Orthorexia

I actually wanted to make a video but my face is too pale and I am not really sure how to make a decent one with my archaic webcam and my nonexistent technical skills. I sometimes tell this story because society really scares me and I want to remind people that the “healthy” bodies depicted in the media are not actually healthy at all and mostly consist of emaciated, air-brushed, and dangerously dehydrated models. Mostly though I am telling myself so that as I embark on my new quest for fitness I don’t forget the mistakes I have made in the past.

Orthorexia (a disorder characterized by a morbid obsession with eating healthy foods)

Excessive Exercise (Continuing to exercise when injured or sick, avoiding social functions to exercise, firmly adhering to an obsessive and regimented exercise regime)

I grew up in a low socioeconomic family, food was scarce, meals were missed, and there was no room for picky eaters.

Breakfast might be something like cornflakes and water, lunch a bologna sandwich, and dinner a bowl of rice with stewed tomatoes. I had my preferences same as any other kid but I ate whatever was available, even if it made me sick.

Growing up I often gorged when food was accessible in preparation for those times when we had to go without. I learned not to waste food, even eating food that was spoiled or contaminated out of necessity.

As a baby I had a ton of food sensitivities/allergies and I am not sure if I ever grew out of them so much as my mom had no other choice but to feed me whatever she could scrounge up.

As a child I spent a lot of time with one of my cousins. My cousin had severe health issues which resulted in frequent surgeries, hospital stays, and a serious case of malnutrition. She was very picky about food and as a result we had to cater to her preferences. For me that meant eating a lot of eggs (I was allergic to eggs) and hotdogs (I still hate the smell of ketchup). I came to associate eating with feeling sick.

My mom has been overweight/obese much of her life. It was always assumed I would also be overweight. Couple that with my voracious, garbage disposal appetite, inherited thyroid issues, history of sexual abuse, and a traditional Southern diet and it was more or less guaranteed.

Even before I had weight issues family members would tease me. “Chubby” “Lazy” “Lard Ass” “You’re going to grow up just like your mom, a real fatty, and no man loves a fatty.”

Is it any wonder that I developed issues? I hated my body from the very beginning. My body was disgusting. I took 3 hour baths and burning hot showers. I didn’t want men to notice me. I didn’t want to be touched. I didn’t want to be seen.

By the time I was 12 my primarily meat (bacon) based, carb-deficient diet had resulted in a cumbersome and very unhealthy body. I couldn’t keep pace with my friends. I was excluded from gym. I was the biggest girl in class. Boys ridiculed my weight but grabbed my breasts and looked up my skirt because I was “developed”.

I wanted to change. I had always been told I was fat even before I was fat so that was a given. I knew I was always going to be fat but I thought just maybe I could improve my health. I ate my meals in seclusion but I never skipped or skimped.

I found a book on yoga it included exercise, meditation techniques, breathing techniques, philosophy, and a diet it was perfect, all inclusive. The diet was simple no complicated recipes, no specialty items. The diet meant becoming a vegetarian, giving up sweets and soda, and everything I loved. I decided to go for it. I didn’t weigh myself. I didn’t count calories. My only goal was to be healthier.

The breathing exercises improved my cardio health. The diet gave me tremendous amounts of energy. I had more energy than I could cram into a day. I increased my activity. It got to the point where I had to exercise two hours every night before bed just so I could go to sleep (I also exercised several hours during the day). By high school I had joined a gym. I was taking exercises classes both at school and in the gym. I could go through 1 hour of kickboxing without my pulse rising over 55 bpm. I was underweight (I weighed myself one day after some skinny girls asked me for dieting tips). I couldn’t eat enough yoga foods to maintain a good weight. A part of me was excited, another part horrified by my new skeletal frame. I had some severely underweight friends and it warped my perception of normal. I also had an aunt who kept calling me fat through it all. I gained up to a healthy weight, it was slow going at first. I decided healthy was better despite the disordered thinking fighting so hard to make me sick.

In college I started to gain. I left college went overseas to be with my now husband and continued to gain weight at an increasingly rapid pace. I gained right back to my middle school weight and then I stopped. I moved back to the states. I became a vegetarian again (I had started eating fish and poultry to help me gain the first time) and started to exercise. I went back to college joined the gym. I started to lift. I started taking exercise classes. I fell in love with exercise and suddenly I could do all sorts of new things. I even took dance, I couldn’t dance, but I loved it. I became certified in Pilates. I was eating healthy and exercising a good amount. I was maintaining a healthy weight. My mind was convinced I was fat. I didn’t look like the girls in the fitness magazines and on television. As a Nutrition major I was surrounded by young women with eating disorders, even my teachers had eating disorders but I stuck to 120 lbs (I am 5’4). Then I started to gain weight for no reason. I started exercising more and more until I was exercising 4 hours a day minimum. I subbed out my lunch with a Slimfast shake, which was convenient albeit unhealthy. The Slimfast shakes resulted in Hypoglycemia so I had to stop and go back to regular food again (the Hypoglycemia went away). It was taking everything I had to maintain and then finally I couldn’t maintain anymore. I was obsessed with dieting. I went to the school doctor and he said there’s nothing wrong with your thyroid because you’re a healthy weight. I convinced him to check it out and lo and behold I had Hypothyroidism just like my mom.

Shortly after that I got pregnant. Every time I ate food containing iron it made me vomit. That coupled with years of Menorrhagia and it wasn’t long before I had anemia. Suddenly I had no energy. I couldn’t exercise. I felt horrible. I became depressed to the point of psychotic. I hated my body. I cried whenever I looked in the mirror. I had so much cellulite (something I never had much of even at my heaviest weight). I even hated my breasts for being too big.

After I had my daughter I weighed 148 lbs. A year later eating healthy, exercising daily at home and in the gym and I still weighed 148 lbs. I couldn’t shift the weight. I resigned myself to continue my healthy lifestyle and accept this new body that I absolutely hated. We moved overseas again. With the climate change I went back to eating meat. I continued to eat a lot of Japanese-style foods, something I was becoming increasingly passionate about. I started P90X and I started to lose. I eventually got to my goal weight of 120 lbs. I found it hard to maintain though. I found it hard to be consistent with a small child and with all the stress going on in my life.

A few years ago I gave Gluten-free a try. I had problems with constipation and I thought it might help (it did). Gluten-free has to be strict in order to work so it was very restrictive. I was also careful to eat foods low on the Glycemic Index and I started measuring everything compulsively. I started exercising more and more this time HIIT which I loved. I decided in keeping with modern trends I ought to aim for 115 lbs instead of 120 lbs. I didn’t just have my own Body Dysmorphia to contend with I had society’s Body Dysmorphia. Emaciated actresses on magazines being criticized by the public for being chubby. Fitness models with body fat percentiles so low as to be incapable of menstruation. The idea that a 6 pack on a woman is healthy and that a flat stomach is no longer good enough. Now I knew from studying Nutrition that societies ideal of a healthy female body was completely deluded but if I wanted my efforts recognized didn’t I have to look that way? I got to 115 lbs and decided to go lower. At 107 lbs I was happy to dress up but being naked was a different story (I had to hide my body because at that weight my bones are very visible and so were my bruises). I even dreamed about exercise and dieting when I could sleep. I had gotten my waist to just under 23 inches all with exercise and keeping my calories b/w 1500 and 1800. My stomach was flat, hell it was fucking concave. I was strong. I could do things physically I never dreamed possible. I couldn’t pinch fat. I had 3 lines but no 6 pack. Everyone around me thought I was too skinny they commented constantly. They were worried. Society said you’re normal. I realized by societies’ standards thin means dead. Until I was literally without flesh I would never meet societies standard. So I gained weight.

Over-exercising ruined my immune system and messed up my knees. I even bruised all the bones in my feet but I kept on going (do you know how much bruised bones hurt to jump on?). I kept getting sick until my body would not let me exercise anymore. I gave up the restrictive diet for my mental health and now I weigh 130 lbs which is more than I intended but Depression, a recent surgery, and thyroid issues conspired against me. I am now exercising again but I am keeping it moderate no special diet, no weighing my food just healthy home-cooked meals. I hope that I can keep it moderate and not go off the deep end. Recovery is lifelong.

I see online a lot of people asking if their height and weight is healthy. First of all it isn’t that simple there are all sorts of things to consider muscle mass, frame size, age etc. I don’t know how many time I have seen girls ask I am 24, very active, 5’4 100 lbs is that healthy? The crowd assures her that is normal, guess again that is underweight. Most people have no clue what a healthy weight is and yet they feel qualified to give advice and to give advice with limited information no less.