This past week, people across the globe took to various social media platforms in order to highlight Eating Disorder Awareness Week (February 1st-7th 2016). Many campaigns shed light on the warning signs associated with the most common eating disorders: anorexia nervosa and bulimia. However, as a society we need to continually be educated on the complexity behind these illnesses.
Eating disorders may affect individuals in many different ways, however each shares a common trait: an unhealthy relationship with food and/or weight. With 1 in 3 Canadians admitting they wouldn’t be able to recognize the warning signs, the need to start acknowledging the eating disorders that no one talks about has become very clear.
In my own case, my eating disorder is recognized as Orthorexia. Currently, Orthorexia is not identified as a clinical diagnosis of a mental illness. Yet, it is becoming more and more prevalent in today’s society as many of us develop these “unhealthy obsessions” with healthy living.
Beginning as an innocent attempt to be health-conscious, I focused much of my energy into long distance running. For me, it was the perfect outlet for dealing with stress. With a background in professional ballet, the importance put on both physical appearance and weight management had been ingrained in me from a very young age. Thus, following a major depressive episode, I found myself fixated on food and this notion of “righteous eating.” Restricting my eating and limiting my portions allowed me to feel in control; a feeling that is often absent when suffering from depression. Mirrors and scales quickly became my worst enemy. When I looked in the mirror, I was never satisfied. Even though I may have been below the average weight for both my age and height, the body that stared back at me was far from thin.
In today’s society, the notion of a healthy diet and lifestyle has become fashionable. As a result, many of us are unable to recognize the warning signs in ourselves, nor in our loved ones. At the time, I viewed myself as ‘healthy.’ My daily exercise routine consisted of running a minimum of 10 km a day, with zero strength and conditioning training. The concept of a ‘rest-day’ seemed trivial as it would only set me back in my progress. Evidently those around me saw changes in my body weight and appearance. I was greeted with praise rather than warning, while others complimented me for maintaining such a healthy lifestyle. These compliments simply fueled my fire, I soon found these ‘healthy’ eating habits along with my increasing amounts of exercise beginning to dictate my life.
After more than half a year of this lifestyle, my body began to fail me. My bones and joints could no longer keep up with my excessive exercise habits due to a lack of nutrients and chronic over-training. Every time I ran, my body would fight back in pain, begging me to stop. Yet, I kept pushing until I found myself in the waiting room at a physiotherapy clinic unable to walk because the pain was so unbearable. I was given a recovery plan with exercises to strengthen and stretch my muscles. To my horror the first six months of this recovery plan entailed zero running. Initially, I struggled to follow my recovery regimen, but with help I began to accept that I had a problem: my obsession with my health had become my identity.
Healthy eating is good for us. Yet, by reflecting on my own story I have realized that the majority of us need to continue to educate each other on the possible extremes. It is important to recognize that anything done in extreme can be toxic to the human body.