My Orthorexia Recovery

“Intuitive Eating and Body Acceptance is so challenging in this culture. We need to unlearn so many disordered dieting tips and address our internalized fatphobia. It takes time and effort to become aware of all the lies diet culture has told us and to develop more helpful ways of thinking and behaving to repair our relationship with food and body.”

Molly Bahr, LMHC

As someone in the health and fitness profession I had a responsibility to teach and inspire others to better health. What was better health? Everything in my world said better health was a smaller body. 98% of the people that came to me for help came BECAUSE they wanted a smaller body. And so I learned how to make bodies smaller. I was trained in the traditional “calories in/calories out”, aka the “eat less, move more”, method, and it worked. People lost weight. Did they achieve better health? Some, maybe. Did they have more love and acceptance toward their body? No. Did they find happiness? Also, no.

Maybe if I found the BEST way to eat, not just less, but better, my clients could find all these things. I learned about all the chemicals and antibiotics in our food. I cleaned up the food in my house, and had some amazing, exciting results for my family’s health. I am forever grateful for the knowledge I gained on our food system. I was even asked to do a TEDx talk about the positive changes it had had on us. I wanted to pay it forward!

While I was very focused on bettering the lives of others, inspiring, helping and empowering them to better health through exercise and clean eating, what I didn’t know was how it was actually impacting me, and my mental health. Even as a health and fitness professional, someone who was trained to counsel others on ways to become more fit and healthy, I had zero training on eating disorders. Nothing on how to recognize signs and/or where to send someone for help. And I certainly had never heard of orthorexia.

I want to preface this next part by saying I STILL don’t have any training on eating disorders. If you need help with any disordered eating struggles, please seek out a HAES informed therapist and registered dietician who specialize in eating disorders.

I am going to get vulnerable and share my own experience with what I now identify as Orthorexia.

I started having an unhealthy relationship with food. I was afraid to eat things that weren’t labeled organic. I thought that if I ate “perfectly” I could achieve perfect health, and it was DEVASTATING when I still got sick. I avoided processed foods like the plague. I for sure felt superior to/judged regular fast food eaters. I would experience guilt and shame if I ate something not on my clean eating plan. Under the umbrella of “it’s for work” I researched and talked about my food plan all the time. I brought my own food to social situations, or ordered the MOST healthy choice at every outing. I even packed my son separate snacks for his after school program instead of letting him have what the school gave to all the other kids. I started eliminating gluten, even tho I LOVE love love bread and have no medical reason to eliminate it. So yea, pretty much every sign on this list I was experiencing.

And my clients lost weight. Did they achieve better health? Some. Did they have more love and acceptance toward their body? No. Did they find happiness? Also, no.

My body fat percentage was super low. I started finding my identity in the way my body looked. It was literally the first thing everyone I came into contact with commented on. I was super strong, and it was always fun to be the one people called on for manual labor. So empowering as a woman.

As I started to get burned out with the way I was eating, I kept it up anyway because it was now what people expected of me. If I “cheated” I did it in secret, and definitely didn’t post about it on social media. I was never satisfied with how my body looked, doing frequent before and after comparison photos. I was never really enjoying food. It was a physically and emotionally exhausting way to live.

In March of 2019, exactly a year ago, I was told that I needed to have major surgery because of some pretty significant precancerous cells. It was a huge blow – I felt guilt and shame because I must not have been consistent enough with my clean eating to avoid this health scare. I was told that I couldn’t work out for at least 12 weeks post-surgery, and I was devastated knowing my body would change so much.

After the surgery I definitely suffered from depression. I threw all my clean eating rules out the window and just ate to feel better. As expected without my workouts, my very defined muscles went away. I stopped going to some social functions I used to love because I literally felt GUILTY for the way my body looked when I walked into any room where people I knew were there. And this was reinforced since I was no longer getting comments about how great my body looked, or how strong I was.

As I was able to get back into working out it was so disheartening to find that I had lost SO MUCH strength. I was starting back as a beginner after years of being SUPER fit. I swallowed some pride and went to a local community center for a gentle yoga class. I was fully expecting to feel embarrassed and sad that I had to do a gentle class. What I found instead was an instructor who was so comfortable with her body, and made everyone in the room comfortable with theirs too. She was a fitness professional who openly talked about eating cake and her weight fluctuations with not even a hint of judgement. She was so knowledgeable about how the body works, and ways to make it feel it’s best, and I soaked it all in. It was the perfect start to getting back into working out. (Shout out BARBARA who has now become such an important friend to me!)

I can’t really pinpoint how I found Intuitive Eating…I know it was on instagram. When I discovered this way of living, and the FREEDOM that came with it, it was a huge breath of fresh air. I followed as many HAES and intuitive eating accounts on instagram as I could. I took time to unfollow any accounts that made me feel bad about myself and/or were heavily promoting diet culture. I stopped promoting my programs that I now knew were damaging to others. I spoke to a friend who was going through a similar journey and felt not just seen and understood, but supported. (shout out ALICE – I so value your friendship!)

I am definitely still on the journey to complete food freedom and body acceptance, but I am far from where I was even just a year ago. I’ve totally changed my mission of helping people get smaller bodies, to actually helping people find health. TRUE HEALTH that comes with food freedom and body acceptance.

I invite you to follow along as I continue to navigate the feelings, emotions, healing and work of recovering from orthorexia. I want to inspire you to explore intuitive eating for yourself and to help you find movement that you love for no other reason than it makes you happy.

I’m sure I will still mess up some messaging – there’s YEARS of diet culture in my brain that I’m working to become aware of and to find more helpful ways of thinking of and behaving- and I give you permission to call me out on it when it happens. If you want to talk about your own struggles with disordered eating, I’d love to chat and to direct you to some amazing accounts to follow.

It’s so important to fill your social media feed with accounts that speak truth and inspire you on your journey – and I hope to be one of those accounts for you!

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