A while back, I came across an article on orthorexia that upset me a great deal. The gist of it was that orthorexia is a myth created to make healthy eaters look crazy. Throughout the article, the author misconstrued the qualifications of true orthorexia and failed to grasp the severity of the symptoms that make it different from run-of-the-mill healthy eating. My initial response was to write my own article on the disease, but lately I’ve been feeling the need to get more in-depth with the entire subject of eating disorders.
To say that orthorexia, or any eating disorder, is a myth is to do a great disservice to people who suffer from very real, very dangerous diseases. Better-known eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia affect as many as 10 million women and 1 million men in the US alone¹. Factor in other disordered eating behaviors and the number jumps to 24 million². These diseases are real, they’re serious, and they can be deadly. They affect not only a person’s bodily health, but also his or her mental health, personal relationships, and ability to function in everyday life. And they are sadly misunderstood.
My goal with this and future posts in this series is to educate about these disorders both through statistical facts and personal experiences. I spend a lot of my time on this blog sharing pictures of food–as well I should, as it’s largely a food blog–and not much about what goes on when I’m not cooking up a storm. But before I became a foodie, I was an anorectic with bulimic tendencies.
It started innocently enough, as these things often do, with a legitimate attempt to lose a few extra pounds. I’ve never been overweight, per se, but I’ve been uncomfortable, and that’s what I was aiming to fix. I lost about eight pounds and felt better. Losing five more made me feel even better, and by the time I hauled myself out of denial, I’d lost 24 pounds and was addicted to laxatives. I was terrified of condiments, sweeteners, and any beverage that had calories. I wouldn’t taste things I was cooking or lick my fingers when I was baking because I was afraid of consuming extra calories. I wasn’t emaciated, but I was sick.
The scary thing is that there are a lot of people, women and men, walking around with the same problems I had, problems that society frequently condones. Everywhere we go, we’re fed conflicting messages of deprivation and excess. Advertisements try to get us to eat at certain restaurants or order certain dishes without regard for whether or not it’s a good choice. Magazine articles and TV diet “gurus” launch ever-changing campaigns against “evil” foods and flood the popular consciousness with new tips and tricks on how to lose all the weight that was gained by eating the food touted in advertisements. There is so much conflicting information out there about health, wellness, body image, and just about everything else relating to food that it can be dizzying at times.
None of this outright causes eating disorders, but it doesn’t help much, either. Eating disorders are complex diseases, and even the smallest trigger can push a person over the line. I don’t want to give the impression that eating disorders are all about food, because they’re not; but food is what these diseases revolve around. Whatever else is going on, it gets expressed in the way an eating disordered person relates to food and what they ultimately do to themselves as a result.
This is going to be a heavy series, so I don’t know how often I’ll add to it, but it’s something I think needs to be put out there.