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I don’t know when my unhealthy relationship with food started. I think it has always been a part of my psyche, but I don’t remember when it really began to manifest. I do know that it was during my senior year of college that it got really bad.
I’ve often struggled with grains and baked goods. Pasta, cheesy rice, bread, cookies, etc. If they are in the house, I will eat all of it, even if I am not hungry. That is something I’ve done for a long time. But senior year was when I went to the school cafe 3 times in an evening to buy a gluten-free molasses cooking. They were amazing and I just needed more. When I was on AIP, I tried to make an AIP cookie. It was disgusting, but I still ate the whole batch in two days. Even when I made grain-free, starch-free, sugar-free, pumpkin cookies, I ate the whole batch in a day. It’s a problem.
But the thing is, my struggle didn’t stop with grains and baked goods. There were a few weeks in my senior year where I ate peanut butter, jelly, and yogurt for 3 meals a day. It was all one ingredient foods: just peanuts, mashed fruit, and plain yogurt in my bowl. Totally clean and healthy. But it was all I could eat! And of course there are nuts. I’ve always had a weakness for taking handful after handful of nuts well beyond the point of fullness. You can read about my most recent encounter with this here. Even when I eliminated guilt, I still couldn’t stop my binging and just make the choice my body was asking for: to stop eating.
Whatever the food, the cause and effect was the same: I was bored, I was craving food (usually a specific food I know is available to me), and I wasn’t hungry. My food of choice was the only thing I desired to eat; the only thing that I felt I could eat without feeling sick from too much food. Something that was likely releasing reward neurotransmitters so strong that it interfered with my body’s interpretation of hunger hormones. In fact, I struggle on a daily basis to determine if I am actually hungry for a meal and when I am full enough to stop.
I have been convinced that if I just do GAPS Intro properly, it will help my relationship with food. I just need to break my dependence on this food. I just need to heal my gut and my brain. Then I will have a healthy relationship with food and it will be okay. Besides, I need this. I’m not just eliminating foods because I want to. I legitimately have these sensitivities. How can I let things go and eat what I want if they legitimately cause physical reactions like break outs?
But then today hit me in the face. I love avocados. I never ate them much before GAPS, but since they are part of the diet I discovered they are delicious! I never ate more than half or one a day simply because of price and to leave room for other foods, too. But recently I have been having really bad cravings for avocados. This morning, I ate half an avocado with breakfast and felt good. But then I ate lunch. Then I ate another half avocado. Then another. Finally I stopped because my stomach was bloated and hurting. And I’m left thinking, “Seriously? I just overate avocados? And I still want more?”
Do I Have Orthorexia?
Orthorexia is defined as an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. When orthorexia first became a “buzz word” in the real food community, I began to look critically at my own eating habits and relationship with food. With orthorexia, it is hard to find the line. At what point are you taking care of your body, and at what point do you have an eating disorder? When is following an incredibly strict diet with no compromises providing your body with what it needs to heal? When does it become a problem? Is it wrong to be scared that a dish might send you into a flare or a relapse?
I honestly don’t have the answer to these questions, and that is what is so tricky. It is important not to judge people based on what you see. Many people truly do need to follow a 100%, no straying, strict elimination diet and can do so while maintaining a healthy relationship with food and with their body. Others restrict themselves as a form of control. And maybe their body does need a healing diet and can benefit and heal from what they are doing. But if their relationship with food isn’t in the right place, this can develop into a fear of food and a lifestyle that will hinder the healing.
As I am reflecting on this and typing this, I am near tears. I have shared a lot of myself on my blog, but I have never cried while writing before. For so many months, I was angry at this orthorexia “trend.” I was upset that the media was putting those of us with food sensitivities and who need to heal their bodies in a bad light. That they were judging and and saying we were mentally ill because we don’t conform to the Standard American Diet. That I’m mentally ill because I don’t want to eat treats that trigger a binge. Because I don’t want to eat sugar that makes me break out.
But now writing this follows the realization that I have somehow developed a unhealthy relationship with avocados. Avocados. It is realizing that I am scared to try certain foods, because I am scared of a reaction. I have always intended to eventually return to a WAPF diet, including properly prepared grains, once I have healed my body and my mind. But I am terrified that I won’t be able to control myself if I add those back in.
I don’t know if I would be considered to have orthorexia, and I don’t really care. I don’t need a title to know I have a problem. And I clearly can’t fix that just by eliminating everything that has ever caused me a problem. At this rate, I will end up with nothing left to eat.
Acknowledging this is scary. But it is time to confront it. If you have been running from your relationship with food, it is time to take a good hard look at how things are going for you. Whether you have orthorexia from a clinical perspective or not, would you be a happier person if your attitudes towards food changed? I hate to admit it, but for me the answer is yes.
I don’t know where to go from here. I have some books I can read, some blogs I can check out. But many of those resources are frustrating for me to read. I never feel like that will really help me and my issues. But I am going to try to explore more. Most importantly, I am going to make an effort to challenge myself, be more self aware, and enlist the support of others. I’m going to seek help for my anxiety. And I’ll come back and let you know what I find. For now, I’m going to go eat a teaspoon of butter. Tomorrow I’ll eat two teaspoons. It may make me break out, and that will heal. But it might not. And I won’t know until I try it again.
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