This is the writing of a Love Vitamin reader who would care to remain anonymous, but allowed me to share her thoughts with you.
In it she admits to herself and the world that she has a problem with food: she wants to control her anxiety about life and her skin, and she tries to do so by controlling her food to be as healthy as possible at all times. This is a behaviour referred to as orthorexia. For her, admitting that she has a problem is the hardest part.
Obviously there’s nothing wrong with healthy eating, but there is a problem when it gets fanatical, you restrict too much, or you feel like you are better than others due to your food choices. Essentially you do it to feel in control, but you end up being controlled instead.
Hey – I’ve been there, I’m sure many of you have as well, so you may be able to relate to her story. It’s long, but very heartfelt and very interesting to hear her innermost thoughts on her struggles with orthorexia:
I’m scared as I’m writing this. I’m scared to admit it to myself, this thing that has been with me for so long. I don’t like labelling things, I don’t want to say I have a problem. I don’t want to name it, call it orthorexia.
It’s funny because I remember reading a magazine article, maybe in Seventeen, when I used to read that years ago. They had an article on eating disorders, and it was the first mention of orthorexia I had ever heard.
”Ha,” I thought, “They think healthy eating is an issue. I’m smarter than them, and they just don’t get it.” I laughed at these experts who didn’t know what they were talking about and flipped past the page.
I want to tell you a story. It is the story of how this started, how it came to be, and I can’t even fully remember it as I am starting to write because I think I probably have blocked a lot of it out. A lot of it I am scared to admit.
People see me as strong, self-confident, and secure; I am all of those things. But I am all of those things to other people because deep down I understand why I might not be. I understand why I am not perfect, and I hate that society has caused me to know and think of myself as so. To rebel, I am outwardly confident and I accept myself, because I want others to accept themselves. ”Don’t get trapped in what I have,” I want to shout. ”You are perfect just the way you are.”
Intelligence is such a complex, agonizing thing to possess. I am capable of overanalyzing every little thing about another person; I know what word choice will make them tick and which of my movements will get a reaction. I am hyperaware of myself at all times and of the effect I am having on others. Sometimes I choose to care, other times I do not. But I am always watching, noticing the differences.
I will admit that not only do I judge myself, I do it to other people. This seems to come with this disordered thinking that has been perpetuated by society. It is a double way of thinking, to know that you are doing something but to still be forced to do it anyway, out of habit. I know what about other people makes them flawed to others the same way I know what about me makes others judge me.
Just as I position myself in certain ways to be viewed in a flattering light, I wonder why others do not do the same, and I laugh at them as I envy them for not being conscious enough of it to do so. I remember watching my sister sitting in shorts a few years ago, watching as her thighs spread across the bench, and thinking how I would know better than to sit that way while still being wondrous at how she could be carefree, not knowing or caring to notice what she looked like to others.
Is it better or worse, to be smart enough to think you might know more than anybody else? I don’t know. In some ways it’s nice, to be capable of quick memorization and assimilation of facts that other people could not comprehend. It’s nice to be able to read a book in a few hours, and to write a college-level essay in under one and still get an A. It’s nice to not pay attention or study at all, and take a multiple choice test and still pass. I won’t pretend I’m a genius, I’m not. I might end up with a C, but I put in effort that should have given me an F.
In some ways this is detrimental to my well-being. I have never learned work ethic, I have never had to put true effort into things unless I felt like it at the time. I know I can, so I don’t want to. I have rarely been challenged to my full potential. I feel smarter than most of my teachers so I do not listen to them, even though they probably have something worthwhile to say. I come from a family with more money than most, so I have never had to pay for anything, I have been given things. I am pretty enough that I get free things and smiles and whistles from older men. I am loved, and I love back. I am usually happy, and I spread this happiness to the people that surround me. I am blessed with basically everything.
But, you know, everybody has issues. And this is the story of my issue, the issue that has been the root cause of every other one that has come my way.
And I don’t know where it began.
I can try to go way back into my childhood and find an incident that explains all ones that follow. That makes me picture myself sitting on a therapist’s chair while he gives me Freudian reasons why I act the way I do. I actually saw a therapist this summer, who told me I had a problem with obsession that might result from a chemical imbalance and then promptly disappeared from my life, moving to warm Caribbean islands where I bet people don’t have issues like mine. I know they probably do, I just wanted to write that. I don’t know why he left, but regardless I did not get to explore this any further.
Going back to my childhood issues.. I don’t have any. There is no particular incident that I remember where I was ruined for the rest of my life with body image problems. I grew up with my mother telling me I was perfect, and striving to keep her view of my perfection in the way little children do. I knew my mother did not think she was perfect. That probably rubbed off on me, and I can picture my 5th grade self borrowing her makeup to cover up one pimple that had appeared on my chin. I was the perfect child, in every way, shape, and form.
At some point, probably when I moved from private to public school, I developed a complex. I think this is society based, and this is why I hate society and rules and all its stupid pointless conformations. Boys liked me in 5th grade, and I strove to figure out why and how I could keep the attention on me. I cried when I wasn’t allowed to shave my legs until 6th grade. I listened when my 6th grade best friend told me boys thought I was hot because I had both boobs and a butt. I slowly rebelled against my sheltered upbringing and by 8th grade was sneaking out, kissing boys, and learning about alcohol.
I found my 6th grade diary a few months ago and I was mortified. I burned all of the pages in a ceremonial way that is typical of me now. I read words on those pages that make me want to go back in time and hug the little girl I once was, telling her not to think those things and to focus on other things in her life. On those pages were lists of qualities boys admired in girls, lists of outfits I could wear to look more attractive, ways for me to eat less and stay in shape. I was 12 years old.
Now, at 20, this makes me angry. Angry I ever thought that way, and angry at society for allowing a 12 year old girl to think that way. Angry at all the books and magazine I used to read that told me how to look and act. Angry at all the things that told me what to do and what I was too naive to not believe. I am angry for that 12 year old girl who could not be angry for herself.
At some point in elementary school I started having stomach issues. Sometimes when I ate I would have bad stomach reactions, and I learned to not be able to eat certain things before I played sports. Psychologically I bet these things started because of my emotional discomfort. The orthorexic part of me wants to blame it on my breakfasts of Lucky Charms, complete with factory farm, pasteurized milk, and dinners of dead un-organic animals. Maybe it was both; no one will ever know. So in middle school, since no one would pay attention to my stomach concerns, I started researching online on my own.
I found IBS, which I immediately diagnosed myself with. This elusive “disease” was great for me because there was no real way for a doctor to test for it. Websites told me it actually often went undiagnosed, which appealed to the part of my brain that told me I was smarter than everyone else. I had diagnosed myself with a disease! It gave me a list of foods to eat and not eat. This is the first time I remember trying to eat in accordance with a specific diet.
In middle school I also came across the vegetarian diet, which gave me my beginning information about cutting out meat. I watched videos on factory farms, and looked up information that I presented to my parents, who were very against this idea. I remember at one point when I was eating carrots, my mom expressed concern to me that I was anorexic, because I was “filling up on water.” Inside my head, I snickered because obviously if I could fill up on water I wasn’t truly hungry, just like the websites said, and plus I was happy because she thought I was skinny enough to be considered anorexic.
This behavior wasn’t a constant, really. I think I ate pretty much whatever I wanted to in 8th grade, although I may not have been eating meat. Freshman year of high school I think I ate a lot of junk. Coincidentally, (or not) I also felt really awesome about myself that year. Not that my awareness issues were resolved, but I wasn’t trying to control everything.
I stopped eating meat again my sophomore year, probably because of the factory farm videos. But I was on and off with it. Honestly, I don’t really remember. I know that when I went away to Greece that year, eating whatever they fed me, blessing all my food, my skin cleared up and I felt good.
I came home and it all came back.
When I broke my ankle junior year, I went overboard. I think I use food to control other things in my life. I was stressed because I couldn’t walk, so I went on a diet where I separated food groups and even did a juice fast. Not surprisingly, my skin was at its worst during this time. I calmed down the summer after senior year, and I started eating normally again. My skin was clear from antibiotics a dermatologist had given me, and I was going off to college. I ate whatever I wanted at college, and I felt pretty good for the most part. I gained a little weight, but I wasn’t really exercising all that much, and I was drinking a lot.
When an accident in my family happened and I had to come home, food came back into play, full strength this time. For the first few days, I did not eat at all. Then I only ate bread, cheese, and chicken noodle soup. I didn’t care about food, I didn’t care about anything.
After a month went by of me feeling like shit, I turned to yoga for a reprieve. Yoga helped. I will never say anything bad about yoga, it heals, it mends, it makes you whole again. But after I started yoga, I decided my diet needed to shape up as well.
I started researching, my skin got worse and worse. I stopped taking all medication; I was fed up with stupid doctors who didn’t look at the root cause and only treated the symptoms. I ate vegan for a month and then did a week long juice fast. I rebounded and ate junk. I separated food groups, I researched, I learned about every diet in the world.
In the summer I learned about candida and cut out every form of sugar possible and every food that could turn into sugar in your body. Every mainstream doctor was wrong because they benefit from the profit of your discomfort. Western doctors are not to be trusted because look at what a big business pharmaceuticals is!
The problem with all these statements is that they can be true. They might be true. Maybe they are true. But don’t worry, you probably don’t care and will never find out. I would, though. I was smarter. I did cleanses and had emotional releases. They work in some respect. My skin got worse, no healing for me there.
I went off to school again and went back and forth with my diet. Researching food consumed me. I went to see a naturopath who cut out every potential allergen from my diet. I can tell you logically that I do not have a food allergy, because I did not see a huge improvement. But don’t worry, there are lots of people online who say that I should have done it longer, I still needed to cleanse, I didn’t do it right, etc. There is still enough room for doubt that I didn’t do it perfectly that I can allow myself to continue to do it.
I actually came to an accepting point with food after that. I was eating vegan, cutting out gluten and soy, but I was relaxed. I had actually started to add things back in, like raw milk and some bread, but then I bought a macrobiotics book. Wow! That was the perfect book for me. It talked about the energy of all the different foods and how they all affect your body in different ways. Now that made sense.
I failed to realize how this was a pattern; is a pattern. Each new thing I read makes more and more perfect sense to me. Isn’t it funny, how the things you look for in life come to you? What you do, you get more of. What you think, you get more of. What you are subconsciously asking for will come to you. When I started researching food, there was such little information. Now it has just blown up; there’s endless info out there! Spiritual people will know what I mean. Everyone else can shake their heads and move on.
Actually, an important twist to this disorder is that I am a very spiritual person. I am part of the earth, I possess a gift. It is not one that many people have, I have only met one other person my age who I know understands this. I see things; I know things. I know that everything on the earth moves as one. I understand more than most the ways in which the universe works.
I see this trap of a society we are in and how far we are away from our roots. I feel my connection with other people. My dreams are vivid; sometimes I control them. I walk outside and know I am a part of all the trees, the stars, the wind. I want to roll in the grass, in the dirt. I want to be the land.
This is what makes my diet issues worse. I feel more connected to everything when I am eating purely. I don’t know if that’s truly because of the food or if it’s a placebo effect, and my mind allows me to be more connected because it is the food that makes it allowed. I know that your mind and your ego does not want you to be connected.
My mind has tricked me in some way, it has kept me trapped with this disorder from realizing everything I am meant to be. It doesn’t want me to connect with my spirit, because that would mean the ego’s death. It makes sense to me that eating natural food would connect you more with the earth, and of course (!) there are people online who agree with this wholeheartedly.
However, there are other people who feel connected the way I do that do not eat a super strict diet. But what if learning about food is my path? What if that’s what I am supposed to be doing in my life? Such is the way of my mind.
A common reaction I get from my family, who doesn’t think I have a disorder because they think I am a hypochondriac (worth discussing in the next paragraph), is that if I just ate like them everything would be okay.
Everything would not be okay! Eating the Standard American Diet is not healthy either. It is not so much the food I restrict myself to eating as it is the obsession I have with it. A whole foods diet is the healthiest thing there is.
I would like to ethically cut out animal products, and I am jealous of the people who can without letting it consume them. I want to yell at my family that I am right about my food knowledge, but I am not capable of following it the right way myself because I have too many issues. I know what is best for other people, but I do not know what is best for myself.
My mind is in endless contradiction with itself, because it talks itself into loops and loops that spin and don’t stop until I shut it up with yoga. Yoga keeps me sane. When I don’t do yoga, I end up writing things like this, because my mind overwhelms me again.
I can help you, but I cannot help myself because I cannot see myself from an objective point of view. You cannot see me from an objective view that is reliable because you are not as smart as me. This is my issue. Every other problem I have had in my life stems from this issue. My prior fear of being afraid of commitment, of not opening up to other people because I am afraid I am maybe not good enough, stems from insecurity about my skin which comes from my digestion issues which come from my emotions.
I know enough to know that your emotions heavily, heavily effect your body. Even modern science is beginning to prove that now. Telling me I am good enough did not help because logically I am fully aware of that fact. I beat the fear of commitment, but I did not beat the food disorder. I want to control my life and be in perfect health, and I do that with food.
I want to help it, but I am still reluctant to even post this because I still don’t fully believe I have a problem. Maybe I’m making it all up, exaggerating it in my head. If I post this then I feel like I have failed. The past 8 years of my life have been an unnecessary stress on my body because I am wrong. At the same time I don’t think I am wrong; I never think I am wrong. There is always a slight chance I might be right, because I might know more than someone else.
I will post it, because maybe other people can relate. I want to continue to update, but this makes me uncomfortable. I never understood anorexic or bulimic people who were harming themselves. I do not have any desire to harm myself; I love myself. But in trying to love myself the most I have created an extreme condition in my head that is making my harm myself anyway. And that is so sad to me.
Can you relate to this story in some way?
[Update:] If you’re wondering what happened after this, the author of this article wrote an update seven months later with lots of happy improvements on her situation. Check it out.