I will tell you my story. And I am sure that many people can relate. I know at least a few people who do exactly the same thing I used to do, whether they see it as a problem or not.
I experimented with my eating habits a lot. I went from coke and pizza addict to McDonald’s lover (something I swore I’d never be) to clean eating and calorie-counting to mostly raw vegan and gluten-free on top of that. And I returned to eating gluten (even though I’m not supposed to, I’m battling myself right now) and just healthy/balanced veggie diet where I would let myself slip once in a while and munch that piece of cake. Why? Because Orthorexia is real, much more than healthy dieters like to admit.
It started with a pure desire to get a ripped body. I started working out and counting calories. Then I realised how many calories I was eating from fatty and sugary foods and started to cut them back, transitioning to a clean eating. I was on the verge of following a Paleo diet when I accidentally got my hands on a book about veganism and decided that it was the right way, for all the wrong reasons. Focusing on my own health as a priority, I had many slip ups with my veganism, and it took several years to see the ethical side of it. But surprising enough, my health mattered a lot more in other aspects of my diet. Six months into vegan diet, I had to go gluten-free because the symptoms that I had for years had been finally given a name. If anything, being vegan and gluten free only gave me a sense of control over my diet, and together with training – over my body. I loved it. My weight was dropping and I almost felt superior because I’ve been so good with my habits – something that many in my circle couldn’t achieve.
Then one day I discovered raw food diet. I tried the 3 day smoothie detox challenge and I loved the lightness and clarity it gave me. When the challenge was over and I went back to normal cooked vegan foods, my digestion worsened and I didn’t feel as light and bloat-free. For the sakes of feeling good, I went about 70% raw, hoping to bring it up to 90% in the future. At the same time my weight was at a scary level and I had to give up cardio to prevent it from falling further. Eventually, I also started eating more cooked foods, but I kept anything that was less than healthy out of my life.
It came to a point where I would refuse eating a food if it had any additives, if it was processed, if it had gluten, fat or sugar in it. I would still sometimes count my calories and make sure that I exercised at least 4 days a week, ideally, 6. I would be pointing to people that I can’t eat this or that because of so and so. If I happened to eat something outside of my self-prescribed diet, I would feel guilty and would try to burn it off at the gym. I was skinny, although not as much as unhealthy skinny, but my weight was in a very unhealthy range. I felt deprived and unhappy most of the time because I couldn’t enjoy many simple pleasures. I had problems with my menstrual cycle and couldn’t get pregnant. But a simple thought of changing anything in my diet and lifestyle was scaring me to death. What if I sabotage my health? What if I gain weight? What if I won’t have the definition anymore? I didn’t even get to that desired ripped body yet. But at the same time I knew that I couldn’t go on like that. Something had to change.
Those who ever tried to have a baby without luck know how frustrating it is to see a negative every month. It was out of this frustration that I decided to finally make changes. I pulled out my calorie counting tools again, but this time round to make sure that I was eating more to gain some weight. Anxious of the outcome, I still let myself eat an occasional take away trying to build a new relationship with food. I stopped going to the gym. But there was still no luck and more negatives followed. My mind set wasn’t right, I was too fixated on getting a positive that all other things stopped to matter. Then my husband pointed out that I needed some rest from my own mind. There was no point in doing what I was doing if I couldn’t enjoy my life.
From there, more changes followed. I went back to the gym and set some new records. But at the same time I let myself enjoy more foods that were off the limits for years. Whatever I did, I just tried to enjoy the ride. I reminded myself that I was not doing anything shameful or criminal and there was no reason to feel guilty. It was that month that we finally got a positive.
During my pregnancy I broke all the rules I have ever created. My morning sickness that tormented me for many weeks and bad cravings made me quit my vegetarian diet and at some point subsist on butter and jam toasts and Chinese Cashew prawns. I am still not proud of going off the vegetarian diet, but ultimately, following my cravings was what kept me sane. It taught me that there was a strong link between the flexibility of my diet and my mental well-being and after the birth of my daughter I could never restrict myself as much anymore.
I am back to vegetarian diet now, but this time around it’s out of compassion. I have found my peace through following my beliefs. I do not feel deprived and actually feel much happier without animal products. I can perfectly enjoy my life and my food and know that I do no harm. I strive for balanced diet rather than clean diet. I do not cook anything that is unhealthy, but I do let myself eat out once in a while and I do not turn down the foods at the parties, unless they are of animal origin. I will be honest and say that the only thing I am not good with is gluten. After healing my gut my symptoms had disappeared and I started to enjoy foods with gluten again. For almost a year I have been symptom-free, but now they have returned with a couple of new symptoms, too. But I am terrified of giving up gluten. Mainly because I do not want to feel deprived. I do not want to not be able to eat out or become depressed. My well-being is way too important. But I know that it’s not healthy for me to keep eating it. I will have to deal with my gluten situation soon enough, so for now I’m gathering my strength and getting ready.
When trying to become healthier, there is a fine line between doing your best and going all out. It is easy to become obsessed and overdo it. And the consequences can be just as bad as with anorexia nervosa or any other eating disorder. Being fixated on eating only foods that are clean and healthy can be as bad as eating unhealthy, and it’s especially bad for your mind. Mental well-being is fragile and it’s easy to mess it up with a wrong attitude.
I am not trying to say that eating healthy is bad and should not be attempted. What I am trying to say is that balance really is the key, as well as positive body image and relationship with food. It is also important to make changes gradually and remember that your life and health do not solely depend on the food you eat. The way you feel matters just as much. You need to live a little!