“One of my saddest memories of my whole journey included eating an apple after the program and laying on my bathroom floor crying from the guilt”
Say hello to Sarah. She’s here to share with you her very personal story of taking healthy eating to the extreme.
Crying after eating an apple may seem strange to you, but sadly, it’s becoming common.
I’m sure by now you have probably heard of Orthorexia – the unhealthy obsession with eating healthy food. It’s different from just living a healthy life. People who suffer from orthorexia often cut out many food groups and nutrients unnecessarily in the endless pursuit of clean living. This rigid quest for optimal health typically has many food ‘rules’and can have serious health effects, often leaving sufferers with nutrient deficiencies and malnutrition due to restrictive eating. Their food philosophy is driven by fears around food, which can cause stress and anxiety, depression and lead to social isolation.
The consequences of healthy eating obsessions impact all areas of health and can be long lasting. I consider restrictive type eating behaviour as serious as eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia.
For this reason I have asked Sarah to share her story to increase awareness of this condition.
Thanks for sharing your experience with us. Looking back , do you recognise a point when your quest to perfect health started?
My downslide into restricted eating and being rigid, critical and obsessed with ‘extreme’ healthy eating started when I was battling a stressful time in my life. Specifically my career wasn’t serving me, leaving me feeling deflated and anxious. I felt lost, out of control and angry with myself for how my life seemed to be unfolding.
To control the feelings that had me ‘so out of control’ I sought comfort, control and certainty (and stress release) by (over) exercising each night for up to an hour and a half and jumping on a combination of potentially dangerous diets: vegan, gluten free, sugar free and raw food.
How did the quest for ultimate health impact your life in general?
It’s probably no surprise to hear that my period stopped one day and didn’t return for around 11 months. This was the point where I knew, deep down that I was starting to play with fire. A toxic mix of weight loss, over exercising, stress and food restriction was starting to wreck havoc on parts of my body that meant so much to me. It took a lot of courage to see a GP who was able to read in between the lines and delicately handle my situation.
How did the quest for ultimate health impact your social life?
Restricted eating is exhausting- for everyone involved- yet it took me a long time to truly admit I had a problem. I could see relationships with my friends and even my partner (at times) wearing thin, because I would:
Scrutinise food: I had to know what was in the food (even down to whether they used organic ingredients)
Often request a special meal be made to cater for my multiple dietary requirements
Where I controlled where we went for dinner, often denying people a choice and a say
Where I would rather eat before a dinner and sit at the table without eating, rather than eat perfectly good healthy food (yet it didn’t live up to my strict expectations).
Additionally all I could think about was food. It was all I talked about and concerned (worried) myself with. I couldn’t go to a friend’s house without worrying what lunch options we would have. And I couldn’t bare the thought of a friend cooking dinner because I didn’t have control over what ingredients were being used. I couldn’t even eat a piece of fruit without wanting to cry.
It is safe to say I wasn’t that much fun to be around and I know that some of my friendships took a back seat while people were left in the position of watching whatever was to unfold for me take its course. I appreciate how hard this was for them to do, but at the time I was inseparable with my obsession for extremely healthy eating.
When you were eating extremely healthily how would you rate your health? Did you experience any problems?
Apart from the above, I suffered a period of severe adult acne which lasted for around 5 months and left some scaring which I am managing to reduce bit by bit to this day. I felt the dichotomy of lost, yet ‘found’ with my new obsession ‘guiding’ and supporting me. Of all things to control in my life I knew I could only control myself, and that kept me dangerously unwell for over 12 months.
How did it affect your mind, your thoughts?
I felt like a mess- day in and day out- yet I was far too scared to face a life without control being at the forefront.
I felt as if even if I wanted to eat a normal diet, I had no idea what this meant or looked like. With all the reading I did and keeping my finger at the pulse for the latest blog posts some of my ‘clean eating’ gurus were posting I became more confused than ever. Low fat vs full fat, fruit vs no fruit, whole grains vs paleo. It was easier to stay in my comfort zone of doing what I was doing despite knowing it really wasn’t serving me.
When you were experiencing this, from who/where did you source the information about nutrition which guided the way you ate?
At the time I was a devout reader of I Quit Sugar, Oh She Glows (though I soon judged many of these recipes as ‘fructose’ bombs and instead admired her pictures), My New Roots. The most influential blog for me was definitely I Quit Sugar. As soon as I quit sugar released their first program I signed up and one of my saddest memories of my whole journey included eating an apple after the program and laying on my bathroom floor crying from the guilt. It almost brings me to tears thinking about how lonely and sad I was.
Do you think social media plays a role in prompting the quest for perfect health?
Social media is scary for many reasons when it comes to health, wellness and body image. It’s highly visual which means it captures our attention quickly and effectively. It’s readily accessible. It gives you fast answers and inspiration. These are ingredients for an addictive platform.
Social media traps us into thinking that these women we ‘admire’ sporting sleek limbs, toned stomachs and trim thighs are what is typical, healthy and beautiful- and that we ought to get ourselves some of that too if we want to be successful, loved and admired. And if that’s not scary enough, interacting with these women for advice, information sharing and connection is just so easy. A click of a button.
Did friends or family recognise that your eating had become restricted? If so, did they bring this issue up at all?
Bless my friends and my partner. It must have been hard for them to mention they were concerned. But they did and while it was like listening to nails shrieking down a blackboard (I hate that sound), I carried with me (for a long time) this underlying belief that I was thin and on a path to possible destruction- yet- the agony of releasing this control was just too difficult.
How did you recognise this had become a problem and what did you decide to do about it?
After not getting my period for over 6 months post ceasing the pill I saw a GP who completed many tests and then referred me for an ultra sound, which concluded I had PCOS. I also decided to see a naturopath and a nutritionist who I saw for many months and with whom I felt supported and who completely understood what I was experiencing.
Once my health was restored (and my period lovingly returned and has returned consistently!) I decided to see a life coach to work on the underlying reasons why I resorted to food as a form of control.
I now have something beautiful to share through my own website, Practise Glow, about my journey and am delighted to whole heartedly support and be of service to other beautiful women who struggle to see their worth, value and brilliance through the mess that is restrictive eating.
How has the way you eat now changed?
How I eat today is a complete reverse of how I once ate. I eat food that deeply nourishes me because I listen to my body- and trust it knows what I need (be it a little something sweet). In the process of learning to eat with greater self compassion and self love, I un-learned everything I knew about dietary guidelines (lovingly) and started to eat in a way that served me and my unique body. While every meal is as nourishing as possible I certainly am not afraid to eat food that is the best choice possible at that given moment. I proudly eat fruit (I can happily eat and apple now without crying), I don’t fear fructose and if I eat something not so ideal I do it with a grin, full of enjoyment and I savour the (rare) moment.
As someone who has experienced this, what advice would you give people if they were going through something similar?
- Lean into your fear and question it. Have a play around and see what is lurking underneath. What is holding you hostage/ keeping you from freeing yourself? How much freedom is this costing you? What is keeping your from moving forward? What do you most want in your life? What will motivate you to move forward? What would a self-loving person do? If you knew what to do, what would you do/ what would it look like?
- Start to envisage how you truly want your life to look and importantly ‘feel’. When you get honest with yourself this pain your experiencing is likely not how you want your years, decades to continue looking. I found great motivation in creating a vision board where I collected images that resonated with a feeling of ‘self love, radiance and nourished’.
- Consider your options for support. Look around for support because the options are endless. There is certainly support for every brave and beautiful woman struggling to feel heard, connected, and self-loving. I hand on heart think it is absolutely necessary to see someone who specialises in treating people with eating related issues for a good nutritional check up. And ongoing support around how to intuitively eat for your nourishment.
- Buddy up with a great, loving self-care routine. There is one thing for sure that is vital. Start to love yourself (deeply and truly) and watch your world fall into a better place. Write a list of activities, outings, things that light you up and make it a habit to do a few of these a day. Be it a coconut oil body massage, a swim in the ocean, unwinding on your yoga mat or catching that early bed time- do more of what makes you happy.
- Ground yourself and your mind by turning down the internal noise and likely chatter with meditation, deep breathing and/ or journaling. I found even 5-10 minutes of conscious ‘quiet time’ helped to ease the stress and help to ground my thoughts and feelings. A quick brain dump onto a blank journal page quickly cleared a whole lot of tension which really supported little sparks of feeling brighter and happier (all of which helped to support me to move forward when the time came to take the leap!).
If you or someone you know has a similar story to Sarah’s, visit your GP where you can be referred to a psychologist, counselor or dietitian.
You aren’t alone, there are people out there who are trained to help, and genuinely interested in helping you find a balanced approach to eating.
You can also call the Butterfly Foundation
- Call 1800 ED HOPE / 1800 33 4673
- Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Head on over and take a peek at Sarah’s wonderful website with delicious recipes wonderful body image articles
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The Nutrition Guru is a university qualified Nutritionist, keen cook and new mum. She cares passionately about advocating for holistic health and providing credible and up to date nutrition information in order for people to make their own educated decision about nutrition.