Real Talk: How I Recovered from Orthorexia
I struggled silently with orthorexia for years. I feel like this term has become a larger part of our vernacular, especially in the eating disorder space, but for those of you who aren’t super familiar - orthorexia is basically an obsession with eating ‘clean’ or ‘healthy’ foods all of the time. This is one of those tricky disorders where there is a very fine line between being conscious + intentional about the foods you’re consuming and being harmfully rigid with it. I know for me, I was in denial for a long time and didn’t recognize just how much I had been struggling.
Before I get into it, though, *disclaimer* - I am not a medical professional! I’m just speaking from my own personal experience and what I found helpful in my recovery journey. As always, take what you like and leave what you don’t - you know yourself and your body best 🥰
My fascination with nutrition developed at a young age, when I first heard the words “Zone Diet” and begged my parents to take me to Barnes & Noble so I could grab all the nutrition/diet books I could get my hands on. Granted, at this stage my curiosity was innocent enough - I had never even thought much about food previously and I really just became fascinated with healthy eating. That said, it turned disordered pretty quickly when I discovered raw veganism (side note: absolutely nothing against veganism and I fully support those who choose to eat this way, but as a 14-year-old I didn’t have the knowledge or resources to do it in a healthy, balanced way). What was at first a curiosity quickly spiraled into restriction and going wayyyy too far with it.
Fast forward to college - I started at Berkeley as a Nutrition Major. I had since gotten over the whole raw veganism thing but was still really passionate about healthy eating. My first general nutrition class was a dietary analysis course and one of our first assignments was to input everything you eat in a day and analyze it. Seems pretty standard for a nutrition student, right? But for me, having had such disordered tendencies toward food in the past, it was very triggering and just made me hyper-aware of everything I was putting into my body.
Which brings me back to my point - there are so many nuances to disordered eating and it can be really hard to distinguish between healthy eating in a balanced way and healthy eating in a destructive way. Especially now, with the noise coming at us from all angles in the health + wellness space.
I first recognized it being a problem when I would go out to eat with friends and find myself obsessing over what oils they cooked the food in, how many calories were in the dish, if there was added sugar, etc. I would have this overwhelming, out of control feeling over how the food was prepared, especially if there weren’t ‘healthy’ options available. Eventually, because I’d get the most massive anxiety every time I was invited out to eat, I just made up bullshit excuses for why I couldn’t go. And I missed out on SO many events + memories with friends, all because there wasn’t a freaking salad on the menu.
When it started impacting my relationships and social life, this voice in my head was just like, ‘Ali, what are you doing? You’re missing out on such precious memories and time that you’ll never get back. It’s college, live it up.’ Thankfully, this little guiding light of truth became louder + louder and my eating disorder voice became softer + softer.
So how did I get there?
- Working with a professional - the #1 thing that helped me heal my relationship with food
- Eating my fear foods (baby steps, of course) and bringing the joy back to eating - seeing food as a way to connect with family and friends, experience pleasure, and have FUN
- Sharing my story, being vulnerable, and opening up to the people I love (so they could understand where I was coming from and also hold me accountable)
- Having compassion for myself - recovery is hard, so just be so gentle with yourself and know that every journey has ups + downs (journaling, walking in nature, and disconnecting from social media were all really helpful for me in this process)
I’d be lying if I said that every day was perfect. But I will say that I’ve come a long way in healing my relationship with food and I’m so grateful for the opportunities recovery has opened up in my life. My business, my relationships, my quality of life have all benefited from me thinking less and feeling more. Not to mention, freeing up my relationship with food has allowed so much more pleasure to come into my life and it feels really damn good.
If you’re dealing with something similar, know you’re not alone and know that healing is possible. The National Eating Disorders Association has some incredible resources if you or anyone you know is struggling ❤️