Despite how it may seem, orthorexia is much more than a concern for – or awareness of – the nutritional content of food.
Eating disorders manifest in different ways; they are unique to the individual and anyone can develop one. This means that there is no right or wrong way to have orthorexia, and you may not “tick all the boxes” of the diagnosis.
If you are living with orthorexia (or think that you could be), here are 4 things to hold in mind as you navigate your relationship to food.
1) Food doesn’t have a moral value
Like with other eating disorders, people with orthorexia often categorise food as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, or ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’. Seeing things in a polarity gives us a sense of certainty and predictability in our lives, when otherwise we may feel out of control or anxious in the midst of uncertainty.
But food is not “good” nor “bad”. It simply is. Crucially, the moral values assigned to food can extend to define the individual who is eating it, e.g. “I am bad” or “I am good.” So much so, our entire self-worth and self-esteem becomes dependent upon what we have or haven’t eaten that day.
Shifting away from a polarised view on food can be extremely challenging when so many of us have grown up within a diet culture that profits from and expounds this narrative on food.
2) Don’t trade your creativity and spontaneity for rigidity
In recovery, there’s a fine balance between creating a routine and structure around food, whilst allowing a flexibility that responds to our natural hunger and our intuitive cravings around food.
Similar to above, rigidity with food gives us a sense of control over our lives (and possibly the people around us), but it also takes away spontaneity and creativity when it comes to eating, and especially social eating.
With an eating disorder, our lives can become exceptionally narrow as our habits and activities are defined by our preoccupation with food. But your life is so much bigger than this. As the saying goes, don’t shrink your life to shrink your body.
3) Trust your intuition
It can be difficult to recognise a disordered relationship to food when eating “healthily” or “clean” is often celebrated and rewarded by society.
There might be a part of you that knows something is not quite right about your relationship to food and eating. This intuition is something to listen to and to trust. You can always send an enquiry to learn more whilst taking it step by step at your pace.
4) Orthorexia is exhausting, meet yourself with compassion
Eating disorders like orthorexia take so much mental and physical energy. It is exhausting. Sometimes the most exhausting part comes from sitting in that place of conflict: that place of knowing something’s not quite right, but also not knowing if you want to – or can – change or challenge those ingrained behaviours.
In these moments, simply pause and recognise the inner conflict and challenge. Sometimes all we can do in a certain situation is to take a moment for kindness.
Crucially, kindness doesn’t have to be earned. You are deserving of it every single day.
5. Remember, orthorexia is not about food
Controlling food by categorising it, or denying yourself particular food groups, serves to give you a false sense of safety and security over your life. Effectively, it’s a really creative coping mechanism (albeit maladaptive) that develops in the midst of challenge with an intention to ‘protect’ you and keep you going.
In this sense, whilst it is about food – it’s also not about food. It’s about so much more – and this is what we explore in treatment together.
If this mirrors your experience, recognise that there is a part of you that is working really hard to feel safe and comfortable with life.
Acknowledge that you are on a journey. You are always learning about yourself. Simply take it one step at a time.