girls supposed to be confident in their own skin when they’re fed unattainable images daily?

As someone who is recovering from an eating disorder, I can say from experience that it is the darkest place your mind can go. To set the scene of how someone with an eating disorder thinks:

The calories aren’t listed.
The calories aren’t listed.
The calories aren’t listed.
How many carbs is in this?
How much fat is in this?
How much sugar is in this?
I look fat in this outfit.
I look fat in this outfit.
I look fat in this outfit.
I don’t deserve to eat.
I don’t deserve to eat.
Did I burn enough calories today?
I need to work out more.
I need to work out more.
Do my parents notice?
Do they know that something’s wrong with me?
I can’t do this anymore.
I can’t do this anymore.

A little over a year ago, this crippling disorder snuck into my life. Little by little, it consumed me until I could hardly recognize myself. It started with small things, like the thought was incessantly whispered in my head: “You’re fat. What boss, what boy, what friends are going to want a fat girl?”. I began to believe it. I started looking into the mirror and my 150-pound athletic build was distorted into something unwanted, ugly, and hated. Then I downloaded MyFitnessPal and logged my calories. I didn’t think anything was wrong with me. But then what seemed like an innocent habit turned into panic attacks when I ate more than my 1,600 calorie allowance. The process of logging my calories became habitual, then addictive. I started to go to the gym for hours at a time, torturing myself on the elliptical until I could hardly breathe, until the huffing of my breath and the sweat from my brow blurred my self-deprecating thoughts. I wouldn’t stop unless I was reaching the point of fainting or vomiting.

Daily I stripped myself of my sweaty gym clothes and stared into the mirror, my eyes glossed over with blinders orthorexia gave me; blinders that made it impossible to see my beauty. I laid almost naked on the floor, tears rolling down my face, crippled by the belief that my body was disgusting. I cursed God for giving me an “unacceptable” body.
This disorder told me that I should hate food, but I’ve always loved it, and that made the battle against it even harder. I cried when my mom made noodles as a side dish, because I thought they would make me “fat”. I restricted my diet to such an extreme that I could not go to a single restaurant without having an anxiety attack. My thoughts were like a landslide, smothering me from happiness.

What started as a minor obsessive-compulsive issue soon came over me like a flood. There was no stopping orthorexia; the relentless, controlling, all-consuming disorder. I thought it had taken away enough, but then it started to eat away at my happiness and my relationships. I went to school with it hanging all over me. I was self-conscious in anything I wore; my skin and hair were dull and I lost my energy and liveliness. When it was time for lunch, I pulled out the same thing I ate every day: half of a Luna protein bar, a small apple sliced into bitty pieces (so I could trick myself into thinking I was eating more), and cut-up vegetables. My thoughts told me that was enough—maybe even too much—until dinner. But I would always binge when I got home anyway…leading to even more self-loathing behavior.

I stared at my friends enviously and judged them for what they were eating, because I thought my diet was the only right one. Why weren’t they eating fresh vegetables? Don’t they know that crackers are full of refined carbs? My boyfriend at the time didn’t understand my disorder either. He didn’t understand why I hated myself even after he told me that I was beautiful. Orthorexia tried to drive a wedge into our relationship but my then-boyfriend became my stronghold through it all. He held me while orthorexia tried to tear me away.

It controlled me until the night my mom found me. I’m so glad she did, because I wanted to die that night. I saw the pain in her eyes; I had been blind to it for months. She told me I needed help and I was hesitant because I didn’t think my problem was much of a problem at all. I didn’t notice the weight I lost, or how the restrictions were affecting my life until my mom said something. So, I took the first step in conquering my eating disorder. I started going to therapy. After months, I started seeing myself without the beauty blinders. I started allowing myself to be happy, even after I ate a serving of Ben & Jerry’s or my mom’s famous pesto pasta. I continued to exercise more than the average person, but I started a workout program that focused on becoming fit and healthy, rather than just losing weight. I began congratulating myself for accomplishing small goals, rather than yelling at myself for one little slip-up. I felt the grip of it’s hands start to slip away. Freedom.

Then, college came along. I’ve noticed that orthorexia is a bit like a clingy ex-boyfriend…it just keeps coming back. While I’ve advanced a bit from my first bout of the disorder, recovery is hell and relapse is prevalent. What was freedom once again became binding chains. I did well in the beginning of the year; I was still thin and my body was at its fittest. I had lost weight over the summer from working as an overnight camp counselor, and I felt good about myself (for the most part). Then, I began to see the pounds pile on. Currently, I’m 10-15 pounds heavier than I was when I started at Temple University. Literally, the freshman fifteen.

I blame it on a multitude of things: Sodexo and the copious amounts of sodium, preservatives, and additives they put into their “food”, the fact that I’m not getting nearly enough sleep, my lack of willpower when it comes to sweets, not always having the time or energy to exercise, huge amounts of physical/mental stress, and my binge-eating tendencies when I’m emotional or bored.

It’s exceptionally difficult to watch yourself spiral out of control. After I published my first “Open Letter to Orthorexia” during my first semester, I was suffocated by positive messages, congratulations, and people saying they were “SO proud” of me for overcoming the disorder. How could I break it to them that, well, it’s still overcoming me?

This is how. Through writing, because writing is how I express things that need to be expressed eloquently, without me struggling to find the right word or choking on my tears.

Despite my words of hope in my first letter, the disorder, unfortunately, has not run it’s course through my mind. I’m seeing a therapist, but I still have the irrational and illogical mind of someone consumed by an eating disorder: If I rid myself of orthorexia, that means that I’ll simultaneously rid myself of the motivation I need to exercise and eat healthy.

In essence, that very thought is what hinders me from completely destroying the disorder that has fought so hard to destroy me.

This disorder is a raging demon. But I’m fighting valiantly against it. Yes, I still log my calories, I still exercise 7-9 times per week, I still rip myself apart when I undress in front of the mirror sometimes, and I still compare myself to every woman that I pass, but in the same breath, I now know that the presence of another’s beauty is not the absence of my own. What’s changed from my first battle with orthorexia to this relapse is that I am able to forgive myself. I’m able to catch myself in the midst of self-deprecation and pull myself out of it. Sometimes it still consumes me; I have nights where I cannot function because negative thoughts about how many calories I’ve eaten, or the fact that I took a rest day, ravage my brain. But I wake up the next morning and realize that it’s a new day and a new chance to love myself. It sounds cheesy, wow oh my god it sounds cheesy, but it’s the truth.

Without my battle with orthorexia, I would be nowhere close to as strong as I am today. I’m coming out of every relapse more strong, radiant, and self-aware of my incredible gifts and beauty. This disorder has given me the ability to speak to others who are tackling eating disorders and give them advice and reassurance that recovery is possible. It has made me more aware of the food that I’m putting in my body and the most beneficial ways to train my body for it to function at its best. And lastly, it has taught me the power of self-love, the most important form of self-care.

I think that’s all.
I love you all and thank you for your steadfast support and care.

​-Sarah

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