Orthorexia: How Clean Eating Ruined My Life

Two years ago on his birthday, my father suffered a heart attack. He thankfully survived and began his recovery journey with confidence and determination. Part of this recovery included a complete change in diet, and to show my support I took on the challenge with him. For the last two years, I have been participating in ‘clean eating’ and it has changed my life. So much so that I am writing this the day after I came home from a stay in the hospital.

Beginning a healthy lifestyle was one of the hardest things I ever did in my life. But I stuck with it and was so proud of myself for doing so. The better I ate, the better I felt. Instead of being addicted to junk food, I became addicted to healthy food and feeling good about myself. Of all the things a person can become addicted to, feeling good about oneself is a pretty good option. Right? That’s what I used to think. Now I know that an addiction is an addiction no matter how it’s dressed up. Clean eating started out very innocent with me. I only wanted to support my Dad and live a healthier life. The more I practiced clean eating, though, the more obsessed with it I became. The way I felt about myself slowly started to become dependent on what food I ate in a day, and I started to develop a very strict way of eating. Eating healthy wasn’t a choice anymore. It was a necessity. Eight months ago, I ate one Reese’s peanut butter cup in a moment of weakness and felt terrible about it. I felt so ashamed that I contemplated suicide. Even though I clearly did not go through with that, I still decided that I needed to be punished. If I eat badly then I am bad, and bad people deserve punishment. That was the night that I started harming myself. This became a cycle: clean eating, minor slip up, punishment, repeat.

My Dad’s birthday was earlier this week, and my Mom invited the whole family to the house for a celebratory potluck. The entire drive there I was doing everything in my power to keep myself from having a full-blown anxiety attack. Now, as far as group dinner go, potluck is probably the best style for somebody like me. There are plenty of options for me to still eat clean; especially since I bring at least 3 different dishes with me. What I feared were the two things that my family knows I can’t resist: ice cream cake and red wine. Knowing my family, I would be talked into having at least one of those options. So, I made it through dinner fine, skipped out on the cake because I was “just so full from dinner still”, and things were looking great. Then my sister brought out a glass of wine handed it to me and informed me that she had made it herself so I just had to try it. It was good. So good that I had three more glasses. This lead me to possibly one of the biggest mental breaking points I have ever had. My Mom found me a few hours later in the bathroom with blood on the floor from one of my punishments. She took me to the hospital where I spent three days being evaluated, questioned, and finally released after agreeing to see a therapist and a dietician on a regular basis.

Healthy eating is fantastic. Active living is also highly beneficial. But there really is such a thing as too healthy. I took it to a level of extreme that should never have been reached. I took it to the level of orthorexia.  The scary part is that on the surface, everything looked fine. I just looked like a normal girl who lived a “healthy” lifestyle. But on the inside, I was falling apart. Now it’s my turn on the road to recovery.