I have an eating disorder.

Via Hayley Hobson
on Nov 27, 2012
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Photo: Jure Gasparič/Pixoto

About 25 years ago, I started suffering from World War III ransacking my gut.

It was not only incredibly painful, but also extremely embarrassing. As soon as I’d eat (or even mid-way through a meal), I’d get horrendously bloated, have excruciating pain and have no idea what the culprit was.

Often times, whatever bomb that was exploding in my gut was so humiliating and painful I was afraid to do ‘normal things’ like go out to dinner with friends or head out to parties that as a college student, I should have been attending.

Instead, I’d stay home and lay in bed in fear of having to deal, yet again with a massive explosion.

At the time, my diet consisted of the usual college staples: cereal, pizza, chips, donuts and alcohol. None of us had any money. The cafeteria scene sucked. And to be honest, none of us knew any better; we were living in an age of faster is better, so why not buy fast food?

There did come a point, upon graduation, that I just couldn’t take it anymore.

The doctors’ visits had become endless and futile—the only information I continued to come home with was that I was lactose intolerant and I had an irritable bowel. So much for the pizza and fried food; I was going to have to come up with a better solution for my diet.

Even though I did cut dairy and fried food from my diet, my intestinal problems continued. I sought out homeopathic and ayurvedic doctors whose mission was to heal me from the inside out, eliminating all the foods that were causing inflammation in my bowel.

I went back to school to receive a degree in Integrative Nutrition so that I could learn more about my condition and eventually have the knowledge to make my own choices that supported my health and well being.

The elimination process continued.

Alcohol, coffee and sugar were amongst the first to go. I also stopped eating gluten, beans, corn, any genetically modified soy product, most legumes, many nuts and most grains. The easiest diet for me to follow was a raw, vegan one with some warmer foods in the colder months.

Everyone around me, even my own family, thought I was obsessive. Obsessive because I had become health conscious? Obsessive because I was focusing on healthy foods I spent time to prepare myself that nourished me, healed me and ended the root of all of my suffering?

It’s a tough call; I’m not sure I know the answer. I do refuse to eat in most restaurants, prepare 90% of my own food and carry what I need when I travel. I have to give myself an extra 15 minute leeway heading through security in the airport so all of my “pastes” can be tested for bombs. You’ll never catch me in a Safeway, Ralph’s or Publix, except to purchase toilet paper and other household items. If I ever have to walk into a public “supermarket,” for food, I feel like I may have an anxiety attack.

And, of course, in most social situations, I am made to feel like an outcast.

When I am invited out, friends and family go to the trouble of serving fruit and vegetables they claim are especially for me, and proudly show off the gluten-free alternatives they were cooking with.

All I can think about is the factory-farmed meats that are still on their tables, the hormone-laden dairy they have absolutely no clue about, the possibility that all of the fruits and veggies are conventional and non-organic and the probability of sugar and genetically modified soy being added to everything.

It can be a nightmare if I continue to obsess over it, but is it really taking over my life?

Right before Thanksgiving, I stumbled upon an article about a not so new, but not very well known eating disorder called Orthorexia. Steven Bratman, M.D. coined the term in a 1997 essay for Yoga Journal, in which he described the disorder as a “fixation on eating proper food.”

Bratman, who himself had a food fixation while living on a commune in upstate New York, chose the prefix “ortho”—which in Greek means straight, correct, true—to reflect the obsession with maintaining a perfect diet.

When I first read about it, I almost couldn’t believe it.

Eating too healthy? And that is a problem? Who is classifying eating well as a disorder—the meat and dairy industry that is basically sleeping with our government? I was mortified.

At first glance, it did seem as though its description completely reflected my stance on a perfect diet. And it continues to be my wish that more and more people would wake up and exercise a little more self control, after they discover the toxicity of most of the foods in their diets, the consequences of not eating organic and the hidden poisons disguised in ingredients they can’t even pronounce.

Becoming more health conscious is not just a growing fad for some people like me, it is a matter of do or die when, we’ve been so afflicted with pain and even more serious issues or diseases like hyperthyroid, hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes and even cancer.

But then I read further.

Orthorexia, although not an official diagnosis, seems to include elements of other disorders such as anorexia and obsessive-compulsive disorder. So yes, it can be a serious problem. And, it may not help that orthorexias can receive positive feedback for behavior that can appear healthy.

The key difference between orthorexia and simply following a strict diet, is that orthorexia causes major distress to to others and interferes with every day life.

Orthorexics have sworn off most food groups, all conventionally grown food and because of this, may even tend to grow a lot of their own food. Due to major eliminations in their diets, it is possible they could end up losing a lot of weight as well.

Today, after a complete overhaul in my diet, I feel alive and beaming with energy.

I wake up when the sun comes up ready to go and maintain a steadiness all day long; I have to put myself to bed at night when before, I’d feel exhausted and exasperated by dinnertime. I’m eating foods that nourish me, give me strength and give me power. I feel like my digestive problems are completely under control. I’m not making choices out of self-deprivation or because I have a distorted, negative self-image.

I’m making well-educated choices that have obviously healed my gut.

No one can tell you what you should or shouldn’t eat. Only you can make that decision by pausing, feeling the way that food affects your body, your moods, your attitude and your energy.

Once you do, you will be able to reflect upon your choices and decide whether those choices serve you. I am proud of my choices and the only disorder I think I have is the disorder of even contemplating eating something that I know won’t agree with me.


Ed: Bryonie Wise

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About Hayley Hobson

Hayley Hobson is an author, speaker, business coach, yogi, Pilates and holistic nutritional expert based in Boulder, CO. Hayley creates lifestyle transformations by coaching her clients to strengthen, nourish and evolve through the cycles and shifts in life. Combining cutting edge understanding in all three disciplines due to years of anatomical study and dietary theory, Hayley’s approach leverages their blended benefits and results. Her unique and intelligent style promotes strengthening while softening–empowering her client’s to heal not only their physical bodies, but their hearts and minds as well. Hayley studied at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, continues her studies with David Wolfe, raw food expert and is an essential oil expert in her own right.  Her insights and articles can also be found on her blog, Mindbodygreen and Islaorganics. She has also been featured in Pilates Style magazine, Natural Health magazine and Triathlete Magazine.  She has fun running and playing in the mountains with her husband, former world-ranked triathlete, Wes Hobson and their two beautiful daughters, Makenna and Madeline. To learn more about her nutritional courses, events she's hosting and custom programs go to her website or follow her on Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest.


10 Responses to “I have an eating disorder.”

  1. Thanks for this Hayley! I think it's an important conversation. Any of us who have had either food intolerances or eating issues or both need to be mindful that our food choices are ones that are positive and not obsessive.

  2. bennybeebee says:

    FYI this is NOT a medical diagnosis, rather a coined term by a Dr. with an obvious problem with persons who do care about what they eat. Having M.D. after your name doesn't qualify one to 'make up' any diagnosis or criteria set thereof. Likely why there's that little disqualifier: "…Orthorexia is not recognized as a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association, and it is not listed in the DSM-IV[11] or planned to be included in the DSM-V to be published May 2013". Nor will it ever be!

  3. hayleyhobson says:

    Thanks Kate!

  4. hayleyhobson says:

    thank you for your input.

  5. HeatherM says:

    Hm, as a friend of a friend once said, 'EVERYONE has an dysfunctional relationship with food.' Being a Dietitian my mother followed the Canadian food guide. There were always 2 veggies on the plate and protein (re: meat). As a vegetarian, I broke her rule book and had to struggle through from low b12 to iron to preparing the 'right' foods for me.

    And it is true. People either eat too much, too little, never, always or nick-pick or overindulge….

    Although my father's mother once said to my mom, "You really enjoy your food!"

    So, in the end, it's not always about what we are eating but what we really are enjoying. I suppose that could be open to debate that people enjoy just about everything that is not healthy for them. But if we can look at that word, 'enjoyment' in a healthy way….then this might also allow people to eat just right! Sort of like Goldilocks. Not too little – not too much – but the middle way.

    Thanks for your article. It is an important topic….!

  6. hayleyhobson says:

    Thank you for your input!

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