Overcoming Orthorexia – Moving On
My last blog post on orthorexia focused on when and how I took steps to pursue recovery from restrictive eating (you can catch up on Part 1 here and Part 2 here).This last post in the series will tell you a little about what my life looks like now, and answer some of the questions you probably have about my current eating and exercise habits.
Let me start by stating – I’m not perfect. I don’t profess to have completely conquered all negative thoughts toward myself – that would be superhuman! BUT I am bigger, stronger and more powerful than orthorexia.
Eating and Exercising Now
Quite a few people have asked me about my eating and exercise habits “post-orthorexia”.
I am confident I eat a pretty nutritious array of foods. Yes, I still mostly like to enjoy what you’d term “healthy food”. But my understanding of what’s “healthy” has grown so positively, it’s a far cry from my previous rigid routine. I believe healthy includes lots of fresh produce, protein, and good fats, but also gelato and regular Friday night takeaway (currently I’m partial to pho, as it’s so cold outside!). It’s clichéd, but healthy involves balance, and REAL LIFE i.e. things like going out for meals, travelling, not having time (or not wanting) to make my own food sometimes.
Do I follow any kind of dietary pattern? No. I’m not paleo, vegan or vegetarian, low-carb, high-fat…anything. I make paleo salmon but I’ll have oats the next day. Wouldn’t turn down a vegan buddha bowl but I’ll also happily have a steak and a cheese board. I do think it’s possible to eat a balanced diet and eat a particular way, if you prefer to do so. Personally I’m just following a broad, “whole foods” approach to eating and enjoying that. (I do eat gluten free about 95% of the time, but that’s for digestive reasons).
If I had to summarise my approach to eating now:
- I focus on eating a variety of foods, eating lots of different colours and food groups each day;
- I focus on eating unprocessed food, reducing my use of packaged or pre-made things where reasonable; and
- I don’t count calories. I have an awareness of my energy needs and aim to make sure I’m meeting them with sufficient food, making sure I get in protein, fats and carbohydrates each day. I don’t worry whether I eat three square meals or if I have snacks along the way.
As for exercise, I’ve got a couple of favourite things I like to do. I’m currently part-time managing Xtend Barre London, so as you would imagine I take a few barre classes there each week, say two to four. I’m no dancer but I have fun and love the atmosphere of the classes. Aside from barre I go for walks and get to yoga once a week if I can.
I’ve given up running long distance and doing anything intense outside of barre classes for the time being. Maybe one day I’ll take up something different but right now I’m happy. And more importantly I’m conscious of my attitude toward exercise; because of my history I aim to be careful in choosing activities I enjoy. I’m sure I’m moving my body enough to stay fit and active!
Thinking about Orthorexia
While I do feel like I’m in a good place now, not every day is a stellar day, and we don’t just magically forget things. Do I still question myself and worry about food and exercise? Of course I do, sometimes.
When I first started studying nutrition, I questioned myself A LOT. I wondered whether I really should be studying because I feared it would drive me to restriction again. I questioned my passion too – was it real or did I just want to control food more? I felt a bit lost at first, but as time has gone on I’ve come to trust that I do truly love what I am pursuing, and it’s not a control mechanism. Actually I eat more stereotypically “naughty” things now I’m studying nutrition but again, this is about REAL LIFE and BALANCE! Though I love, love studying nutrition, I think it’s been good for me to have had to pursue it part time (as I’m also continuing working as a lawyer). I’ve had time to find greater confidence with food and really trust myself.
Now I’m coming closer to the end of my studies, I believe I’m in a position to enable others to make positive, sensible choices about food, as it suits their personal circumstances. Some of the people I work with will struggle with restriction like myself, but others will be dealing with completely different issues. I am ready to be there for someone else and listen to what they need.
Aside from the impact on my studies, yes I do still have flashbacks to “orthorexic thoughts” more generally. But moving on from orthorexia means loving and trusting myself enough to recognise negative thought patterns and know I’ll be okay – more than okay – if I ignore that voice. When I was first getting better, I’d sit and reason things out with myself. What was the likelihood that I’d actually become much less healthy if I missed the gym? Did this make me a bad person? It might sound silly, but you gotta start somewhere! These days, I find it easier to give these thoughts the shove. I know on the whole, I’m eating nutritious food and I’m doing exercise. It not 100% of the time; but heck life’s more fulsome and enjoyable this way.
A few months ago I was out to dinner (a delicious Greek restaurant, to be exact), talking about these issues with my other half. I queried whether he thought I’d sufficiently “gotten over it”. Quite unexpectedly, that night I think he summarised how things are now so perfectly, that I wrote it down and I’m sharing it with you.
No one if ever fully over it. There are no ten commandments to this. All anyone wants to do is just be who they are and be happy with it. This is you. And now you do more of what you want and not what you think you should do. You can relax and be happy. Things don’t leave you completely but that’s okay; you don’t let it get the better of you now.
I can’t think of a better way to round out this blog post on overcoming orthorexia than with that!
I hope that by sharing my blog posts on overcoming orthorexia, you have a better understanding of what a restrictive mindset toward food and exercise might feel like. Or I hope it might have given you some comfort, or even encouraged you to take action, if you’re having similar thoughts. If you still have any questions for me on this or you’d like to share your thoughts, please leave a comment! I’d love to hear from you.
Did you miss the earlier posts?
- Part 1 Overcoming Orthorexia – the beginnings
- Part 2 Overcoming Orthorexia – realisation and recovery
p.s. Next year I’d like to branch out past my writing on orthorexia and talk about more nutrition topics. If you have any suggestions or requests please let me know those, too!
**Image credits for the photos appearing in this post: Hayley Richardson, hayleyfrancesphotography.com
When recovering from orthorexia, is it okay to want to eat lots of highly palatable processed foods, and be very very hungry? I know it’s been a long time since you wrote this post but I am just now beginning recovery. Did you just start eating the way you do now?
Hi Paige, I can give you a general answer but if you need support I’d strongly suggest seeking individual advice so the professional giving the advice can get to know your history etc. However, generally speaking yes, it’s absolutely okay to desire any kind of food and to honour your hunger, even if that seems “out of control” when you start recovery. It’s actually pretty normal for disordered eating recovery. If you are able to just eat what you want without restriction then that’s actually an excellent step to take! 🙂
I do offer one-on-one nutrition consults if you need more detailed support.
All the best,
Your blogs have been extremely inspiring. As someone who has been suffering with anorexia for 5 years, and exercise obsession, your story really resonated with me.
You are so strong to have overcome this debilitating illness. I know you will positively impact many people as you become a nutritionist.
I would love to hear more about how you challenged the Orthorexia thoughts and tips on overcoming them.
Thanks so much for sharing your story!
Hi Shani, thank you so much for your lovely message. It means a lot to me and provides me with real motivation and encouragement to continue my studies, it really really does.
It sounds a little silly but the best way I found of challenging the orthorexia thoughts was to ask myself constantly “what’s the worst thing that could happen” every time I needed to make a decision to break free of my orthorexia routine. For example if I was trying to talk myself out of going to the gym I would just ask myself what is going to happen if I don’t go to the gym? And when I forced myself to think about it, and realised how silly I was to worry about the consequences of not going to the gym… I was able to break free of my routine. But it took ages and it didn’t work every time. I also used to just sit and ask myself if I was really happy the way I was. Seeing a psychologist for assistance with anxiety disorder was really really helpful too. And yoga!!! Gentle yoga. Love it. Wishing you all the best 🙂
Andrea M. medina
Hi, I just realized I have been dealing with Orthorexia for many years now. I just never heard of the term and became really skillful at justifying why I did what I was doing. But eventually my partner just confront me with the fact and helped me see clearly I was dealing with and actual thing that had a name.
I have a strong desire to break free from this and was lost regarding where to even start… your post was really helpful. Do you coach people trough the healing process? Do you feel one can deal with it with just will?
Hi Andrea, I’m so sorry for the delay in replying to you, I’ve been so caught up being a new mum my blog has been a bit neglected. I’m so proud to hear you are taking steps to change your behaviour and have identified that it is a problem for you. That is the most important step to take! I don’t coach people through the process right now, however I intend to do so once I finish my qualification as a nutritionist at the end of this year. I believe you can overcome this 🙂 Personally I found seeing a psychologist really helpful. xo
Reading your posts have helped, but I’m still scared. I’m scared of the anxiety, the lack of control and the possibility of developing some illness. I went from healthy eating with some episodes of pizza or crap binge eating, to Pescetarianism with binges on unhealthy foods, to Keto now (because it’s supposed to help with ADHD and prevention of Alzheimer’s). The excuses are endless to keep it going, but I’ve found that I obsess with every meal and worry about too many carbs or the quality. I also spend a lot of time measuring and logging my foods. Then if I screw up or am out with family or friends and go over my carb limit then it’s an avalanche of no holds bar carb/ garbage eating. I’ve tried to loosen up with having some carb refeeding days for workouts but I still worry about the quality and what’s in everything, and the next day I always worry that maybe I didn’t need to do that, or I ate too much. I’m just not happy with the all or nothing, and wish that I could get back to just eating healthy and having some ice cream or pizza every once and awhile. How long did it take to stop feeling guilty about eating something “bad”? Also what was the first step you took? Stop measuring or just incorporating new foods like you mentioned in your posts.
Hi Kris, I am sorry to hear you are experiencing such a difficult time. I have been there; I have felt the fear and the anxiety about changing things, and that “all or nothing” attitude that today’s modern diet culture really kind of encourages us to feel – I think to a degree everyone is manipulated by this dangerous way of thinking. Moderation and variety are healthful and to be valued yet they’re just not promoted the same way. The first step I really took was just to go out and try something new, though I did actively try to ditch measuring things as early on as possible too. The way it seemed to work for me was, I’d try something new and most of the time it would actually turn out fine and I’d handle it well. Occasionally I didn’t, and I would have my crutch of measuring things to fall back on for a day or two, then I’d attempt something new again. It can be two steps forward, one step back, and that’s totally okay. What matters is that you are self-aware and you are trying. That’s amazing. I would really recommend getting some psychological support too, if you feel like you need someone to run through this with.
Thank you very much for such an inspirational article. I was able to relate to every single detail of it and the examples you gave. I actually shared it with my close ones. I was so happy to know that i started being on the right track (started almost two weeks ago actually) so wish me luck !! 🙂
I wish you the very best of luck 🙂 Thank you for leaving me such a lovely comment, it means a lot to me that people find this article and read it. xo
Thank you so much for your openness in talking about this subject. I feel I am at a turning point, I know I over exercise and under eat, I know a lot of things, at the moment I just don’t know how to change. I think taking a (forced) break over the holiday has helped but I also know I have a long way to go … and being the type A personality that I am I don’t relish the thought of not being able to change immediately.
So much of what you have said has rung true for me and it is comforting to know that I am not alone. So thank you again.
Dear Anna, thank you for your honesty and for being brave enough to share your thoughts in a comment; it means a lot to me that people are reading these blog posts and feeling a connection. I very much understand how hard it can be to mentally shift away from that lifestyle, I am thinking of you and hoping that you are able to feel more free, little by little. Don’t be shy in seeking help! I loved seeing my counsellor, she was so supportive and generally awesome. Wishing you all the best x
Thank you for this series of posts. I’ve honestly found them really helpful and so aligned with my thoughts at the moment. I too have battled with orthorexia (and anorexia) but am will on my journey to recovery. It’s hard admitting that every day is 100% okay, but actually that’s what life is all about. No matter who we are, or what we have been through, life is never going to be perfect. Your post inspires me that it’s ok to eat ‘less healthily’ some of the time, with a balance to both sides being key. Like you, I truly believe that labels are not the way to life. It’s taken me a while, but slowly I’ve learn to listen to my body and do what is best for me. Wishing you all the very for 2017. May it be a year filled with happiness for you 🙂 H xx
Dear Hannah, thank you so very much for this beautiful, thoughtful comment. I’m so glad you have found the posts helpful; that makes me feel amazing. It’s so hard pulling yourself away from the mindset that consuming “less healthy” foods is somehow wrong or means you’re having a “bad day” – rather, life is just life, filled with so many varied, fulfilling experiences, including all sorts of foods! I’m pleased to hear you’re a ‘no labels’ girl like me too 🙂 Wishing you a very Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year too, please do stay in touch! x