Orthorexia – Are You Obsessed With Healthy Eating?
A few months ago I took an online course at Be Nourished, about Body Trust. It hugely impacted my thinking about my body, weight, diet, exercise. I had put on quite a bit of weight in my early 40s and no matter what I did, nothing would budge it. But in the process I learned alot about nutrition and exercise.
I had alot of shame about my weight and the way I looked, and it really impacted my ability to be in the world and being seen. My thoughts in the day were taken up with exercise, and walking as many steps as I could. I had a fitbit and the fit bit scales, and I was constantly thinking about food, exercise and how to reduce my weight. I hated looking in the mirror, and I felt as if I wasn’t doing enough to get my weight down.
I was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism in 2016, and I had to go for 6 week blood tests for my thyroid and liver. Two of the tests for my liver showed 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 meme’s they have on their site is “We cannot hate ourselves into a version of ourselves we can love.” The shame I was feeling was because we live in a fat phobic society, and we think we can diet our way to losing weight and being the size we want to be, AND at the same time have a loving relationship with our bodies. We can’t.
We aren’t the problem, our society has dysfunctional values, and leads us to believe we can control our weight, if we just apply ourselves the right way.
I wanted to fit in so I didn’t feel shame. I wanted to be invisible and not stand out, and being overweight made me feel as if I stood out too much. I thought I attracted too much negative attention.
I knew so much about food. I’d tried lots of diets, which all seemed to focus on healthy eating. The Wheat Belly Diet, Paleo, Plant Paradox, Eat Right For Your Bloodtype. I tried them all. Nothing made a difference, but I told myself I was eating healthy so I must have a slow metabolism, or it’s my thyroid affecting my weight, or its high cortisol from the stress from the earthquakes.
I had very good self restraint. I could go no sugar, no wheat, no gluten, and I was always trying a new way of eating, or importing foods from overseas, or trying to track down ingredients around the country. I had tons and tons of vitamins and supplements. My body was like an obsession, wanting to change it, control it through what I was eating and how I was moving.
Orthorexia is the other end of the spectrum of disordered eating. It’s an obsession with healthy eating. It can be virtuous and elitist and shaming of anyone who doesn’t eat healthy. It’s very covert because it just appears like you are looking after yourself really well. I told myself I was just keeping up with the trends, the various chefs who wrote healthy cookbooks. I was optimising my health. I put ALOT of pressure on myself to eat perfect. My best friend had died from pancreatic cancer and that scared me to bits. I gave food alot 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 going low carbs can throw your thyroid out of whack.
I learned on the course all about how to take the shame out of eating, out of my obsession about my size and weight. I realised I was obsessing about exercise in an unhealthy way too. I sold my fitbit and scales. I had alot of fear about stopping thinking about exercise and food. I feared I would become a fat slob, that I would eat anything in sight, that I would have no self control.
But in fact self control was the issue. It was all fear based, and very rigid. When you restrict your food intake, and that can be even just eating rigidly healthy, then your body goes into survival mode, and part of that is that your brain starts making you obsess about food, and all those foods you start to crave. It’s ensuring you survive and you 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 equal value, you can eat anything you want when you want. And you can eat for emotional reasons. You guessed it, I ate all the things I had denied myself, it was awesome. And I felt so satisfied. So satiated. In fact I ate alot less food because I was satisfied because I ate what I wanted. I wasnt trying to fill up on something I didn’t want but think I should eat.
So the pendulum swung the opposite way. Then it slowly started to come back to the middle. I started to see that I didnt like eating ice cream, it made me feel sluggish and mucousy. That I didnt like eating so much sugar, that it didnt have the same attraction for me. That I wanted to exercise more naturally, as opposed to slogging away on an apparatus.
I went for a blood test and lo and behold, my liver enzymes were in range. I started to focus on other things because my thoughts weren’t taken up with thinking about food and exercise, and controlling my body. I got a new haircut and went and got reading glasses, all things I was too scared to do because I hadnt wanted to think about my body and how I looked.
I feel way more comfortable talking to people now, and don’t feel self conscious about my weight. Before I was obsessed with how big my belly was, but now I dont even think about it. I don’t know how much I weigh, and I don’t feel shame.
One important thing that really impacted my relationship with food was learning that when we find pleasure in eating, we will absorb more of the nutrients. So all that holding your nose to eat broad beans, didn’t make any difference.
Our body’s intelligence is way more wise than we are, so it’s time to listen to our bodies and trust them.