Can Clean Eating Become Unhealthy? Orthorexia: a True Testimonial

I have had the opportunity to research and prepare an article on Orthorexia Nervosa, an undiagnosed eating disorder where healthy eating is taken to an unhealthy extreme. Have you ever wondered if clean eating can become obsessive or unhealthy? Unfortunately, it can and not because it's a food issue but a psychological condition where an unrealistic view of food is adopted.

After sharing the article on Facebook, I received an outpouring of emails from people struggling with the disorder or tendencies to the behavior. I was deeply moved with the many thanks for addressing the issue and providing awareness of the Orthorexia condition.

There was also quite a bit of backlash and reference to Orthorexia being 'bullshit' and just another money making for the doctors. Many came to the defense of clean eating as if this lifestyle was receiving a bad rap. I consider myself a clean eater but there's a difference in healthy eating and healthy obsessive eating. When our eating focus becomes so extreme it negatively impacts our life, this becomes a problem.

"Orthorexia is a mental health issue, not a clean eating issue, although sparked by "pure" foods.  It is an issue that requires us to look past the food and into the mind of a struggling person."

I want to introduce you to a woman suffering from Orthorexia and who has offered to share her story with privacy conditions. I have agreed to do so in order to bring awareness to the disorder and in an effort to reach others who may be struggling. Her story is authentic and her struggle is real:

I really appreciate your article on orthorexia. I have those tendencies, but not sure if I fall into the orthorexia category or anorexia category. I am 50 years old and mother of two children. I have a degree in advertising and passionate about the health and fitness field. I do most of my work from home so I can spend time with my kids.

For the last 25 years, I have worked out faithfully and followed a relatively healthy diet. When I turned 38, however, things seemed to fall apart. I began having joint problems, severe acne, and increased thyroid problems. After some research, I eliminated gluten and found relief in my joints, but not my skin. After further research, I found the paleo diet. It helped somewhat with the thyroid issues. I now eat a diet free of all grains/soy/beans/sugar/potatoes and most dairy.

Basically, I eat eggs, meat, veggies, fruit, nuts, and fats. I tried the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) to clear my acne but it did not produce the desired results. My acne is worse and I lost about 15 pounds (I am below 100 pounds and am 5'1" tall). I am not quite sure how to pull myself out of this one but I am trying to. 

After "eating clean" for so long, it's a bit hard to add things back so that I can regain the much-needed weight. My weakness is anything chocolate, peanut butter and/or ice cream. It is hard, but sometimes I have to give myself permission to indulge. I still have to work on the guilt afterward. But baby steps...

I'm currently seeing a naturopath for my under active thyroid. He has been a Godsend. He is aware of my anorexia tendencies and intercepted what could have been a much more serious situation than I am in right now. He accepted me as a patient in the middle of a tailspin. The medical doctor I had been using for years decided to make a huge adjustment in my thyroid medication. The end results were not what he expected and told me to see a specialist.

I chose to find a naturopath instead. He is wonderful. But sometimes, it's hard to stop the tailspin mid tailspin. I have dealt with anorexia since I was 18 years old. That is a whole other story I hope to share someday in hopes of helping those in the same situation. 

In the past, I just starved myself but this time is different. I am eating but eating so cleanly and never deviating--until recently. Anorexia restricts food plain and simple, no explanation needed when I refused food. This time it feels like life is restricted. 

How do you try and explain that I only eat 'good-for-me' food and not that? I am not saying that eating healthily is a bad thing but there needs to be a balance. Of course, if you have sensitivities, then stay clear of the trigger foods. I have, through all this, found some sensitivities (gluten and soy) and I avoid them to the best of my ability. 

But relaxing and enjoying a not-so-good-for-you treat is still a struggle. I somehow feel like a failure when I give in to unclean foods. Shouldn't the important thing be that I'm enjoying a rare treat with my children? Believe me, they have noticed I no longer share in the special times. What kind of example am I setting for them?  I don't want them to think that it's all or nothing. They eat pretty healthily. They now eat more fruits and vegetables and much less processed foods.

Beyond that, I am so uncomfortable in my own body because I finally was able to see how thin I was thanks to my husband hurting my feelings. I thank God he was just plain honest even though it hurt.  My acne is embarrassing as well. I never thought that I would be fighting acne at my age even with all the positives changes that I have made. It's worse now than when I was in my teens.  

Darla, thank you for addressing this issue and giving me awareness. I hope to get myself back. My dream is just to be healthy and be able to help others suffering like I do. If you feel that my story can help someone, then please use it. I feel like we all go through things for a reason. If my story would bring awareness, I would feel blessed! 

An Orthorexia Sufferer

If you have not had the opportunity to read my article on Orthorexia, take a few moments to become aware of an issue that is more problematic than realized.

I am thankful to this beautiful woman who reached out completely vulnerable sharing her life and struggles with orthorexic tendencies. I pray for her recovery and I hope her story touched you as it did me.

Orthorexia is definitely a real issue and bringing this undiagnosed disorder to the forefront is timely. Awareness of the condition is important so that we may be able to help those who are struggling. At the very least, understand the mentality of someone suffering from Orthorexia.  

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