Experiencing Orthorexia: One Year Later

wpid-textgram_1393418126.pngIt’s been a year since I sat down to write about my personal experience with disordered eating. I had just come off a miserable attempt at the paleo diet where I lost more than just weight. My inability to distinguish between a healthy awareness of what I was eating and an unhealthy obsession with every item of food that I purchased, led me into a downward spiral. It took time and the effort of good friends to pull me out of that wretched cycle, until I was finally able to see the harm I was doing.

I’ve since accepted that my relationship with food is complex. I have certain triggers that lie beneath the surface and sometimes they’re tripped whether I realize it or not. What helped me was learning more about my behavior and speaking out about it any way that I could. Luckily I had this platform to get the word out there about orthorexia, an eating disorder that I didn’t even know existed until I saw a lot of the symptoms match up with my habits. It was vital for me to share this information in the hope that someone out there would find it beneficial for themselves or for a loved one.

And so I’m back here to share this story again, for this year’s National Eating Disorders Awareness Week running from February 23rd through March 1st. I continue to have my ups and downs, but the breakthrough I made last year helped me to find strength in expressing these thoughts to those I trust most, before they lead to unhealthy behaviors down the road.

If you’re experiencing difficulties in your relationship with food or body image, I urge you to please seek help from a trusted friend, family member, and most importantly a health professional. I know how hard it is to admit those thoughts to yourself, let alone to someone else who may not understand where you’re coming from. Speaking out about it is the all-important first step to healing and recovery. Wishing you good health!

What is Orthorexia? The Thin Line Between Healthy Eating and Unhealthy Obsession

Upon hearing the words “eating disorder,” it’s likely the images of an emaciated woman refusing food or another taking frequent trips to the bathroom to throw up are conjured.

We’re familiar with anorexia nervosa and bulimia through films, television shows, health class, or magazines. Modern technology now provides a new platform for these diseases with the creation of sites and profiles dedicated to ‘Anas,’ ‘Mias,’  and thinspiration ideals. Just do a quick search of these terms with a hashtag on Twitter and  you’ll see endless pages expressing the war with food out of a desperate need to be thin, raging daily.

You may know someone personally who’s facing their own battle with eating disorders and struggle with the obsessive addiction to be thin. Or maybe you’ve been down this road yourself.

However you’ve encountered eating disorders (ED) in the past, most people have heard of anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating in some context. Given the overwhelming statistics of ED related health concerns and the media coverage utilized to help educate the public about these disorders, its become part of our modern social discourse. Despite that awareness, many people become afflicted with anxiety and some form of disordered eating, especially within our environment that often provides conflicting ideas about food and health.

There are eating disorders aside from anorexia and bulemia that are relatively unknown but share the same foundation of obsessive control of food for the purposes of weight loss or management to the point of addiction. I had my eyes opened forcefully late last year when I discovered one form of ED that I’d never heard of before but would never forget: orthorexia.

I recently told a story about my experiment with the Paleo diet and how it triggered some of my negative behavior with food that I thought I’d overcome. It was during this time that I discovered orthorexia.

I was at work going through my news feed and came across this article from Runner’s World that grabbed my attention. It spoke about how a fixation on eating healthy, organic foods can sometimes cross a line when you become obsessed with the need to be absolutely “pure” in all of your food choices. I felt that the description of this disorder fit me like a glove, and so I did what I normally do while reading health articles: I self-diagnose and freak out.

Everything about this disorder seemed to make sense to me since I was in the throes of a diet crisis that hadn’t even reached its peak yet. My breakdown wasn’t due for a couple of months, but I’d already sensed something was off in my gut.

The idea that you could take something perfectly healthy like eliminating processed foods from your diet or reducing your sugar intake and pervert it by ruthlessly examining every item of food that crosses your lips to determine if it passes your own high standard of healthiness didn’t seem far-fetched to me. It’s this kind of obsessive analysis that goes on in my mind all of the time about everything, especially food when I don’t keep it in check, which I wasn’t last year.

I think what eventually forced me to admit that something was wrong was my level of anxiety. I couldn’t just get home and throw dinner together or quickly pick up lunch during the day. I had to painstakingly plan my meals out ahead of time and think through each item on my grocery list to see if it passed my personal ‘approved list’ of foods that I could eat. What was supposed to be a simple diet turned into a nightmarish process. And worse yet, I’d still experience guilt if I wasn’t committed 100% of the time or ‘cheated’ on one meal. How could I not see the similarities?

Courtesy: Athleanx
Courtesy: Athleanx.com

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, orthorexia nervosa  is an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating to the point that ‘purity’ becomes the goal and foods deemed impure are completely eliminated. The emphasis is more on quality than quantity and orthorexics go to extreme lengths to fiercely maintain a diet as natural and clean as possible.

Our nation is in the midst of a national health crisis with regard to the rates obesity and its associated health risks that constantly play out in the media on a daily basis. The focus on leading healthy lifestyles along with a movement towards going green with organic products and cutting out processed foods to be replaced by natural, all blend together to create a perfect storm for those susceptible to obsessive behaviors surrounding food. The sad irony is that in an effort to embrace a positive lifestyle change, some adopt worse habits that can be devastating and difficult to overcome.

Erin Sund wrote about orthorexia for AND and spoke with Dr. Marjorie Nolan about the disorder:

“Orthorexia starts out with a true intention of wanting to be healthier, but it’s taken to an extreme,” says Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Spokesperson Marjorie Nolan, MS, RD, CDN, ACSM-HFS, who specializes in working with eating disorder clients. “If someone is orthorexic, they typically avoid anything processed, like white flour or sugar. A food is virtually untouchable unless it’s certified organic or a whole food. Even something like whole-grain bread – which is a very healthy, high-fiber food – is off limits because it’s been processed in some way.”

Although orthorexia is not officially recognized by the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders),  it is quickly becoming accepted as a new form of disordered eating that has similar effects on both the physical and mental health of those afflicted as anorexia and bulimia.

I am not a licensed professional nor a registered member of the APA or the AND. But I am an expert in me and what I’ve gone through personally with relation to food, and the point here is that any kind of obsessive behavior where you’re spending more time thinking about the food and its components and less time actually enjoying the meal, is not a good thing.

Initially, I found the very existence of a term that described my food issues satisfying with an immediate sense of relief as if I’d been “figured out.” There’s a name to what I’ve been experiencing and that makes all of this okay, I thought.

The fact is, no it really doesn’t make it okay. Giving it a name helps bring it out of the closet and raises awareness to others out there who might not realize that its unhealthy to be so excruciatingly detailed in their thought process about what’s on their plates. But that’s just step one and it’s harder to land on step two.

I don’t know if I’m orthorexic or if anything I’m going through qualifies as a classifiable disorder and really, I couldn’t care less. Tagging it as one thing or another doesn’t take away from the fact that I still have too many thoughts about food which make some decisions that are simple for others much harder for me. I don’t know why. I couldn’t tell you, but that’s where I am.

I’ve made a commitment to leading a healthy lifestyle and I believe I’m capable of approaching food with a positive frame of mind. What makes a difference for me is allowing myself to speak openly about my challenges and shed light on those dark corners so that I can stay on the right side of the line. I don’t think having a passion for healthy eating and living is a bad thing and it’s something I’m continually trying to understand each day.

The benefit I found from discovering orthorexia is that it opened my eyes to the negative habits I developed and it helped me begin a process of forgiveness and healing. I was able to acknowledge that it was real and that I wasn’t the only one with this kind of pressure. It’s all about choices and being honest with yourself about your intentions. That’s the power of knowledge and that’s my goal with this blog.

In an effort to keep that going and to share information that I think is vital for everyone to know, here is an infographic created by the non-profit National Eating Disorders Association who recently sponsored National Eating Disorders week February 24 through March 2nd. It was a massive campaign to help educate the public on the impact of eating disorders and learn more about services available for those in need of support and professional help. The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) is another amazing resource if you’d like more information.

Courtesy: NEDAwareness
Courtesy: NEDAwareness
Courtesy: NEDAwareness
Courtesy: NEDAwareness

I am always staggered by the statistics for ED. It reminds me that these disorders afflict people of all backgrounds, races, and genders.  Shed any limited thoughts you might have about the face of ED and consider that it’s an issue that affects people from so many different walks of life.

Have you experienced similar anxiety about food and healthy eating? What do you think about classifying orthorexia as an eating disorder and treating it as a disease? Share your thoughts! I’m curious.

As always, keep paying it forward, now and always. Stay healthy. 🙂

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How Powerlifting and Latina Magazine Changed My Life

Where the heck are those curtains? I thought to myself.

I was rushing through a department store one afternoon on my lunch break from work when I received the email.

Hello!

I’m working with Latina Magazine and for our social media issue, February, we’re reaching out collecting images from Latina bloggers all across the web. We’d love to include you!

I stopped in my tracks, nearly bumping into another other harried lunchtime shopper, as I scanned the message that popped up on-screen.

Latina magazine? Really?!

Considering I was inconsistent at best with my blog and my workouts had petered out considerably, I felt both awed and somewhat embarrassed. How could I possibly be included in a social media issue when I’d taken such a huge step back from this world?

I’m reminded of how I felt when I started training with Natalie a little over a year ago. I had just gotten over some of my gym fear by stepping out of my apartment and joining my brother on some runs. Natalie was a professional powerlifter and personal trainer with years of experience handling  heavy weights. I’d admired her from afar and I talked myself into giving it a shot. I figured I’d keep running and this would be a fun, new way to keep fit in the meantime.

The first two months of training were all about laying the foundation by building on my existing strength and layering on some of these new movements. I didn’t even touch a bar until several months of getting the basic movements down.

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I can still remember how challenging it was to practice RDLs with a pvc pipe, awkwardly mimicking Natalie’s movements and completely embarrassed by what all the gawkers were thinking of my horrible form.

Of course there were no gawkers. There was no one there to criticize me or point fingers the way I scared myself into thinking would happen. Fear is a tricky and powerful thing.

I spent years before I started training, questioning who I was by equating my self-worth with what I didn’t have. I wasn’t thin. I wasn’t “successful”. I wasn’t a leader or inspirational. I wasn’t enough.

The baby steps I took with powerlifting a year ago opened up doors that I never thought I’d get through without a battering ram and maybe another decade of hemming and hawing. I found an outlet that showed me unequivocally what I could do with a bit of effort, and more importantly, with faith in myself to get it done.

It inspires me to talk to other women who are out there kicking butt in their gyms, their living rooms, and their communities by illustrating the way exercise and healthy eating have transformed their lives.

Strength is beauty, in any context.

Reflecting on the last year of lifting highs and lows, I find myself still working on that foundation where I began. I may have traded in the pvc pipe for a weighted bar with plates but the work is still going on in my mind to get past the fears of what he might say or what she might think.

Battling back that fear in all my endeavors continues to be a major hurdle that trips me up sometimes. These days I’m choosing to focus on the rebound, because no matter how much my inner critic finds ways to hold me back, I always end up right where I need to be.

I stood there, in the aisle of a busy department store and allowed myself to hesitate for just a moment. I let the fear in and talk me in and out of a series of thoughts doubting who I was and all that I had accomplished a year after I started blogging and lifting. But only for a moment. And then I got back to the business of proving that I did in fact earn this, no matter where I was in my journey.

And here I am.

From healthy living to raising our kids to saving money, the thriving community of Latina bloggers is an ever-growing group that is not afraid to speak up about the issues that matter to us. In the February 2014 social media issue of Latina magazine, we featured some of our favorites–including our own Irina Gonzalez‘s punto on this virtual familia. Check out our full list of the 37 Latina bloggers that you should be following in 2014!
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“I’m a Girl” and the New Initiative to Boost Body Image Diversity

https://i2.wp.com/www1.nyc.gov/assets/home/images/press_release/2013/September/PR317-13.jpg
Photo courtesy of nyc.gov

When I first heard about Bloomberg’s latest public health campaign to help boost the self-esteem of girls bombarded with images of unfair beauty standards, I was both surprised and curious.

Despite Bloomberg’s polarizing stance on the soda ban and many other proposed plans to change the quality of life for New Yorkers, I am continually impressed with the diverse ways the mayor’s office is challenging many of the social norms that have repeatedly been harmful to both our emotional and physical well-being.

This makes my opinion pretty unpopular around the dinner table when politics comes up in discussions.

But I won’t apologize for being openly proud of the way our city government has made the attempt (albeit, not always successfully), to put messages out there that challenge the status quo.

In the “I’m a Girl; I’m Beautiful the Way I Am” campaign, various ads feature images of young girls from diverse backgrounds celebrating being exactly that; unique girls of different shapes and sizes who can be “creative, leaders, sporty, adventurous, smart and strong.”

In a recent NYTimes article analyzing the initiative, the goals of this campaign coupled with a program offering physical fitness classes to young girls are discussed;

Mainly through bus and subway ads, the campaign aims to reach girls from about 7 to 12 years old, who are at risk of negative body images that can lead to eating disorders, drinking, acting out sexually, suicide and bullying. But unlike Mr. Bloomberg’s ads to combat teenage pregnancy, smoking and soda-drinking, which are often ugly, revolting or sad, these ads are uniformly upbeat and positive.

There have been similar programs initiated by various organizations over the years that work with young women to transform their ideas about beauty standards in our society, however, New York City officials claim that this is the first attempt made by a major city to have the conversation on such a large platform.

It’s early yet and it’s difficult to measure the success of these advertisements in changing often difficult opinions about body image and beauty that are often engrained early on through environmental cues. Early testing, however, shows the response to these ads has been positive.

In a recent interview with Lean In, “I’m a Girl” campaign creator, Samantha Levine shared some of the reactions from focus groups:

We did focus groups with two groups of seven to nine-year-olds and two groups of 10-12-year-olds to see what would resonate. They loved it. Some girls said, “Wow, that makes me think that it’s okay to be dirty, not dress up all of the time, not wear makeup and go have fun and still be considered beautiful and still be confident in who I am.” That was really rewarding to see that it was resonating the way we wanted it to.

Unlike obesity or diabetes, body image dysmorphia and eating disorders are often undiagnosed or remain unreported, making a large-scale plan to change the trend difficult to coordinate, let alone implement.

How many of you have made a disparaging remark about your body or about other women’s bodies? How often do you compare yourselves to images you see around you? How many times has this played a role in your diet and how you approach food?

Whether we realize it or not, we often make associations between our bodies and our self-worth which can lead us down a dangerous path. I’ve been down that road myself and it’s something I continue to struggle with as an adult.

Another campaign targeting Latina women also recently launched under the name Girl Body Pride, by Latina magazine columnist, Pauline Campos. Her website provides an open forum where women can share their stories about body image, eating disorders, mental illness, and raising daughters with a healthier outlook about their bodies and appearance.

Girl Body Pride empowers women
Photo courtesy of Girl Body Pride

The significance of these new initiatives will have the greatest impact on minority communities that often overlook eating disorders and body image issues as being a ‘white girl’ problem, a bias that I’ve experienced firsthand and left me feeling confused for a long time.

I can’t help but wonder what my adolescence would have been like if these programs were available. I was lucky to have resources in college to help guide me through some of my more difficult years while also giving me an outlet to share that with others. And I can’t give enough credit to this blog for providing me with a space to continue working on my relationship with food and self-image.

My stance has always been to emphasize the importance of dialogue and balance. The efforts made by NYC officials to encourage positive body image on a city-wide level sends out the message that this is an issue affecting everyone, not just certain parts of the population.

Regardless of how effective these ads are at curbing eating disorders or promoting physical activity amongst younger girls, I believe that it’s a powerful statement to those who see these images each day. At the very least, it’s an alternative to the overwhelming deluge of images on our phones, tablets, and magazines that continually perpetuate unattainable beauty ideals.

What are your thoughts about the “I’m a Girl” campaign? Would you want to see this in your city or country?

Do you think women continue to spend too much time thinking about their appearance?

What do you think is the best way to boost body image for younger girls?

Please share your comments and/or stories below. I’d love to hear what you have to say!

Remember to keep paying it forward. Stay healthy! 🙂

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