Orthorexia: When Healthy Eating Becomes Unhealthy

Orthorexia: When Healthy Eating Becomes Unhealthy

Orthorexia: starts out as an attempt to eat more healthfully, but over time one will become fixated on food quantity and quality. One will become consumed with what they eat, and how much to eat, and how to get back on track if they break the rules about what to do when they ‘stuff up’.

My journey with Orthorexia.

This is a story I haven’t been ready to share, until now.
As most people living with Orthorexia may report, for me it started off with improving my health.
Eventually, I ended up becoming so fixated on my food intake, the calories, and the time of day that I would eat, that my health started to suffer. Everything was scheduled and planned out. I was no longer honoring my body like I intended to when I started – the obsession was taking over every system of my body and things were quickly spiraling out of control. Ironically, being so dedicated to healthy eating I was becoming perfectly unhealthy.
During my journey with Orthorexia, I never looked at my body and saw ‘big’. I never thought I was overweight or fat. The obsession around food and exercise was a way to keep my body healthy and do all the right things I thought would make me the healthiest version of myself.
This is a form of disordered eating and it’s unfortunately one I can’t say I am fully healed from.
I still have days where I analyse everything I put into my body, my daily exercise, and yet, I still find ways to pick and scrutinise ways in which I could have made a healthier food choice. Over the years I have spent a lot of time working on my words, my mental health, my actions, and everything around the food I eat and prepare. I am at a good place with it all now but I do not think I am fully healed.

So, how did Orthorexia start for me?

I had returned from living in Europe, 13 kg heavier than when I left. I then moved with my partner at the time to Perth where the sun was shining, I was living at the beach, beautiful girls walking around in tiny summer dresses and I was feeling yuk. This was the start of Orthorexia for me.
I quickly joined a gym, found a netball club, sourced out my running route, and decided to become a vegetarian, because at that time I looked at ‘healthy’ as not eating meat and exercising to the extreme. It didn’t take long, the weight started to come off. I was feeling good! My goal was to lose my traveling weight but when I reached that goal weight, I was so obsessed with what I thought was ‘healthy’ that I couldn’t stop the lifestyle I had manifested. I was in too deep!
I was exercising for a couple of hours a day and eating a very repetitive healthy diet seven days a week.
I continued this way of living for the seven years we spent in Perth. From here I moved to Auckland where my obsession continued. I found CrossFit and things went from bad to worse.
At this time, I had just completed my studies in Nutrition and Naturopathy, and through my studies, I had convinced myself that vegetarianism was not for me. I started eating meat again, but it was my obsession with carbohydrates and sugar that really hit a high.
My day with food was always the same. The same breakfast, same snacks, same lunch, and same dinner. If I were away from home for work, I would go to the supermarket and eat the exact same way I would if I were at home. The only time I deviated away from this was my once-a-week cheat meal at Burger Fuel: sSweet potato chips (the only time all week I had carbs) and a bunless burger.
I really struggled when it came to work events, social settings, family home-cooked dinners, or anywhere where I couldn’t control what I was about to eat. If I could avoid the situation, or if that wasn’t an option, I would make some excuse that I wasn’t feeling well and hide in my room. Everything in my life was centered around my food and what exercise I would be doing that day.
Eventually, this started to impact not only my mental health but also my sleep, my digestion, my hormones, and then later, my fertility. The final straw was when I decided I wanted to try for a family. Things had to change.
I knew I had to put on weight to get my cycles back and for ovulation to return. I knew I was probably 6 kg underweight and way too lean to fall pregnant. Undoing all my ‘hard work’ was hands-down the hardest part of my whole journey with Orthorexia. Putting on the weight and letting go of my exercise and food obsession took a lot out of me. Being headstrong, I was focused and committed to babies. So, I did it. Babies aside, it was the best decision I ever made.

How to identify Orthorexia?

This condition isn’t typically driven by poor body image. Orthorexia describes a pathological obsession with nutrition. Someone with Orthorexia may feel an intense need to separate themselves from their forbidden foods. They may feel uncomfortable or even leave a room if that food can be seen. A common technique for those with Orthorexia is avoiding or skipping social events that may have the forbidden ‘fear foods’ on show. People who live with Orthorexia cut-out entire food groups, and c. Common ones include dairy, gluten, sugar, processed foods, and carbohydrates.
I’d also like to emphasize that those with Orthorexia may be displaying inflexible eating patterns and experiencing a fixation on the quality of their food. These are really at the core of Orthorexia.

If you, or someone you know may be struggling with anxiety around food, self-image, or body comparison/body checking, I advise you to seek out help. You can book a complimentary 15-minute consultation to learn more about how we can assist you today.

Leave a Reply