FINALLY ACCEPTING THE TRUTH ABOUT ORTHOREXIA
One of my biggest insecurities has been getting comfortable with the words “eating disorder” and “orthorexia”. For the longest time, I was lying to myself saying “No Bree, you didn’t have an eating disorder, you were just ‘on the verge of one.’” I was trying to make myself feel better. But there’s no denying an obsessive behavior that disrupts your entire life.
Before things got out of control with orthorexia, getting healthy was my thing. I was obsessed with food, nutrition, wellness, and the idea of reaching “optimal” health. I originally thought to be healthy meant you were lean, fit, and ate only the healthiest foods. But now, I see optimal health as something completely different. Optimal health means that you have the balance between happiness and healthiness that gives you Food Freedom.
- Optimal health is finding the balance in YOUR life that makes YOU happy and healthy.
- Optimal health is not losing happiness at the expense of being healthy.
WHY ACCEPTING ORTHOREXIA LEAD TO RECOVERY
After finally accepting orthorexia, my world changed. I learned that health is naturally empowering and a provider of happiness, but a healthy lifestyle taken to the extremes can easily cross the line. And when that line is crossed, and a focus on health becomes overwhelming, it starts to take away your happiness. Crossing over the line to orthorexia took away my freedom, but after dedicating my eating disorder recovery journey to healing that relationship with food, I finally found what it means to be both happy and healthy.
And now I get to share what I learned about Food Freedom, so I can help other women create their own balance between being healthy and happy.
I WAS COMPARING ORTHOREXIA TO OTHER EATING DISORDERS
Looking back, a huge reason I lied to myself about my own eating disorder was that I thought I had to be diagnosed with anorexia or bulimia in order to have an eating disorder. While I heard about orthorexia, I didn’t actually look into it (maybe it was out of my own denial and fear of the truth).
Another big reason I didn’t take orthorexia seriously was that it’s not technically a diagnosable eating disorder. According to Dr. Axe, “It’s not included in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) that’s published by the American Psychiatric Association and considered the “bible” of disorders.”(1) But Dr. Axe explains how orthorexia, like binge eating disorder (a separate disorder from bulimia), was added to the DSM after more research was done. So, orthorexia may soon be a classified eating disorder like anorexia and bulimia. You can read more about the technical diagnosis protocols of eating disorders in this article by Dr. Axe.
While the actual diagnosis of orthorexia may not be an eating disorder, the research by the pioneer of orthorexia awareness, Dr. Steven Bratman, explains why it is actually a genuine eating disorder, which is why I still refer to orthorexia as an eating disorder when talking about my own recovery journey. You can read more about orthorexia here.
ORTHOREXIA IS NOT THE SAME AS ANOREXIA OR BULIMIA
Ultimately, my own misunderstanding of what I was struggling with came from comparing orthorexia to bulimia and anorexia. It felt like labeling myself in “recovery” from an “eating disorder” was putting down all of the amazing women I’ve seen that were recovering from their eating disorder in a life or death situation. While some people suffer from a life-threatening eating disorder, orthorexia most often is not as extreme.
Because orthorexia wasn’t having an incredibly negative impact on my physical health compared to anorexia or bulimia, it had a ginormous impact on my mental health. But because of the lack of physical signs of my eating disorder (I felt like it was all in my own head, and for the most part it was), my struggles felt illegitimate. I felt like an eating disorder was something you needed physical symptoms for, and it kept me from asking for help. I compared myself to women who I perceived…
- Struggled with more than I did.
- Had a journey tougher than I did.
- Overcame much more than I did.
I thought my eating disorder didn’t matter because it primarily affected my mental health. While orthorexia didn’t hurt me physically as much as anorexia or bulimia would have, I was suffering on the inside from anxiety, depression, and obsession. Which is why more women need to know that mental health is ESSENTIAL to happiness, and it’s okay to get help when healthy eating is taken to the extremes.
EATING DISORDER RECOVERY ISN’T A COMPARISON GAME
The biggest mistake I made was comparing my pain to other people’s pain. But pain is relative. We all feel it and we can’t compare it. So when I look back… and vividly feel, see, and remember the deep pain I felt in my own recovery journey… the depression, anxiety, and self-sabotaging obsession, it reminds me to talk about it and be honest with myself that I truly had an eating disorder. It also reminds me to be honest with you, so that other women with the same thoughts as me can get help. Because, truthfully, it’s life-changing when you realize that it’s okay to ask for help and own your struggles (instead of denying them like I did) when there’s healing to be done.
Now, instead of comparing my ED to anyone else’s, I’m incredibly thankful that I reached out to my boyfriend when I did, that I started my own recovery journey when I did, and that I shared my journey on Instagram when I did. Because admitting you have an “eating disorder” is a necessary part of recovering…. and honestly, learning how to recover so I could find Food Freedom was the most amazing blessing I could ever ask for. Because now I get to share that with YOU.
HOW CAN YOU GET HELP FOR ORTHOREXIA?
If you’re concerned about your own relationship with food, you can find Dr. Steven Bratman’s Orthorexia Self Test here. And if you’ve heard of @thebalancedblonde on Instagram, Jordan Younger, Dr. Steven Bratman wrote the foreword to her book, Breaking Vegan, which discussed her own journey breaking free from orthorexia.
According to Dr. Axe and Dr. Bratman, if you think you are suffering from orthorexia, you should seek out a trained eating disorder specialist who can offer you the help that you need to recover. I’m not a trained eating disorder specialist, but I am a health coach that can be there to help you find Food Freedom. You can learn about working with me here.
TAKEAWAY: FINDING FOOD FREEDOM AND RECOVERING IS POSSIBLE
I made it through my recovery process, I promise you that I really did. Even though I didn’t reach out to an eating disorder specialist for help, which you absolutely should do if your eating disorder is disrupting your life or harming your health, I found a way to uproot my own issues, lean on my friends and family, and break free from the restriction that was sabotaging my relationship with food.
I finally found what it means to find Food Freedom, and have that sweet spot between happiness and healthiness 🙂
(1) Dr. Axe: https://draxe.com/orthorexia/