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.

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26 responses to “Orthorexia

    • So true! The other day in the grocery store I passed the lotions and realized how many different anti-aging, overpriced concoctions there are for ladies, and I am not even living in a capitalist society so I can only imagine the crippled shelves in the US. I don’t use any anti-aging products myself and I would not consider surgeries along those lines with my delicate skin and sensitivities it wouldn’t work well anyhow. I do have issues though I have felt old for as long as I can remember and it is always in the back of my mind look at those eye lines or those bags woman you look twice your age. The weird thing though is I do not evaluate others the same way and find that people of all ages are positively lovely so why I get so hung up about my own crow’s feet I just don’t know

      • I think we all judge ourselves too harshly, and the media shoving down our throats what our bodies should look like (boys with big breasts) doesn’t help. I don’t know about your country, but here in the US, almost every woman feels inadequate.

      • I am from the US and lived there most of my life, went to college there everything so most of my experiences come from there. I have lived in Sweden for maybe 6 years now but I have really started to avoid the media I really couldn’t even identify many celebrities. A glance at the tabloids in the grocery line and it seems quite similar. I see a lot more healthy sized people here about on the streets than in the US elderly people out and active but the extremes are kicking in, I have seen a significant increase in the obesity levels and I have seen several women/girls moments away from the ICU possibly with an eating disorder possibly in the later stages of an illness I can’t really know for certain without speaking to them but dangerously dangerously thin.

  1. I only got my head above the quicksand of disordered eating, overexercising and self-loathing at the age of 45, when I found Health At Every Size and Size Acceptance. One blog I recommend without reservation is danceswithfat dot wordpress dot com
    (I break the URL up because WordPress hates me and sends all my comments to Spam. Apologies, because I know a lot of people love the platform, but I despise WordPress.)
    Ragen, the blog author, is a very athletic lady who is five foot four and weights 280 pounds. Yes, I said athletic. She went through a lot of the same struggles that we have before making peace with her body.
    I am five foot six and weigh 250 pounds. I am 50 years old. Years ago, I would have been horrified to tell anyone my weight. My weight has fluctuated between too thin (108 pounds) and heavier than I am now (310 pounds.) I have a crappy, third rate endocrine system. I have hypothyroidism, PCOS, and type 2 diabetes. Barring some sort of heinous illness like cancer, I will never be thin.
    Because of all the car repair bills, student loans, and other bills that I’m trying to pay off, even though I’m working full time I don’t make enough money to eat adequately. A lot of the time I only eat one meal a day. I’m trying not to fall into the trap of praising myself for that, because that’s exactly what my eating disorder wants me to do.
    I do hope you get this. I think we actually have a great deal in common and can help each other.

  2. To each her own! Whatever is tolerable that would be the ideal thing to stick on. You have done better as your dieting, yoga and all are positive inclinations. That by themselves would ensure you do take care of your situation. Just keeping the momentum would ensure one is on the right track. Keep at it and you’ll never go wrong Amber!

    Hank

  3. This is a remarkable story. It encapsulates so many issues that surround food, diet, body image, exercise, societal prejudice…etc etc. Unlike the way these issues are covered in newspapers and courses and magazines this rings true. It’s an emotional read, but ultimately inspiring. Thank you so much for sharing this.

  4. Though it’s not exactly the same, this contains a lot of my story. Perhaps most women’s? Thank you so much to putting these truths into such marvelous and powerful words. This needs to be said, talked about and broadcast all over this world! You are truly an angel.

    • Thank you Kim. It is hard I struggle with emotional eating, thyroid disease, and an extra large appetite that is rarely ever satisfied. I am lucky in the respect that I love food in general which means I can eat anything, anything includes really healthy foods and so I try to eat more of those which allows me the big portions I also crave. On the other hand I literally start crying when people waste food so I have to make sure not to overfill my plate because I will eat it if it is there in front of me. Exercise also gives me a little more freedom. I gain easily and lose very slowly. I guess my stubbornness actually helps me out sometimes

      • I enjoy food too and being on high doses of steroids keeps me craving sweets and salt. I’m a picky eater. I have an anti-cogulation disorder and have to limit my vitamin K intake. That’s the veggies. I should also be on a gluten free diet and I am lactose intolerant but still I ignore all of those issues. If I ever became rich I would hire a personal chef.

      • It is hard when you have sensitives and allergies, it can get expensive and it is certainly time-consuming especially in the beginning. When I went gluten free it made eating out or eating with friends very difficult. I had to prepare separate dinners for myself and my family. We had to buy a separate toaster. I am sure it gets easier once you get over the initial shock of it and find easy affordable recipes but it is an adjustment! The palate luckily can be developed it takes about 15 separate tries to acquire a new food and it is well worth the effort. While I am somewhat strange in that I can eat foods I don’t like in eating those foods anyhow I came to like many of them. I hated avocados but once I started eating them and my husband made this particular salad I was sold.

        I am not sure if this your specific issue but maybe it will help you find some healthy foods low in Vitamin K
        http://www.healthaliciousness.com/articles/low-vitamin-k-foods-for-a-coumadin-warfarin-diet.php

    • Of course not Tony because it is very important. I think people don’t realize but society can also have Body Dysmorphia remember the disfiguring corsets for the ladies? People always accept the shit the media feeds them and honestly all the media cares about is generating income for an elite few.

  5. I haven’t been able to post comments on WordPress blogs lately. I posted a fairly long one on this piece, but it got eaten by Spam. 😦
    I am a proponent of Health at Every Size and Size Acceptance. I’ve learned a great deal in the five years since I discovered these movements. They may not have entirely saved my sanity (don’t have much of that, I fear) but they helped!

    • I checked out my spam folder and luckily was able to retrieve your comment! I will check out the blog today XD

      While I don’t have PCOS I do have cystic breasts and ovaries. Instead of infrequent periods mine are very long and so heavy I have to take medicine to prevent them. Growing up I had intense/crippling menstrual pain and I don’t think my breasts have ever been without cysts, they have hurt since I first got them. So we do have a lot of similarities! Our health issues certainly do make things trickier.

      I believe that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. It’s about confidence, acceptance, being comfortable in your own skin and it has nothing at all to do with weight, breast-size, skin color, hair type etc.

      Acceptance is good and I believe that people who genuinely respect and accept themselves will adapt a healthier lifestyle (and no I don’t mean they will carve themselves into a size 2 jean). To me a healthy lifestyle is all about moderation, gratitude, and variety. I don’t believe that food should be divided up as good or bad. I do believe that certain foods are addictive (like sugar) and thus harder to eat in modest proportions.

      To me the difference b/w resignation and acceptance is

      Acceptance savoring, experiencing a food when you are mindful in this way you don’t need nearly the same amount.
      Resignation is eating 2 chocolate bars in front of the telly mindlessly, not even taking time to enjoy the flavors

      As a kid I resigned myself to being fat but then I had a change of heart when I discovered the yoga book. I didn’t really think I would lose weight, I just thought I can make better choices. This is my body and I owe myself that much. In the end I actually was capable of losing weight. Now I lose weight at a pace no one would envy. I can gain 10 lbs in a week but I can only lose a couple of ounces a week (I am not medicated for my thyroid yet as it fluctuates all over and is burning itself out but isn’t yet totally dead, once I am this should improve). I can’t even lose a lb a week. So it is tedious as hell and extremely disheartening but it is what it is. Now that my mom has her thyroid meds sorted properly she is losing weight. She is still obese but she has so much more energy and is a lot more active and is eating better and just generally feeling happier. She doesn’t care if she gets thin or not, thin doesn’t matter at all to her. She said to me thin girls hate their bodies just as much, weight has nothing to do with body acceptance.

      I do believe you can be athletic and overweight, sumo wrestlers are very athletic and many have a pretty good diet too but they are just consuming a large amount of calories in order to maintain their size. I had a friend in school who was obese, a secret emotional eater but she was always very active. There are all sorts of reasons people are overweight. Sometimes they have sedentary jobs and even though their diet is decent they simply don’t get in enough activity. Sometimes they have complicated health issues. Sometimes it is a matter of eating the wrong foods. If you eat foods you are allergic too sometimes that results in weight gain instead of weight loss so they could have an unknown allergy. I saw an obese woman who was moderately active, had a good sensible diet, but simply overate and there was nothing anyone could criticize about her actual food choices it was just a quantity issue. Sometimes people skip meals or miss sleep and that throws the system off balances. All kinds of reasons. The most important thing I have found is being totally honest with yourself about what you are doing, full disclosure. I never snack in private. I snack only when my husband can see me. Not that my husband prevents me from snacking but it just guarantees awareness on my part.

      Eating locally and seasonally helps cut the costs. I kept trying to eat in a very special way but embracing the foods widely available in the Swedish grocery has helped. Beets are super cheap here they practically give the damn things out for free and while they do taste like dirt a bit haha I have found that the greens are delicious and that in certain recipes (like with spicy dijon) the beets themselves are also edible (not delicious but alright). I can eat most anything as I said so that does help out and I recommend broadening your palate to anyone, it makes food a lot more fun and well it does cut costs because finickiness is more expensive by and large. Carrots are also cheap and last a long time. Kale is only available at X-mas here so at X-mas I eat it, I eat Brussels Sprouts in the winter (no one else will) but no other time. Eggplant is expensive most of the year but during this one month it is super duper cheap so I really only eat it then. Now that we are in the country we can’t eat out as much so that has really helped! Take advantage of that in your shopping as much as possible. Do try to get in 3 meals, a good breakfast will do wonders for your body.

  6. You should be proud of your courage to write it all down. We all have body issues. There always is a norm, whatever the times, but there are never people who are exactly there.
    When we start by liking ourselves as we are — body, mind and past — this will make us more attractive, and it would also stop some unhealthy habits created out of the ‘neuroses’ of not feeling to fit in. This is easier said than done. I know all to well how it feels to get older, slowly trying to lose weight … in order to get more healthy.

    • I agree Bert! I have Hypothyroidism so I can’t lose quickly and I think that is part of the issue it takes such a long time for me to see the results of my hard work that I either give up or get a little too obsessed.

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