My Orthorexia Led to Chronic Illness
For nearly a year and a half, I suffered from a disabling chronic condition that kept me home bound and unable to work. Recently, I discovered that part of what contributed to my condition was orthorexia nervosa. The national eating disorder website defines as “Those who have an “unhealthy obsession” with otherwise healthy eating may be suffering from “orthorexia nervosa,” a term which literally means fixation on righteous eating.”
Through a series of stressful events which included the death of a parent, I became incredibly regimented with my diet. As someone who was already very health conscious, I became immensely strict about eating anything that I deemed remotely unhealthy. I would not allow myself to indulge in anything I secretly enjoyed. It was also easy to mask underneath the guise of things such as Whole 30. I would just suggest to friends and family that I was committed to being the healthiest version of myself. While deep down, an intense fear of loss and abandonment was driving my need to control my diet.
I even stopped eating at my favorite Mexican restaurant because it did not meet my standards of health. The sad thing was, these people were like family. We were always welcomed so warmly and treated like children by the waitresses. I felt so much guilt and shame when we stopped going, but heaven forbid I would allow myself to eat tortillas and corn chips.
My eating continued to get stricter, even becoming vegan, until I crashed and hit rock bottom a few months later. I found myself in the Emergency Room which began my disabling journey of chronic illness. My condition progressed (as most do) to muscle weakness, numbness, and occasional paralysis coupled with debilitating fatigue. I experienced every type of neurological dysfunction along with adrenal, hormonal and immunity failure.
It wasn’t until I began doing behavioral therapy several months in that I entertained the possibility my illness could be rooted in faulty belief systems and stored trauma in my body. I began reading more about the mind-body-spirit connection and realized as someone who was doing everything right according to textbook nutrition and palliative medical care, there had to be a missing link.
I systematically worked through beliefs about fear, anxiety, abandonment, guilt and shame. Every day I would ask what belief system needed to be addressed and would spend time praying and meditating to release these illusions. The things revealed to me during this process were astonishing. I had no idea some of the limiting beliefs I was holding onto. Many of them rooted in early childhood that had stayed with me for years. Things like, “I only feel joy when I eat sugar.” So for someone who had strategically removed sugar from her diet for the past 5 years, I was subconsciously feeling incredibly deprived.
It was not easy to address each of these subconscious fears, but as each day passed, I found myself getting stronger and eventually healed my chronic condition which lasted for over 16 months. Months out, I am a brand-new person. My physical strength mirrors the emotional strength I now feel. My level of health and fitness feels better than before my symptoms began. I even changed how I approach eating. Before I would obsess about how many vegetables, macronutrients and calories I was eating and would not allow any sugar. Now I trust I am being guided by my intuition to eat what will nourish my body daily. I enjoy food and eating again, along with the ability to walk several miles and socialize with friends.
This weekend as my husband and I were kicking off the holiday weekend, I felt led to go back to the Mexican restaurant that we had once loved so much. The guilt and shame I once felt for eating there and also for abandoning my friends was completely gone. It had been over 2 years since I walked through the front door, but as soon as our favorite waitress saw us, she gasped with excitement. There were so many tears and hugs exchanged as we came in. She had asked where we had been, and I told her I had just been incredibly sick, but I was so much better and we would be back again soon. I knew I was healed and home.