Life with ED: The fine line between healthy and disordered

When most people think about eating disorders they think of anorexia nervosa. They think of the girl who is incredibly skinny and always refusing to eat. Occasionally someone might think of bulimia nervosa or binge eating disorder, but it is important to recognize that there are many, many types of disordered eating.

For the fifth installment of “Life with ED” I am so excited to share my first guest story.

This young lady suffers from Orthorexia, a type of disordered eating that is often overlooked and confused with simply being health conscious. It is characterized by an obsession with eating foods the individual considers healthy. For example, this individual may refuse to eat anything that isn’t labeled organic, that comes in a package, that contains any additives, etc.

Of course, many of these habits can be healthy, but when they take over, dominating thoughts, actions, emotions and almost every decision the individual makes…that’s when they become a problem.

I could go on forever, but I’ll turn it over to my guest who understands Orthorexia first hand…

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By A Strong, Smart, Determined Young Lady who wished to remain anonymous

My boyfriend stopped calling me beautiful.

There was one morning, after I had stayed the night, that I noticed I was having a particularly “skinny” day. Who the hell knows why… I’m pretty sure I had eaten a bag of chips the previous evening. I didn’t make a big deal about it but he did.

“Wow your stomach looks amazing today, have you been working out?”

“Uhhh nope, just a skinny day.”

“Woowwwwww it looks amazing.”

The next time I woke up, he said nothing.

That was it.

I began my “diet” during my second semester junior year and found motivation to keep going every time he saw my stomach and didn’t comment. I kept thinking that maybe I wasn’t good enough for him that day but maybe I would be in a week of eating a little healthier.

I wasn’t good enough that next week… but maybe I would be if I only ate organic foods and cut out preservatives or food that was packaged in plastic containers.

I wasn’t good enough a month later… but maybe I would be if I worked out everyday and only ate lean protein and vegetables.

I got nothing… so one day I asked. I said “well… what do you think?” as I nervously lifted up my shirt to reveal the flattest stomach I had ever given myself.

“What do you mean? Looks the same. Why? Maybe you look a little skinner”

I wasn’t good enough two months after that… but maybe if I only ate spinach with balsamic vinegar, cut out added sugars and stopped eating carbs then he’d finally call me beautiful.

He didn’t.

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He didn’t call me beautiful when my collar bones stuck out or when my pants got too loose or after I spent an hour in front of the mirror trying to look like the girls I saw him “like” pictures of on Instagram…

After months of this self-inflicted mental torture we broke up. I continued with versions of my “diet” never fully satisfied with the way I looked and always criticizing myself for knowing that I could be better at losing weight.

It wasn’t until one day at a friend’s apartment when she said “have you ever heard of orthorexia? I read about it and I think we might have it…” she said it so lightheartedly, with such ease, so I asked her to read me the description.

“Orthorexia starts out as an innocent attempt to eat more healthfully, but orthorexics become fixated on food quality and purity. Every day is a chance to eat right, be “good,” rise above others in dietary prowess, and self-punish if temptation wins (usually through stricter eating, fasts and exercise). Self-esteem becomes wrapped up in the purity of orthorexics’ diet […]”

It was funny in that moment… the two of us took it so lightly. But in the following months I became hyper-aware of how I was acting, my eating habits and attention spent in front of the mirror sucking in my stomach and letting it go again.

The thing about eating disorders is that there’s a part of the whole cycle that feels euphoric. When you give in to that voice in your head it’s almost like taking a hit of your favorite drug laced with relief.

I still don’t understand why it happened. I thought I really had it all together but it happened so quick and it felt so good.

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In those moments, just talking to someone is necessary. Julia was a source of comfort for me. She would listen to me talk about restriction and nod her head when she picked up on moments in each story that only those with eating disorders would notice. The control… the will… and the worst part, when you would see results.

Seeing myself get skinnier pushed me further and into a deeper hole of restriction. I would marvel at my flat stomach and roll my eyes at people who didn’t understand that “I was just being healthy.”

By the end of my senior year I had stopped restricting and the voice inside my head started screaming for help. I knew I had a problem but I was terrified of getting diagnosed with anything. The night before my appointment with a campus nutritionist I had a panic attack and cried on the phone with my mom. But when I went in for my meeting the next day it was like talking to an old friend. She said something about orthorexia but it didn’t scare me. I knew what I had and I knew that by confronting it head on that it couldn’t own me anymore.

“There is no such thing as bad foods.”

“You will never look the way you see yourself in your head.”
“Ok, but have you ever seen one of those supermodels in person?”

“You do realize that this social media is toxic, right?”

It was these things she said to me that day that set me straight.

Orthorexia is like anything else we struggle with in our minds. We are intellectually aware that our thinking is distorted and lacks rationale but it doesn’t matter. That’s why they call it a “dis-order” — our thinking lacks order.

So when I have moments along the way that make me want to restrict: fitting into a dress, meeting a new boy, the entire summer season, I remind myself that it’s better to be 5 pounds heavier and have something interesting to say. My mind is what makes me beautiful (albeit my concealer and bronzer really do help) not my flat stomach.

And for anyone reading this, if someone makes you feel less valuable because you don’t look like a Victoria Secret Angel or because you butt shakes when you walk or you don’t have a 6-foot wide thigh gap, tell them they can sprinkle their useless opinion on top of your avocado toast… ok, fine, cake… whatever.

Many many thanks to the contributor. If you have a story you’re interested in sharing anonymously or not please feel free to contact me via email or my contact page.

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