The Less-Known Eating Disorder: Orthorexia
Written by Aliya, 24 years old
May 4th, 2023
In our high pressured society, “clean eating” has been added to the list of necessary accomplishments. Labeling foods as “clean” or “dirty” can put a moral value on food. For some, eating clean can start with good intentions but it can lead to restriction and a fixation on “righteous” eating. This can lead to a less-known eating disorder called Orthorexia.
Orthorexia is a condition where individuals are fixated on consuming foods that they deem to be "pure," "clean," or "healthy". People living with orthorexia may restrict their food intake to an extreme degree by avoiding certain types of food or entire food groups. As a result, they may spend excessive amounts of time planning and preparing meals, and experience distress if unable to access the specific foods they believe are essential for health. People with orthorexia may feel anxious or fearful when eating out or consuming food prepared by others, impacting their ability to engage in social activities.
As a teenage girl, I spent years obsessing over healthy eating and was trapped in a cycle of restriction, guilt, and anxiety around food. I grew up bombarded with messages about what was "good" and "bad" for my body. There were articles, books, and social media posts everywhere I looked telling me how, when, and what to eat to be healthy and thin. I began weighing and measuring all of my food and eliminated entire food groups from my diet. Countless hours were spent analyzing nutrition labels, meal planning, and tracking my food intake. Healthy eating became part of my identity, and I was constantly praised for my “willpower” to stick to my plan.
At first, my new diet made me feel wholesome and empowered. I believed that I was doing the right thing for my body and that I was on the path to optimal health. But as time went on, I began to notice that my obsession with food was taking over my life. I started avoiding social situations that involved food, and I felt guilty and ashamed whenever I deviated from my food rules. Losing weight in the process only enhanced my strict behaviors. My obsession with healthy eating quickly led to an obsession with shrinking my body. Morning weigh-ins, body measurements, and high-intensity workouts became part of my daily routine.
Eventually, my restrictive eating style made me feel out of control around foods that I deemed “off-limits”, resulting in binge-eating episodes. When I found myself compensating for what I felt was overconsumption, I knew it was time to get help. I eventually realized that my strict dietary rules were not sustainable, and I needed a more flexible approach to food and nutrition.
Luckily, I was introduced to Intuitive Eating, a philosophy that encourages people to listen to their bodies' natural hunger and fullness signals and to eat what feels satisfying without judgment or guilt. Intuitive Eating emphasizes the importance of body acceptance and self-care, rather than rigid rules and restrictions.
Initially, Intuitive Eating was a challenge for me. I was so used to following strict rules and avoiding certain foods that I had lost touch with my body's natural signals. But with time, practice, and patience, I began to reconnect with my body and trust my own intuition.
I learned to savor and enjoy food again, without fear or guilt. I started to appreciate the pleasure of eating and the social connections that come with sharing meals with others. I learned to recognize when my body was hungry and when it was full and allowed all foods to fit into my life.
My journey to food freedom has not been easy, and I still have days when I struggle with old patterns of thinking and behavior. But overall, I feel happier, healthier, and freer than I ever did when I was trapped in the cycle of orthorexia and disordered eating.