According to National Eating Disorders Awareness, orthorexia nervosa is defined as “an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating.” I suffered and continue to suffer from this disorder, along with obsessive/compulsive tendencies when it comes to exercise. This is an open letter to my disease and for anyone who is suffering the same ordeal
Hi, it’s me, one of your victims. A little over a year ago, you snuck into my life. Little by little, you consumed me until I could hardly recognize myself. It started with small things, like the thought you incessantly whispered in my head: “you’re fat; nobody wants a fat girl.” I began to believe you. I started looking into the mirror and my 150-pound athletic build was distorted into something unwanted, ugly and hated. I thought you would stop there, but you pushed me to download MyFitnessPal and log my calories. I listened; I didn’t think anything was wrong with me, but what seemed like an innocent habit turned into panic attacks whenever I ate more than my allotted 1,600 calories. You whispered to me that what I was doing was healthy. I started to go to the gym for hours at a time, torturing myself on the elliptical until I could hardly breathe. I thought, why should I stop unless I’m going to faint, vomit or die?
Daily, I stripped myself of my sweaty gym clothes and stared into the mirror. My eyes were glossed over with the blinders you gave me—blinders that made it impossible to see my beauty. I laid almost naked on the floor, tears rolling down my face, crippled by the belief that my body was disgusting. I cursed God for giving me an "unacceptable" body.
You told me that I should hate food, but I’ve always loved it. My love for food made the battle against you even harder. I cried when my mom made noodles as a side dish because I thought they would make me fat. I restricted my diet to such an extreme that I could not go to a single restaurant without having an anxiety attack. My thoughts were a landslide, they restricted me from happiness.
“The calories aren’t listed, the calories aren’t listed, the calories aren’t listed.”
“How many carbs is in this? How much fat is in this? How much sugar is in this?”
“I look fat in this outfit, I look fat in this outfit, I look fat in this outfit.”
“I don’t deserve to eat, I don’t deserve to eat.”
“Do my parents notice? Do they know that something’s wrong with me?”
“I can’t do this anymore.”
You came over me like a flood. There was no stopping you. You’re a relentless, controlling, all-consuming disease. I thought you had taken away enough, but then you started to eat away at my happiness and my relationships. How selfish are you? I went to school with you hanging all over me, you clingy thing. I was self-conscious in anything I wore. My skin and hair were dull, and I lost my energy and liveliness. When it was time for lunch, I pulled out the same thing I ate every day: half of a Luna bar, a small apple and cut-up vegetables. You told me that was enough—maybe even too much—until dinner. I stared at my friends enviously, but judged them for what they were eating, because I thought my diet was the only right one. Why weren’t they eating fresh vegetables? Don’t they know that crackers are full of refined carbs? My boyfriend at the time didn’t understand you either. He didn’t understand why I hated myself even after he told me that I was beautiful. You tried to drive a wedge into our relationship, but he became my stronghold through it all. He held me while you tried to tear me away.
You controlled me until the night my mom found me. I’m so glad she did, because I wanted to die that night. I saw the pain in her eyes; I had been blind to it for months. She told me I needed help and I was hesitant because I didn’t think my problem was much of a problem at all. I didn’t notice the weight I lost, or how the restrictions were affecting my life until my mom said something. That day I took the first step in conquering you. I started going to therapy. After months, I started seeing myself without the blinders you gave me. I started allowing myself to be happy, even after I ate a serving of Ben & Jerry’s or my mom’s famous pesto pasta. I continued to exercise more than the average person, but I started a workout program that focused on becoming fit and healthy rather than just losing weight. I began congratulating myself for accomplishing small goals, rather than yelling at myself for one little slip-up. I felt the grip of your hands start to slip away. I felt freedom.
I’ve noticed that you’re a bit like a clingy ex-boyfriend; you just keep coming back. I find solace in the fact that after months of treatment and a hellish battle against you, I don’t need you to be healthy. You made me unhealthy. I am perfectly beautiful the way I am—freshman 15 and all. Sometimes you come back with a vengeance, and you consume me again for a bit. I think it’ll always be that way, but orthorexia, don’t you see that I am so much better off without you? I am stronger than you. I defeated you, and I can keep defeating you.
Your Recovering Victim
P.S. I hope you’re watching me drink this hot chocolate right now. It is so good.