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