by Tracy Gallivan
In February of 2016, during National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, I made the decision to start forgiving myself and share my story. The following was my post from that day:
For those of you who may not know, this week is NEDA Week. National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, where we hear “everyone knows someone” who has or has had an eating disorder. So today I’m going to put myself out there and tell you a little bit about something called Orthorexia. And if you didn’t “know somebody” before, now you will.
Simply put, Orthorexia is an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. Aka taking it too far. It is not connected with body image (i.e. believing you are fat) but rather with the wholesomeness and purity of what you put into your body–supplements, food, beverages, etc. Aaand the simplicity of it ends there. Orthorexia begins as a very noble and admirable quest for optimal health. It becomes iffy when you begin eliminating certain foods from your diet without medical reason and becomes a problem when you find yourself obsessing about your next meal. From there it spirals out of control and before long you can’t eat this with that, or within three hours of this or within two hours of that. If it isn’t grass fed, forget it. If it has artificial flavoring, don’t touch it. Planning your next meal consumes your thoughts and suddenly you’re too overwhelmed and afraid to eat anything. Your path to perfection leads to a potentially literal dead end. The scary thing is, you don’t realize anything is wrong because your intentions are so good. But eventually your “healthy lifestyle choice” has left you with no life and sadly, is no longer a choice.
I’m not going to get into the details of the disease or my own personal story. A quick Google search can give you a perfect description.
As for my own struggle, I’ll opt out on sharing not because I’m too embarrassed (which I am, very) but because frankly, I don’t have the energy to do it justice. There are some days I still can’t form complete thoughts let alone complete sentences… And definitely not in a way that I feel truly respects my journey or doesn’t trivialize this disease. It would take more than a post to tell my story… Lol that, my friends, will be a book.
Instead, the purpose of this is to raise awareness. That’s what this week is about. Orthorexia exists. It is not made up or a “fake” eating disorder. The only thing more embarrassing and frustrating than admitting I was orthorexic for years is the reaction I get in return–the blank stares and furrowed eyebrows. The quizzical expressions and cocked heads. “Huh? What is that?” Or even worse? The RAISED eyebrow, the skeptics who act like I just invented a word to cover up a more “serious” eating disorder such as anorexia. And then… Then there’s the joke… “Ha! I only wish I had that problem!!”
Really? Are you kidding me? I am 32 years old with osteoporosis, crippling OCD, and only the vaguest recollection of 2009-2013. And you wish you had my problem?
I guess my hope is that every person who reads this, shares it. Talks about it. It’s something we can all do to help raise awareness this week. Because this word, this disease, needs to become common knowledge–Orthorexia is real and I am real and I shouldn’t have to explain myself and most certainly shouldn’t have to defend myself. Just “being” is exhausting enough. So I ask that you help get the word out there. And maybe, just maybe, it will resonate with a reader who recognizes these tendencies, and they’ll catch themselves or a friend before it’s too late. And if that reader is you? Pause. Think back… maybe you jumped on the vegan boat before properly learning how to row. Or perhaps you mistakenly associated gluten with gluttony. Or that somewhere you heard you’d never shit again without the aid of Kombucha or a specific strain of probiotic. Whatever it was, recognize that it is a problem. Admit it. Own it. And for one moment, stop chasing that organic, non-GMO, gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-fucking free carrot that food blogs, Instagram accounts, and magazine covers dangle in front of you, and take a step back from the rabbit hole. Because it’s a dark place down there.
If you think you or someone you know may have a problem, here is an easy questionnaire to get started.
Thank you for your time and reading this to the end. If you want to make a difference, please share and help others learn the word Orthorexia and get it out there. And as Cher Horowitz would say, “try to use it in a sentence.”