Through tear-filled eyes, I scribbled down in my journal everything I had eaten that day. I manically promised that tomorrow I would do better. I vowed in writing to try harder, workout more, be better.
I hated myself. Why couldn’t I just be good?
This was my life for 4 years. An almost bi-weekly occurrence of self-loathing, mixed with an internal dialogue so harsh that I wouldn’t have uttered the same to my worst enemy.
On the inside I was sick. But on the outside, I was a nutritionist.
I extolled the virtues of a clean diet. I worked out religiously. I read anything and everything I could about health and nutrition. I had my list of “approved” foods (the ones that made the grade in my mythological nutrition checklist).
I had my list of panic-inducing, diet-ruining, health-derailing “bad” foods that I tried my best to avoid.
I planned my meals, checked menus in advance before going to a restaurant, and had a running mental tally of pretty much everything I ate for the last 4 days. If I “cheated” one day and was invited out for wine with friends the next, I would make up an excuse to skip it; I had, after all, done enough damage for one week.
What I ate and what I drank, consumed every second thought I had throughout the entire day. I was obsessive, and I was exhausted.
Although I didn’t know it then, what I was going through today might be known as “orthorexia”. Orthorexia is a term that means “an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating”, which was coined by doctor Steven Bateman to describe his own experience with food. Although not officially recognized as an eating disorder in the DSM-V, it’s similar to other eating disorders in that it’s motivated by control, escape from fears, wanting to be thin, or poor self-esteem.
While an obsession with healthy eating might not seem like that big of a deal, orthorexics may feel socially isolated, and lose their ability to eat intuitively; knowing when they are truly hungry or when they are truly full.
This leaves them constantly teetering on the edge, and as many other diet followers encounter, when they fall they feel out of control, ashamed, and a deep sense of failure.
My issues were deeply rooted in control. Without such diligence and planning around food wouldn’t my weight surge to 400 lbs? Without rules about “cheat days” and veggie intake, wouldn’t my diet be centred on cookies and chocolate?
The truth is no.
Through counselling, the support of my husband, and a hard-fought dose of kindness, I stopped fighting myself. I learned to listen to my body and realized that not every day will be the same.
Some days you will be hungrier and some days less so. Sometimes you need a smoothie and sometimes a cookie… it doesn’t make you a bad person.
We are so lucky to live in a time where being healthy is fashionable. But it also means we are exposed to a lot of people that tell us what and how to eat. While these things are not bad per se (if so, I would be taking myself out of a job), it’s important to realize that health doesn’t just live in the physical. Health also lives in the mental.
Health is something deeply unique that means different things to different people. It doesn’t live in extremes and doesn’t include obsession, control, or isolation.
While I will never disparage a healthy diet centred on whole foods, I now have a new appreciation that wine with friends can hands down be just as nourishing as kale.
I know the pain that eating disorders can bring, and I encourage anyone that feels lost, hopeless, out of control or obsessed around what they eat to seek help.
“Love food and it will love you back”; my motto to remind me that love is a healthy relationship. The same is true of food.
It should always give to you and never take. It should nourish your body and your life.