Proud2Bme | Orthorexia: From "Health" to Harm

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Orthorexia: From "Health" to Harm

By Annie Stewart--“I just want to eat healthy.” This is what I would say to anyone who would confront of me of my unhealthy eating patterns. For me, (as is often the case with many people) it started as an innocent desire to be healthy and in the beginning, it was.

I was still eating balanced meals and snacks throughout the day. I noticed how good I felt after eating more fruits and vegetables. Slowly but surely ED started to whisper lies into my ear. I stopped eating desserts, then I stopped eating grains and dairy. Before I knew it, the only foods I consumed were raw fruits and vegetables. ED took hold of me—mind, body and soul—and eventually I stopped eating all together.

Looking back, it is clear to me that yes, I suffered from orthorexia, alongside anorexia. I suppose these two can look quite similar but they do have their differences. Whereas anorexia focuses on how much a person eats, orthorexia focuses on what one eats. I was obsessed with every little thing I put into my body.

I aligned my self-worth with what I ate, categorizing food as good and bad. And like other disorders, orthorexia affects your day to day life. One cannot go to certain parties if there’s uncertainty about what food will be available or some people might avoid socializing all together because of having to eat with other people.

We live in a culture that makes individuals highly susceptible to developing orthorexia.  And the saddest part is that many people probably have it without their knowledge. With trendy diets such as gluten-free and raw foods, not to mention the plethora of detoxes and cleanses that run rampant as soon as the calendar hits January, how could we not fall prey to orthorexia?

Now, I cannot write this without saying that I love to eat healthy. But my definition of healthy is vastly different than what the lies the media feeds me. For me, healthy is eating when I am hungry and stopping when full…but accepting that it’s okay if there are occasions when I eat something that tastes good even if I’m not terribly hungry.

Healthy is giving into my body's cravings. Healthy is wanting to eat the most nutritious foods not for their caloric content, but because I want eat to eat foods that will energize me.  At the same time, healthy is also indulging in favorite treats for the sheer fact that I enjoy them. Healthy is incorporating fruits and vegetables into my meals and snacks. Healthy is watching movies with friends and not feeling guilty for sharing a pint of Ben & Jerry’s.

There is a huge difference between eating foods that will best nourish my body and choosing to eat certain foods to stay in control or to feel like my identity comes from what I put in my mouth.

Recently I was babysitting a family of three girls. The oldest, who is twelve, has a piece of paper in her room with these phrases: no sugar, no bread, no soda, only water, perfection is the goal. And then a scary thought came to me: I too was twelve when I decided to “eat healthy.”  What if we could teach young people that food is simply nourishment for the body, that their value is not aligned with what they do or do not eat.

Of course we know that eating disorders are complex and that there is not one specific cause; rather, an eating disorder is like a puzzle and there are many contributing factors in each person’s individual story. Nonetheless, if we want to see the rates of eating disorders go down, we need to change the way we talk about food. 

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