Orthorexia: obsessed with healthy eating?
A few months ago I took an online course at Be Nourished, on Body Trust. It greatly affected my thinking about my body, weight, diet, exercise. He had gained quite a bit of weight when he was in his early 40s and no matter what he did, nothing could change it. But in the process I learned a lot about nutrition and exercise.
I felt a lot of shame about my weight and the way I looked, and it really affected my ability to be in the world and be seen. My thoughts for the day focused on exercise and walking as many steps as I could. I had a Fitbit and Fitbit Scales, and I was constantly thinking about food, exercise, and how to reduce my weight. I hated looking in the mirror and felt like I wasn’t doing enough to lose weight.
I was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism in 2016 and had to undergo 6 week blood tests for my thyroid and liver. Two of my liver tests showed that my enzymes were elevated.
When I participated in the Body Trust course, I came to see how my relationship with my body was really controlling. One of the memes they have on their site is “We cannot hate ourselves in a version of ourselves that we can love.” The shame I felt was because we live in a phobic fat society, and we believe that we can diet to lose weight and be the size we want, AND at the same time have a loving relationship with our bodies. We can not.
We are not the problem, our society has dysfunctional values and leads us to believe that we can control our weight, if we apply ourselves in the right way.
I wanted to fit in so I wouldn’t feel ashamed. I wanted to be invisible and not stand out, and being overweight made me feel like I stood out too much. I thought it was attracting too much negative attention.
He knew a lot about food. I tried many diets, which seemed to focus on healthy eating. The Wheat Belly Diet, Paleo, Plant Paradox, eat right for your blood type. I tried them all. Nothing made a difference, but I told myself that I was eating healthy, so I must have a slow metabolism, or my thyroid was affecting my weight, or its high cortisol level from the stress of earthquakes.
I had very good self-control. He couldn’t eat sugar-free, wheat-free, gluten-free, and he was always trying a new way of eating, or importing food from abroad, or trying to trace ingredients across the country. It had tons and tons of vitamins and supplements. My body was like an obsession, wanting to change it, to control it through what I ate and how I moved.
Orthorexia is the other end of the spectrum for eating disorders. It is an obsession with healthy eating. It can be virtuous and elitist and put anyone who doesn’t eat healthy to shame. It’s very covert because it seems like you’re taking really good care of yourself. I told myself that I was keeping up with the trends, the various chefs writing healthy cookbooks. I was optimizing my health. I pushed myself A LOT to eat perfect. My best friend had died of pancreatic cancer and that scared the hell out of me. I gave food a lot of power to hurt me and I was very rigid about what I ate.
In fact, I think the way I was eating contributed to my thyroid condition, I’ve since read that lowering carbs can throw the thyroid off balance.
In the course I learned everything about how to eliminate the shame of eating, my obsession with my size and weight. I realized that I was also becoming obsessed with exercise in an unhealthy way. I sold my fit bite and my scales. I was very afraid to stop thinking about exercise and food. I was afraid of becoming a fat bum, who would eat anything in sight, who would have no self-control.
But in fact, the problem was self-control. It was all based on fear and it was very rigid. When you restrict your food intake, and that may even be eating rigid and healthy, then your body goes into survival mode, and part of that is your brain starts obsessing over food and all those foods that you start craving. . It makes sure you survive and start eating more than a restricted diet.
Intuitive eating is where you trust your body to guide you to what you eat. All foods have the same value, you can eat whatever you want whenever you want. And you can eat for emotional reasons. You guessed it, I ate all the things that I had denied myself, it was amazing. And I was so satisfied. So satiated. In fact, I ate much less food because I was satisfied because I ate what I wanted. I wasn’t trying to fill myself up with something I didn’t want, but I think I should eat.
Then the pendulum swung the other way. Then slowly it started to go back to half. I started to see that I didn’t like eating ice cream, it made me feel sluggish and slimy. That I didn’t like eating so much sugar, that it didn’t appeal to me so much. That I wanted to exercise more naturally, instead of working with a machine.
I went in for a blood test and lo and behold, my liver enzymes were in range. I started to focus on other things because my thoughts were not focused on thinking about food and exercise and controlling my body. I got a new haircut and went shopping for reading glasses, all the things I was too scared to do because I hadn’t wanted to think about my body and how I looked.
Now I feel much more comfortable talking to people and I don’t feel self-conscious about my weight. Before I was obsessed with how big my belly was, but now I don’t even think about it. I don’t know how much I weigh and I don’t feel ashamed.
One important thing that really affected my relationship with food was learning that when we take pleasure in eating, we will absorb more nutrients. So all that stuffing your nose to eat beans made no difference.
The intelligence of our body is much wiser than we are, so it is time to listen to our body and trust it.