The “O” Word

…And no, it’s not that ‘O’ word. Get your mind outta the gutter people 😉 Today’s post is brought to you by the new ‘it’ term of the blog world, orthorexia. Thank you, Alexandra, for bringing this issue out of the dark and letting bloggers feel okay with talking about it. And now I’m going to talk about how it applies to my life.

I first heard the word orthorexia when I was diagnosed with anorexia 4 years ago. It was tossed around by my doctor and parents, who believed I was at least somewhat orthorexic, along with being anorexic. Now while I won’t say I’m fully recovered from anorexia, I am doing so much better on that front than I was in high school. But the orthorexic part of me has gotten worse, and it’s taken some honest reflection and blog reading on my part to admit that.

Orthorexia fed into my anorexic tendencies. I cut out things based on what I heard and researched was ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’. First it was fats (particularly saturated fats), and then I started seeking out sugar free and low sugar items because of the unhealthiness of sugar. But obviously, most sugar free products (other than those that are naturally sugar free) are filled with all sorts of scary chemicals and whatnot. So I was attempting to be healthy, but wasn’t necessarily choosing the healthiest items. Case in point: during the worst of my ED, I lived off black beans with white rice, and sugar free Jell-O. Neither option is really healthy (other than the black beans), but I ate them because I was told fat and sugar were bad for me.

I used to consider this healthy, just because it was low calorie and whole wheat.

I used to consider this healthy, just because it was low calorie and whole wheat.

As I entered recovery, I still looked for the healthy option wherever possible. My fear of most dairy products lingered, so I never ate anything but fat free Greek yogurt and skim milk. A lot of foods I ate prior to my ED were out the window, never to be eaten again. That’s not to say that’s necessarily a bad thing, but it was definitely orthorexic. I never ate a white carb, stuck with lean proteins like chicken and shrimp and still avoided most fats. I ate almond butter by the teaspoon, if at all.

Fast forward to a year or so ago. I made the decision to be vegan, which sadly was partially fueled by my orthorexia. Finally I had an excuse not to eat cheese, or meat, or ice cream, or any ‘unhealthy’ food. Up until recently, I still eschewed a lot of fat, eating minuscule portions of nuts and avocado and counting my calories like it was my job. But then, I had an epiphany. Not one that made me give up my orthorexic tendencies, but instead focused them in a different direction. I became completely obsessed with macronutrients and ingredients lists on products. No longer was I solely focused on the calorie count–now I wanted to micromanage my protein, fat, carbs and the ingredients I’d allow into my body. I totally bought into the ‘eat clean’ movement.

But I think I’ve started to take it a little too far. Over the past few months, I’ve eliminated more and more from my diet, based on what’s in the item in question. Weird-sounding ingredients like soy lecithin and maltodextrin have gotten the side-eye from me and been placed back on the shelf. Even products with simple ingredient lists have been tossed in the trash. I used to love quinoa pasta–made from just quinoa and corn–but it has OMG so many carbs. Enter kelp noodles as a replacement–sea veggie based and almost no carbs or calories, but full of minerals. An orthorexic’s dream! It takes me forever to get through a grocery shopping trip because I have internal debates with myself regarding the ingredients and nutritional value of products. And after hearing countless success stories by people who’ve tried paleo, I’ve adopted some of it–not the meat-eating, of course, but the eliminating of most grains from my diet. I used to love whole grains like quinoa, oats and sprouted bread…now I fear them. I make my baked goods with almond, coconut and buckwheat flours now. I’ve gone for several days with no grains in sight, and I start to freak out if I eat two servings of them in a day. I’m not saying we need 9 servings or whatever the USDA says we do, but why have I demonized grains, even the gluten free ones that I love? Why have I become hung up on balancing my macros perfectly, and feeling like a failure when I don’t? Why have I started to fear food, even though I worked so hard to overcome so many fear foods (including coconut, which I love now)?

Now most of my meals are grain free, like these almond flour pancakes, because I'm scared of grains.

Now most of my meals are grain free, like these almond flour pancakes, because I’m scared of grains.

Honestly, I just wanted to come clean and say that I’m not perfect. Behind the fun food pictures is a huge fear of most foods, even some healthy ones. I do want to say that I truly love eating healthfully, and being a produce-loving vegan. But I’ve taken the clean eating thing a little too far, and I don’t know what to do. Some of you may have already noticed my orthorexic tendencies from my blog posts or comments, but even so, I wanted to come clean and admit my issues. There’s nothing I appreciate more than honesty, and I think there needs to be a little more of that in the blog world. Everyone has some kind of issue, and it’s okay to admit to them. People will respect you all the more if you do.

And as for my orthorexic issues, I’m starting to work on them. I’ve stopped tracking my meals on MyFitnessPal, because I was just using the numbers and percentages as an unhealthy competition with myself. It’s really scary to me not to know exactly what my calories and macros are, but I need to give up the obsessive control. And I’ve decided not to do WIAWs for awhile, just to relieve the pressure on myself to have a ‘perfect’ day of eats. Other than that, it’ll be a slow process to figure out where my fears and anxieties are stemming from, but I’m willing to work them out to have a truly healthy relationship with food for the first time in 6 years.

Have you ever struggled with orthorexia or the pressure to eat clean? 


34 thoughts on “The “O” Word

  1. Hey girl, way to address this. I think it is something that you should push yourself to break down day by day. that is really the only way to totally break from that mindset. I know you can do it, it will be tough but remember food is fuel. all kinds.

  2. Ashley, I LOVE LOVE LOVE this post! It is amazing that you spoke your mind and put it out there. I completely understand what you are feeling about needing to analyze every food you are eating and make sure you are doing it exactly right. I hope you make progress and please let me know how to do it and what strategies work. I can’t seem to pull myself away from calorie counting and macro ratios either and I’m just so sick of it. I can’t enjoy food if all I think about is eating exactly the right thing at the right time. Good luck! I know you’ll be happy when you make it “to the other side”

    • It is super hard to stop counting calories, especially if you’ve done it for a long time. I still subconsciously do it to a point, but taking away my trigger (calorie tracking app) makes it easier to forget the numbers and just eat.

  3. Ashley, I think you should be SO proud of yourself for writing this post!! To be perfectly honest, I had noticed that you seemed to be eliminating a lot of different food from your diet, and I did worry that it was due to “ortherexic” tendencies. But I try to never be judgmental or rude, so I decided that it was truly none of my business:) I know it takes so much courage to be as honest as you were in this post, and I respect you for that! I definitely went through a long period in my life when I was “afraid” to eat certain foods because I thought they weren’t “healthy” enough. Looking back, I see how illogical and ridiculous those fears were–food is not the enemy!! And I still occasionally struggle with those anxieties. though I’ve definitely gotten better at relaxing my rigid “food rules” and embracing a wider variety of culinary delights. Still, I occasionally have “ortherexic” thoughts drift into my mind at times, and it isn’t always easy to conquer them. I know some people who have always had a healthy relationship with food may not understand how a person could POSSIBLY be “afraid” of food. Or they may think people with eating disorders are somehow weak, inferior, or just looking for attention. But I COMPLETELY understand what you are going through; I know it can be extraordinarily difficult to break out of a disordered mindset that has been with you for years. Even though I don’t really “know” you, I truly wish the best for you, and I know we can overcome these issues together! Remember that food is your friend, not your enemy, and that grains are some of the best fuel for your body. Good luck, and please know that I am here for you, as much as a fellow blogger can be:)

    • Thank you, thank you THANK YOU for all your comments! Seriously, I love them because I know that you get me and understand exactly where I’m coming from. It will be hard, but having so many helpful people in the blog world will make it that much easier!

  4. Wow youre so brave for just coming out and saying all this! and you know what? youre really not alone! I struggle with some mild orthorexia with fears like “if I eat this bagel then I can’t skip my workout tonight” or “i cant have yogurt, I already had milk today”.. and so many others bloggers (from what I can tell) are somewhat orthorexic
    youve taken some really good first steps 🙂 Just remember that youre a healthy young girl and your body can handle a lot more “bad” foods than you think! There’s SOOOO much more to life than food and I hope one day you’ll be able to enjoy that 🙂 I wish there was more I could say to help you, I’m just really proud that you’ve acknowledged the problem and you can only go up from here 🙂

    • Thank you for this reminder! It can definitely feel like I’m the only one struggling with this and even though I wouldn’t wish this on anyone, it’s nice to know that so many people can relate and we can all share our experiences to get better.

  5. Aja says:

    This is such a fantastic post. I have a huge problem with this which I guess just comes along with being anorexic but it’s still hard and not fun at all. It’s pretty bad, though. I always read ingredients and those weird ones always prompt me to put it down. I stopped tracking things too but I can still remember a lot. Unfortunately I am very good at memorization. I wish you the best of luck with trying to get a healthy relationship with food. It’s tough but I know you can do it.

  6. Doesn’t it feel good to say that out loud? When I first came clean about my disordered eating, yes I was embarrassed and ashamed but I was also relieved. There are always people there to support you. Just take it one day at a time, slowly start incorporating those carbs and fats back in, and take it slow at your own pace. You know what makes your dog feel good more than anyone else. You’ve already come so far and typing this post made you even stronger! It’s only going to get better 🙂

  7. Beautiful Ashley! It is honest and raw posts like this that make me love the blogging community. You are so brave to admit this not only to yourself, but also putting it out there for everyone else to see takes some serious balls. You can definitely get over this little bump in the road, and you definitely have all of our support 🙂

  8. sarah says:

    Whoa, this is a really excellently written portrayal of what orthorexia is (for you, and in general). You are really brave for puting it all out there.
    I hope you are able to get help , and overcome ALL your eating issues. And truly start living /enjoying your life !

  9. I struggled with ortherexia quite badly about 5 years ago when I was 12. Due to being so young, my vision of healthy eating was completely off, and it came to a point where I was eating chicken breast, fruit and veg, and about 20g of cereal each day. I also had a bit of trouble with it last year, but it has managed to go. It’s so fantastic that you’ve recognized there’s a problem, and I must ask the question, why do you feel the need to eat ‘perfectly healthy’? Is it because you want to live a longer live or fend of diseases, or is it because you need that feeling of being superior (which I struggled with a lot). Because I can promise you that your experience of life will be heightened by allowing yourself to eat the foods that you truly want. It enables you to start living again, you can be more social, and everything becomes that bit more manageable. x

  10. Thank you for being honest, Ashley – I wish more bloggers were willing to be open about their struggles instead of pretending like everything is sunshine and rainbows when it’s clearly not. Not only does it not benefit them to sit behind a screen and lie, but it’s actually dangerous for their readers as well. There are a lot of people out there who struggle with their own eating, and seeing the disordered habits of others who claim to be ‘healthy’ gives a bad example of what healthy truly is.

    I’ve gone through my fair share of struggles with clean eating.After doing so much reading about the raw food diet and following it for a good 8 months, I basically began to fear… well… everything. Sugar, carbs, fats, anything processed. Good god. There was a point where I was only living off organic vegetables and a handful of raw seeds here and there. Misery. It took a long time and a lot of willpower, but I’ve finally broken down all those walls to get to a point where I don’t even really question eating crap from McD’s when the cravings arise… and to be completely honest, I feel so much better eating this way than I did when I was eating 100% clean. Don’t let yourself fall victim to that, hun. You can see that you have a problem, so don’t just sit in the sidelines and let it get worse. Start challenging it so you can be free to enjoy your life.

    • Thank you so much for saying this! I know it’s definitely a big step forward to just admit that I have a problem, but like you said, I’ve gotta actually take action and not just let this take over my life even more.

  11. I’m glad that you’ve finally acknowledged your struggles because as you said it was pretty clear from your WIAW’s. You eat very small portions as it is, so cutting out grains (or ANY nutrients for that matter) could be very detrimental. Grains are incredibly healthy for you and there are a ton of nutrients that you miss out on if you cut them out. Even the cleanest of eaters recommend eating multiple servings of whole grains/carbs a day. Try and remember how important these foods are for your body and how much you are depriving your body by cutting them out. Don’t use “paleo” as an excuse to cut out more food groups because being a vegan paleo person would pretty much be impossible.
    I’m proud of you for being reflective and being able to see where you need help….maybe talk to your doctors/nutritionist about reworking your diet to make sure you’re getting adequate nutrition and to help break out of your rigidity a bit. I wish the best for you Ash!

  12. P says:

    I love your honesty girl. I never really considered myself full-blown orthorexic even though I did struggle with disordered eating, but I did have certain tendencies (low fat diet, avoiding cheeses due to the fat content, etc.). Stopping the fat gram counting really helped me, so I’m glad your going to try dropping the meal tracking for the time being!

  13. Oh Ashley how I appreciate your honesty here… and shows how truly brave you are being. And not only brave, but also ready, ready to embrace how you are really feeling and also that you do indeed want to change! The changes won’t happen all at once or overnight, but you are acknowledging what has been going on, where your mind has been for a while now, and that is just so major in getting better from all of this. I know I have been here at one point, though mine has mostly been a way to eat as low-cal/fat as possible, which usually turned into healthy foods. Anyway, all of this play a role together and destroy us. You and I are both so much better than this and yes, it is possible to get over ALL of the issues… just have to keep working hard and I can see you are doing that now Ashley

  14. Hi there girl 🙂
    I read your blog since a little while. Okay, I dont really read every single post, but every other week I browse through it.
    Being anorexic since I was 8 years old (which ist over 12 years by now-more than half of my life-crazy!) I#ve seen alot and kinda know it all.

    Everytime, I read your WIAW-posts or any other food-related things, I was thinking:
    “wow she claims to be in recovery or be “healthy”, but that food is definitely still really really little and sooo chosen by ED-patterns”
    Thats the reason, I neveer commented. I didnt wanna embarrass you or be mean, even though that would have just been honest.
    Also I cant really give advice,because I am still super-driven by my ED and its not gettin better…

    I think it is very brave of you to admit all this and it is a HUGE and GREAT step into the right direction to realize, that what your inner voice told you is “healthy” or “healthier” than anorexia is not. And that letting go of one eating disorder just went hand in hand with developing a new one.
    I am really proud of you that you
    1: came so far,to understand that,
    2: thought about it, to
    3: write a post about it (which ALWAYS helps to get something clearer),
    4: open up, and
    5: have the will to change something!

    and thats all it needs 🙂

    This comment might turn out really really long,
    but first of all I wanna say, I can relate so super-well to you and that I completely understand your situation. I hope the blogging community will give you lots of support and boost your willpower to change something even more.
    Because I know how much it sucks to walk hours of hours thru grocery stores, always looking for the “perfect”-food-item to buy. To take something out of a shelf, still not satisfied with the nutritinal value or the ingredients, or,or,or…. then take it back, grab something new and so on. And in the end, we leave the store with some staple that will always be “healthy” like a head of lettuce and a liter of skim-almond-milk.
    It sucks.
    MAYBE try going grocery shopping with someone else wo pushes you to buy other things.
    That at least always helps me.

    And another thing I wanted to tell you, is that I watched a documentary in German TV a couple of nights ago, when I came home from my nightshift.
    The documentary was made by a famous German chef and he was examining studies about food-patterns of ppl.
    Over 8 years they examined over 50.000 women and parted them into groups.
    One group didnt change their eating habits, the ate “normal”: Breakfast-lunch-dinner, some snacks and every food. Healthy veggies, dreaded carbs and fast food as well as freshly cooked stuff and frozen dinners. Just normal.
    Another group had to eat a oh-so-called “super-healthy-diet” with lots of vitamins, fruits, veggies and plant-based products. Low-fat,Low-cal,high protein and pretty lean.
    Just basicly LIKE MOST BLOGGERS DO.
    The third group mostly ate Fast-Food, To-go, frozen dinners and not alot made from scratch. They were believed to have the unhealthiest diet: The one, WE fear so much: the dreaded combination of high-fat,high-carb in one meal….

    Well, the end of the story is, that they examined their heath over the years and the shocking suprise was that there were NO DIFFERENCES!
    In all groups death-rate was around the same and no group developed food-based sicknesses like Diabetes or high-cholesterol more than the other. The risk for cancer (neither breast, nor intestinal) wasnt higher or lower in any.
    And even the rate of obesity or weight gain didnt differ at all.

    With the experiment they found out that it doesnt really matter how or diet is put together, if we eat alot of grains (carbs) or sugar (carbs) or fat or have a few drinks every week or if we only live off carrot sticks.
    The only thing that matters and makes a difference in developing sicknesses and so on is if we eat alot over our daily allowance EVERY DAY. not from time to time, EVERYDAY.
    that is what makes the difference.

    food is food,food is fuel, food should be tasty.And if we enjoy it and dont stuff ourselves, we can eat EVERYTHING,we crave. Everything we want. And it is good for you-good for us.

    So be calm, relax and enjoy.
    At least try.
    Because I know its hard and its a long way, but you can do it.

    Thats all I wanted to tell you.
    God be with you!


    • Wow, thanks so much for taking the time to comment and be really honest with me, I really need that! There was a part of me that was in denial that I was being anything but healthy posting my meals and recipes but deep down I knew I still had a problem, and I didn’t want to try to hide it anymore.

      I really love the advice you’ve given me here–the grocery shopping one I think will be extremely helpful because I tend to over-analyze everything and end up second-guessing my choices which is no fun. And the experiment thing you mentioned is really eye-opening and I think a lot of people could really benefit from hearing or reading about this. So thanks again!

      • Thanks for answering right away 🙂

        Yes, I totally know whatcha mean, grocery shopping or going out for dinner is one of my horror-scenarios. And because I cant deal with it alone and I never buy anything or anything “normal” when I do it on my own, I try to do it with my mum, even though I am living on my own. She always gets the full-fat and regular stuff and so she kinda pushes me in trying to buy that, even though, because she obviously knows me pretty well, I still get away with making “my choices”. But at least I cant wander around a store for 2h (wasted time,btw) with her,cause she would get annoyed.check 🙂
        And if you take someone from work/college/whatever with you, I feel ashamed to look for nutrition, cause I always claim to be normal and healthy and just naturally thin [i donno if anyone really buys that, but i just dont wanna admit my eating disorder 😦 ] I HAVE TO buy the normal things or choose something else then salad without dressing when we are eating out in order to fight against rumors.
        Just try,maybe its helpful 🙂

        Anyways and yeah, thank you for thanking me for mentioning the documentary.
        I thought so aswell, maybe someones gonna read my comment and it will open their eyes,too.

        Just the best,

  15. Jess says:

    Ok, this is belated, but listen up! 😛

    I consider myself 90% recovered from anorexia (the 10% relating to the fact that I have pretty poor body image at least half of the time, and while I eat whatever/whenever I want and go over the “reasonable” threshold still ingrained in my mind, I feel some anxiety around it…. but I at least don’t act on it!). I’ve refrained from commenting on your blog because up until this post, I actually thought that YOU thought everything you do is okay/normal, and I just am way past that point myself in my own recovery, so I felt you were troubled and obviously a commenter is not going to turn your life around!

    Anyway, this post is good in that you admit that you have a lot of work ahead of you if you truly want to recover! And yes, you have to TRULY want to. I played around with the IDEA of recovery when I first started reading blogs…. and reading them actually gave me some peace of mind, and fooled me into believing that I was on the road to recovery as well…. uh, no. I ran 50 minutes a day and subsisted on salad and beans.

    When I finally gave in to recovery, I needed the help of my family. By myself, I was still just going to be stuck in a warped world where I would be too scared to eat more because I couldn’t handle how I’d feel. My family basically ruled over me and while it was annoying at times, I began to embrace it more and more when I ate what I wanted and stopped exercising….. I felt like I was on vacation. The weight didn’t pile on, but yes, I did gain and within a matter of months, I was weight-restored. But having people constantly tell me it’s ok and that I needed to do this and I needed my life back (I was at such a low point that physically and mentally I couldn’t do ANYTHING).

    Anyway, this was over 1 year ago. I’ve done so much (good) experimenting since then that I’ve realized I really CAN eat pretty much what I desire and no, I’m not going to gain 5 pounds because of it. It never ceases to amaze me, but yes, I do still worry from time to time 😉 But you really do need to go into recovery with your hands tied behind your back — like this is the ONLY option you have. Or else….. you’re just going to keep being a slave to this lame disease. It’s not cool. It sucks having to wander the store for hours because your mind is racing with calories, ingredients, and whatnot. And it sucks living in a fog. And while this might sound rude to you, it actually really helped (and STILL helps) me: do you honestly want to look 14? I don’t know about you, but I want to attract guys OTHER than pedophiles! And… I have 🙂 So… life without an ED is soooo much better. Embrace it girl and throw all those annoying food rules out the window. Life is too short.

    • Soooo glad you commented, because a lot of what you said resonates with me: the anxieties about feeling okay with eating what I want, the ‘hidden” issues with other bloggers and needing some validation from others that I’m on the right path to recovery. And honestly, true recovery does scare me sometimes but being stuck in this disordered mindset scares me more, so I think turning to my family for support like you did could really help me escape this.

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