November 27, 2012

I have an eating disorder.

About 25 years ago, I started suffering from World War III ransacking my gut.

It was not only incredibly painful, but also extremely embarrassing. As soon as I’d eat (or even mid-way through a meal), I’d get horrendously bloated, have excruciating pain and have no idea what the culprit was.

Often times, whatever bomb that was exploding in my gut was so humiliating and painful I was afraid to do ‘normal things’ like go out to dinner with friends or head out to parties that as a college student, I should have been attending.

Instead, I’d stay home and lay in bed in fear of having to deal, yet again with a massive explosion.

At the time, my diet consisted of the usual college staples: cereal, pizza, chips, donuts and alcohol. None of us had any money. The cafeteria scene sucked. And to be honest, none of us knew any better; we were living in an age of faster is better, so why not buy fast food?

There did come a point, upon graduation, that I just couldn’t take it anymore.

The doctors’ visits had become endless and futile—the only information I continued to come home with was that I was lactose intolerant and I had an irritable bowel. So much for the pizza and fried food; I was going to have to come up with a better solution for my diet.

Even though I did cut dairy and fried food from my diet, my intestinal problems continued. I sought out homeopathic and ayurvedic doctors whose mission was to heal me from the inside out, eliminating all the foods that were causing inflammation in my bowel.

I went back to school to receive a degree in Integrative Nutrition so that I could learn more about my condition and eventually have the knowledge to make my own choices that supported my health and well being.

The elimination process continued.

Alcohol, coffee and sugar were amongst the first to go. I also stopped eating gluten, beans, corn, any genetically modified soy product, most legumes, many nuts and most grains. The easiest diet for me to follow was a raw, vegan one with some warmer foods in the colder months.

Everyone around me, even my own family, thought I was obsessive. Obsessive because I had become health conscious? Obsessive because I was focusing on healthy foods I spent time to prepare myself that nourished me, healed me and ended the root of all of my suffering?

It’s a tough call; I’m not sure I know the answer. I do refuse to eat in most restaurants, prepare 90% of my own food and carry what I need when I travel. I have to give myself an extra 15 minute leeway heading through security in the airport so all of my “pastes” can be tested for bombs. You’ll never catch me in a Safeway, Ralph’s or Publix, except to purchase toilet paper and other household items. If I ever have to walk into a public “supermarket,” for food, I feel like I may have an anxiety attack.

And, of course, in most social situations, I am made to feel like an outcast.

When I am invited out, friends and family go to the trouble of serving fruit and vegetables they claim are especially for me, and proudly show off the gluten-free alternatives they were cooking with.

All I can think about is the factory-farmed meats that are still on their tables, the hormone-laden dairy they have absolutely no clue about, the possibility that all of the fruits and veggies are conventional and non-organic and the probability of sugar and genetically modified soy being added to everything.

It can be a nightmare if I continue to obsess over it, but is it really taking over my life?

Right before Thanksgiving, I stumbled upon an article about a not so new, but not very well known eating disorder called Orthorexia. Steven Bratman, M.D. coined the term in a 1997 essay for Yoga Journal, in which he described the disorder as a “fixation on eating proper food.”

Bratman, who himself had a food fixation while living on a commune in upstate New York, chose the prefix “ortho”—which in Greek means straight, correct, true—to reflect the obsession with maintaining a perfect diet.

When I first read about it, I almost couldn’t believe it.

Eating too healthy? And that is a problem? Who is classifying eating well as a disorder—the meat and dairy industry that is basically sleeping with our government? I was mortified.

At first glance, it did seem as though its description completely reflected my stance on a perfect diet. And it continues to be my wish that more and more people would wake up and exercise a little more self control, after they discover the toxicity of most of the foods in their diets, the consequences of not eating organic and the hidden poisons disguised in ingredients they can’t even pronounce.

Becoming more health conscious is not just a growing fad for some people like me, it is a matter of do or die when, we’ve been so afflicted with pain and even more serious issues or diseases like hyperthyroid, hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes and even cancer.

But then I read further.

Orthorexia, although not an official diagnosis, seems to include elements of other disorders such as anorexia and obsessive-compulsive disorder. So yes, it can be a serious problem. And, it may not help that orthorexias can receive positive feedback for behavior that can appear healthy.

The key difference between orthorexia and simply following a strict diet, is that orthorexia causes major distress to to others and interferes with every day life.

Orthorexics have sworn off most food groups, all conventionally grown food and because of this, may even tend to grow a lot of their own food. Due to major eliminations in their diets, it is possible they could end up losing a lot of weight as well.

Today, after a complete overhaul in my diet, I feel alive and beaming with energy.

I wake up when the sun comes up ready to go and maintain a steadiness all day long; I have to put myself to bed at night when before, I’d feel exhausted and exasperated by dinnertime. I’m eating foods that nourish me, give me strength and give me power. I feel like my digestive problems are completely under control. I’m not making choices out of self-deprivation or because I have a distorted, negative self-image.

I’m making well-educated choices that have obviously healed my gut.

No one can tell you what you should or shouldn’t eat. Only you can make that decision by pausing, feeling the way that food affects your body, your moods, your attitude and your energy.

Once you do, you will be able to reflect upon your choices and decide whether those choices serve you. I am proud of my choices and the only disorder I think I have is the disorder of even contemplating eating something that I know won’t agree with me.


Ed: Bryonie Wise

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