Orthorexia is a non-clinical but highly recognized term categorizing individuals who restrict unhealthy foods.
An individual suffering from orthorexia will not eat foods he or she believes to be unhealthy and faces daily anxiety about the healthiness of their consumption. It is the obsession of healthy eating.
Four years ago, my health hit rock bottom. That is to say, my mind, body and spirit were not thriving. Addiction led my unhealthy lifestyle, and getting my next fix was my first priority (eating was my last). I found myself in complete mental, spiritual and physical despair before becoming willing to participate in my own healing process. This healing process took me to a new obsession I continue to struggle with.
Three years ago, I was attending school to become a holistic nutritionist. A professor noticed my aversion and beliefs regarding unhealthy, un-whole foods. At the time, I was a raw vegan who had started a detox program six months prior and never fully stopped. My goal was to rid myself of all toxins I ever allowed into my body: un-whole foods, cigarettes, narcotics and alcohol. This professor warned me of orthorexia, a term used to label individuals who struggled to put anything they viewed as unhealthy into their bodies.
The list of foods I refused to consider consuming seemed endless, but at the time also necessary. I eliminated all non-organic produce, meat, unfermented soy, sugar and agave, all breads and pastas, anything boxed, peanuts, corn, potatoes, white rice, gluten, dairy, coffee, most chocolate, canola oil and anything produced by a large company. This mental list allowed me to have the illusion of control. It is only when we feel like we do not have control that we are forced out of our comfort zones and into growth. I desperately needed growth.
My lifestyle was both healthy and unhealthy. I literally could not put a piece of non-organic celery in my mouth. I thought I loved my routine, but it took all my energy to sustain it. I didn’t want to be addicted to yet another lifestyle; it was becoming clear that my disordered eating was extreme.
I actively stepped out of denial, and into healing. The journey to healing orthorexia is not consuming unhealthy foods, but knowing where the line is between your morals and the disorder.
Trying to find that balance brought me to force myself to eat anything I was offered. I no longer had a separate meal at Thanksgiving or Christmas, and I finally got to enjoy being a part of the gathering. I went into the extreme of healthy (or in my opinion, unhealthy), in order to experience what I viewed as normal. I thought eating what my family and friends ate on a daily basis would make me normal, and rid me of orthorexia, or the obsession of healthy eating. Instead, I had to find my boundary.
We can never be perfectly balanced—it is a myth that we try so hard to attain. For me, balance is taking a daily inventory on my intentions, thoughts, emotions and how they influence my behavior. All or nothing, or healthy and unhealthy, is the opposite of balance. Balance would be making the difference between the two extremes less noticeable, and over time bridging the gap. Some days, the gap of imbalance will be noticeable. Other days the gap is closer together and more manageable. My goal is to “mind the gap” (thanks Brene Brown!), and lessen the shame surrounding the imbalance.
I have an uncontrollable pull to avoid anything I know to be unhealthy. I face anxiety in food situations and panic attacks whenever I sit down in a restaurant I haven’t predetermined to be healthy. But I don’t have to shame myself today, or prevent myself from living.
Today, I can find balance despite struggling with disordered eating through resilience, empowerment and surrender.
I also balance my intake by eating dessert every day!
I may never eat a “normal” cake, but I will have a large portion of a vegan, organic, sugar-free and gluten-free cake. I understand many individuals may see the disorder present in that statement; I search for progress instead of perfection. I find balance by allowing myself the freedom to choose resilience. Resilience against shame and guilt. Most of all, resilience against my disorder trying to gain control.
By being resilient, I reclaim my power. Being resilient means I am aware of where I end and my disorder begins. It means I have the balls to tell my disorder’s annoying voice in my ahead to f-off! If I hear that voice arising, I can mentally repeat, “I am not giving you power, I am grateful for my body and it is physically resilient enough to handle all foods.” The resilience can be carried through to all areas of one’s life, and create strength.
The concept of powerlessness has empowered me.
The understanding that I am truly powerless over everything but myself has allowed me to loosen my grip of control, and therefore control over foods. Once I can accept powerlessness, I can surrender my control. I let it go to Mother Nature, or the Universe as a whole; each person’s spirituality varies. However, when it comes to my personal choices and actions, I am immeasurably powerful. I claim this power, and I honor it by feeding my mind, body and spirit with prayer, food, gratitude and movement.
Orthorexia is how my anxiety and ideal of control manifests. I seek to control my emotions and environment through controlling my intake. It’s not possible. By doing the foot work and honoring my body by providing it healthy foods, I can truly surrender. With this surrender comes peace surrounding my body and my diet. Surrender, just like balance, is a daily process. Just for today, I will love myself regardless of what I put on my plate.
Author: Amy Mungham
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Author’s Own