…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.
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)?
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?