I wanted to touch up more on this subject of Orthorexia, because it is not a very common eating disorder that is talked about but it affects many people’s lives when they don’t even know it. Orthorexia is the condition that includes symptoms of obsessive behavior in pursuit of a healthy diet. Basically, you try so hard to be healthy that it becomes an obsession and you begin to restrict yourself from anything your mind thinks as “unhealthy.” I have been battling with orthorexia for four years now, but I just recently realized it about 2 months ago. For so long I believed this lie that I was healthy just because everything I ate was clean and “good for me.” So when people would say that I had an eating disorder I was shocked. I mean I ate food everyday. When I was hungry I ate. I didn’t starve myself. But I hid behind this idea of “I wasn’t starving myself so I didn’t have an eating disorder” for so long. What I didn’t see was how stubborn I was with the foods I chose to eat or not to eat. I only allowed myself to consume a small variety of foods that consisted of raw veggies and fruit. My diet consisted of hardly any fat or protein. I would never allow myself to indulge in a pizza every once in a blue moon or I would be disgusted if my salad had a little bit of cheese on it. I thought that it would be the end of the world if I ate these foods and I would wake up the next morning 10 pounds heavier. If I was craving a cookie or ice cream I would restrict myself and constantly say over and over in my mind, “I don’t like this food, it is not good for me, it will make me feel awful” until I believed it. I couldn’t even eat cake at my own birthday party. Every time someone would ask me if I wanted a chip or a piece of candy I would always deny the offer and say I don’t like it or make another silly excuse as to why I couldn’t eat it. My boyfriend would ask me to try a piece of his dinner or sandwich and I would refuse because it did’t meet my “healthy” standards.
After a while this behavior of not being able to eat what the people around me were eating started to take a toll on my relationships. I felt like people were either judging what I was eating while I was around them or in some way I would make them feel guilty for eating the foods they were because I thought it was “too unhealthy.” I began to see that people only saw me as someone who “ate grass” or someone who “was judging their unhealthy eating habits.” And as much as I began to hate my new identity as the girl who only ate nasty foods like kale and quinoa, I couldn’t stop. I was so deep into my obsession I decided to push away my relationships instead. I started to spend most of my time alone and hated going out to eat with family or friends. I stopped going to my school cafeteria, but instead started cooking my own meals in my room. I started to live in my own little world where I could do and control anything and everything I wanted. I could make my meals anyway I wished and did not have to worry what anyone criticizing it. But soon I got very lonely. I hardly had any friends and when I was around my friends or family I would be irritable for no reason, feeling like they didn’t accept who I was.
Then my body began to break down. I had many back and hip problems during my cross-country season, but I didn’t pay much attention to it because it would eventually go away and my chiropractor, coach, and I agreed it was because I wasn’t stretching or taking ice baths enough after practice. But during track season my injuries grew worse to the point where it hurt too much to walk. I tried for weeks to train through the pain because I HATED the thought of not running everyday. I mean I was a fitness junkie. If I took one day off of running I felt like a fat lard. Even when we didn’t have practice I would take two hour walks on my own as a “rest” day. Finally, my parents came to Florida to watch my second track meet of the season and they were devastated that I had lost even more weight from the previous month when they saw me. They talked to my coach and told her their concerns about my health and my coach ended up making me sit out the rest of the season and take a break until I had gained some more weight and my injuries healed. I was also dealing with a lot of stomach issues at this time which we still have yet to get to the bottom to. But that night, my parents sat me down and asked me if I felt like I had an eating disorder. Of course I said no and kept saying over and over, “I eat until I’m full, I don’t starve myself, I don’t know why I can’t gain any weight.” But what I didn’t want to believe is the fact that my meals did not meet the calorie requirements I needed as a runner. I was probably eating 2,000 calories a day, while I was supposed to be eating 3,500-4,000 calories a day. But to me, that was impossible. Because of my restricting and healthy eating habits for the three years prior, my stomach has become used to hardly eating and it began to learn to function without a lot of fuel. Also, I never ran or exercised as much as I had during cross-country season so I didn’t know how to train my body to eat more. It was a constant battle with my brain saying, “if you eat anymore you’ll start gaining the weight in your stomach” and the scale which said, “you’re dropping pounds every week.” I was so frustrated with myself because I didn’t want to be a 19 year old girl who was 96 lbs and has boney arms and everyone thinks is anorexic anymore. But I also couldn’t push past the thought of becoming fat. If I looked in the mirror one day and thought my stomach was bigger than usual, I would tell myself to be even more restricting that day as a punishment. No matter how much people told me how skinny I was, I couldn’t believe it. I was so caught up in this idea that if I just have a body like hers or like this then I’ll be happy, but here’s a little secret… you will never be satisfied with this type of mindset. No matter how much weight you lose, or if you have a flat stomach, or toned legs, you will look in the mirror and continue to find more flaws in yourself. You need to learn to ACCEPT your body for what it is.
Now, as if weight loss, loneliness, irritability, and countless injuries weren’t enough signs and symptoms for my stubborn behavior, I also dealt/dealing with amenorrhea. If some of you don’t know, amenorrhea is the lack of a period for three or more months. It can be for many different reasons, such as stress, low body fat, and overexercise. When I was first going into college I struggled with irregular periods and when I started running I didn’t get my period for my entire fall semester. Then over christmas break I stopped running for the month because of a hip injury that was too painful to push through and I got my period again at the very beginning of January. But as of today, I have not gotten my period since. Now most of you probably do not know this, but not getting your period for a long time can be VERY dangerous. Ironically, for my senior project in high school I did a presentation of the Female Athlete Triad in Runners, where I researched and talked about a cycle found commonly in runners. First, it starts with an eating disorder. They lose a lot of weight and have low body fat which eventually leads to amenorrhea. Now, if an athlete continues to ignore this symptom for long periods of time, they can actually develop osteoporosis. This is why some athletes will get unexplained stress fractures during performance because their bone is weakening and breaking down as a result of low estrogen levels. Low estrogen not only affects the bone but it also affects fat storage. YES! Low estrogen can make you gain fat in the STOMACH area. Our bodies are supposed to function a certain way, so when we manipulate our bodies by trying to “fix” them, we are actually just harming ourselves or throwing our body signals out of whack! We need fat, we need estrogen, we need food. But most importantly, we NEED to listen to our bodies. If you are dealing with an injury, or health issues, or other symptoms that are not normal, you need to listen! Our bodies are so amazing that they tell us when something isn’t right, we just need to take the time and listen to what our body needs.
Remember: YOU are BEAUTIFUL. God made us all perfect in his eyes. We should stop shaming our bodies and forcing ourselves to look a certain way in order to be “liked” or “accepted.” No. God accepts us for who we are first of all, and that is all that matters. We should love ourselves and be thankful for the body that was given to us.
I know it is easier said than done, I still struggle with accepting and loving my body the way it is. I still look in the mirror and see my flaws, but I will continue to look past them. I named this website Pretty In Me, because I believe beauty should not be defined by the shape of someone’s body, or by their face, or eye color. Outward beauty is fleeting, but your heart and personality is what is truly beautiful. I encourage you to look in the mirror every morning and say one thing that you love about yourself and one thing you are thankful for.
Today, I am thankful for two legs that can take me to where ever I want to go. I love how strong they are, and the fact that they can take me running for miles when I need a break from life.
1 Peter 3: 3-4
“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”