From anorexia to orthorexia? Huh?!? 

So here’s an odd sensation – I feel like throwing in the towel. Yeah… Weird, I know! It’s strange to even write about it – but it’s true. I’m not sure where it’s come from, I’ve been going through the motions and all that lovely stuff but I’ve just been hit with a side of ‘human’. I’m irritable. I’m feeling a tad annoyed. Yes, I’m grumpy. I’m being a bit of a cow (aren’t you glad you’re not anywhere near me now!!). Gah! What is this about??!? 

In an attempt to get to the bottom of it I thought I’d write and see what transpires. Usually, through writing my way through something I finally figure out what’s bothering me and can deal with it. Perhaps it started earlier today – actually, maybe even prior to this … I have been thinking about the whole ‘disordered eating’ thing and how that obsession can translate into another form of fixation – namely, trading an unhealthy form of food obsessiveness for a seemingly ‘healthy’ one. I started wondering if I’ve done the same, and then thought about why it’s different this time around. 

If I allow myself to backtrack, which is something that makes me uncomfortable and I can already feel my temperature rising and heart rate increasing – I can clearly remember what food meant to me. I hated it. Yet I knew I needed it. So I hated it even more. I internalized those feelings as hatred of myself, and thus controlled what went into my body, and by being bulimic, what came out. It was a time of much deceit – yet not in the way you’d imagine. Yes, I was deceitful to those around me, but more so, I was lying wholeheartedly to myself. How did I ever think that food was the answer to everything? Disordered eating isn’t only about overeating and being obese, food also controls those who seemingly want nothing to do with it – like anorexics and bulimics. We too are suffering from dis-ease. We too think about food constantly – for the anorexic, it’s about how to avoid food; for the bulimic, it’s about how to purge all of the food that’s just been binged upon; for the overeater, it’s about using food for comfort, and for all of the above, it’s about validation. 

So why does it happen? Why do we go from ‘normal’ human beings to these creatures that are obsessive, secretive, manipulative, and isolated? The reasons are vast and varied for each person, although there are some   commonalities. I’m not going to go into that now because that would require a few hours worth of researching and writing in order to provide a balanced and informative overview of a disease that wrecks the lives of too many. All I’ll say for the purposes of this article is that it does happen, for various reasons; and having an eating disorder is not a badge of honour (though you do wear it when you’re in the midst of it all and swap stories with others in the same boat) nor is it a label placed on you that you should be ashamed of. The nature of eating disorders is one of secrecy but it’s by talking about it and sharing that we can overcome it, educate others about it, and hopefully, go into recovery and live a life well deserved. 

Which brings me to the reason for this post – me feeling all ‘prickly’ and wondering what’s going on. Since changing the way I eat and finding REBOOT and the community of Sleekgeek, my life has changed immensely, in many ways. I’ve found that mine has so far been a journey of gaining myself back more so than any weight loss. Ups and downs are of course normal, so why does this feel different? I’m inclined to think this has something to do with my past obsessiveness being transferred – where my ‘healthy’ way of life is starting to become ‘unhealthy’ in a psychological sense. 

I started looking into this because I knew that I surely wasn’t alone. There’s a new form of disordered eating that is now being referred to as Orthorexia Nervosa. This is a term coined by Dr Steven Bratman in 1997, combining the words anorexia with ‘ortho’, derived from the Greek word ‘orthos’ meaning straight, right, or erect. Where anorexics restrict all types of food, the orthorexic restricts food too but allows only health foods to be consumed. What’s wrong with that you may ask? It’s not an eating disorder if you eat healthily – of course not! It becomes a problem when it starts interfering with your life. When you start becoming obsessive about it in the way any other person with an eating disorder is. Controlling your eating, but to an extreme – this is what I’m talking about. 

Have I gone this far? It’s certainly a very fine line between ‘healthy eating’ and ‘unhealthy obsession’. Another article by Psychology Today on orthorexia nervosa has this little checklist: 

 Do you have an extreme preoccupation with food or the quality of the food?

 Have you eliminated many “unhealthy” foods from your diet?

 Do you eat only a few foods?

 Do you focus on the virtuousness of eating?

 Does your eating negatively impact your quality of life?

 Are you judgmental of others’ food choices?

 Are you socially isolated because of your eating habits?

 Do you have rigid eating habits that never allow certain foods? 

 Do you experience guilt or self-loathing when you stray from your diet?

Hmmm… So I’ve pretty much ticked most of those then. It’s such a subjective thing isn’t it? A lot of that could be absolutely fine in the hands of someone who has a balanced view of food and eating to sustain themselves well. In the mind of someone like me however who has a predisposition to the ‘unhealthy fixation’ and control of food, then perhaps this is where that fine line gets crossed. I’m not convinced that I have an eating disorder again… I don’t feel nearly as consumed by a haze like I did when in the throws of a full blown eating disorder before; I’m just expanding my awareness so that I can stay true to myself. I firmly believe that ‘once you know better, you do better’ (Maya Angelou was fantastic, wasn’t she!?) and so now I know that given my past, I should perhaps be a little less strict about my diet and that the 80/20 rule is probably a good balance for me to follow. My fifth REBOOT ends tomorrow, and I’ve decided that it will be my last – for a while. I’ve reached my goal ‘size’, and I’ve learned about what works and what doesn’t for my body, but I’m also finding myself leaning too close to the obsessiveness about food side again. I think if I just accept that food will always be a personal thing for me, linked to my identity and self, then I can steer myself safely through these minefields as they appear. 

Having been through a journey of recovery before which was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done,the fact that I can recognize this now and write this article which will be shared and read, I know that I’m stronger and better for it. Who knows, maybe someone out there was feeling the same and this just might be that lightbulb moment for them too. 

Stay healthy, stay fit, stay strong – in whatever way, shape, or form that manifests itself for you. Like I said in another post, this journey is yours, and yours alone. Live it in line with your own truth and that will guarantee your success. You’re responsible to no one but yourself – so be good to you! 



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