Two years had passed since I had been hospitalized for treatment of a severe eating disorder in a residential treatment facility in Arizona. The past two years of full therapy sessions, dietician appointments, and doctors appointments had me on my way to full recovery. It felt good that I no longer spent hours at the gym. I loved having the variety of the college dining halls and every day was no longer a choice between recovery and relapse. I had chosen the path to recovery. I ate everything I had once cut out of my diet in moderation and worked to make exercise enjoyable by limiting my weekly time at the gym.
I made new friends and thrived in my first year at Pitzer College. I thought my eating disorder had disappeared completely. Then, starting sophomore year and continuing through my current senior year, several of my classmates and friends have started to go on a “health kick.” These “health kicks” usually involved restricting their food intake to only salads and white meat while exercising for hours each day.
My sophomore and junior year, I felt pressure to join in in the “health kick.” I started restricting my food intake and eating more salads in the name of “being healthy.” I also started working out twice a day and would get anxious when I missed a workout. Working out and counting calories gave me an illusion of “self-control” and “health” when in reality, I was quickly relapsing into my dangerous old habits of my eating disorder.
One of the conditions of living away from home during the long recovery process from anorexia and exercise bulimia is that I remain monitored by my endocrinologist. Every month or two I get my blood drawn and have to have tests run on them to make sure that my body’s functioning correctly. When I restrict my food intake or over exercise, my doctor can tell through my blood work and works with me to correct my destructive behaviors. It is hard to trust her when she tells me to cut back on exercising and to eat more. When I over exercise and restrict my food intake my body slows down and is unable to function as well. I feel constantly tired and sick. It is a result of my body starting to slow down and shut down due to lack of fuel and rest. It reminds me that NO ONE can live without fuel and rest. It has been a long process of recovery and relapse, but ultimately it has been so worth it. I have more time to do other things I am interested in because I no longer am preoccupied with working out and eating. Now that I stress less about food and exercise, I am less anxious and have more time to think about school, friends, and extracurricular activities. Overall, I am physically and mentally more healthy and happy than ever before.
It is hard to be a girl at the Claremont Colleges. While most people at the 5Cs are aware that being thin is a harmful socially constructed value of our society, there still is enormous pressure to be thin. The influence and peer pressures are constant in college where peer groups live together. It is easy to see how the “healthy eating” and over-exercising kick spreads throughout friend groups. When every meal is spent with other people, one person’s choice to not eat, or eat an unbalanced meal of just salad or Powerade, can lead others to police their own food intake and restrict as well. Food no longer is an activity of enjoyment, but an unhealthy obsession with food.
I notice this with exercising as well, there is extreme pressure to go to the gym every day and sometimes multiple times a day, but only within certain friend groups. While it may seem like a person is being healthy exercising multiple times a day, if they aren’t eating enough food to fuel their work out and their main goal is to burn the calories they just ate when working out, going to the gym becomes unhealthy.
Many people have a strict idea of what constitutes an eating disorder. Generally, eating disorders occur when a person becomes obsessed with food in a way where their identity and self-esteem become entwined with their ability to control what they eat. According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), “Anorexia nervosa is a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss.” Another form of eating disorders is Bulimia, which is characterized by binging and purging through vomiting, laxatives and or exercise. While anorexia and bulimia are the most common forms of eating disorders. Orthorexia is a newly identified eating disorder characterized by an obsession with healthy eating. The main difference between orthorexia and healthy eating is the unhealthy preoccupation with food, rigidity of sticking to a certain diet, and self-hatred that follows after failing to stick to the diet. Orthorexia is also different from anorexia and bulimia, but shares many of the same characteristics and side effects, such as a preoccupation with food, extreme weight loss, social isolation, feelings of self loathing when one strays from their “diet.” Like anorexia and bulimia, their self-esteem and identity becomes wrapped up in their diet.
Although it is not formally recognized by the DSM-V as an Eating Disorder, orthorexia has serious psychological and physical consequences that can take years of hard work to recover from. Below are some questions created by the National Eating Disorders Association to help identify symptoms of orthorexia.
Consider the following questions. The more questions you respond “yes” to, the more likely you are dealing with orthorexia.
- Do you wish that occasionally you could just eat and not worry about food quality?
- Do you ever wish you could spend less time on food and more time living and loving?
- Does it seem beyond your ability to eat a meal prepared with love by someone else – one single meal – and not try to control what is served?
- Are you constantly looking for ways foods are unhealthy for you?
- Do love, joy, play and creativity take a back seat to following the perfect diet?
- Do you feel guilt or self-loathing when you stray from your diet?
- Do you feel in control when you stick to the “correct” diet?
- Have you put yourself on a nutritional pedestal and wonder how others can possibly eat the foods they eat?
If you feel like you have an eating disorder, I encourage you to get help. The lasting psychological and physical repercussions of eating disorder behaviors can cause irreparable damage. Recovery is not easy and relapse is expected, but from experience, choosing to live life outside of my eating disorder has been the most freeing experience I’ve had in my lifetime.
For more information please go to: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/
If you feel you need to talk to someone about this please call the NEDA helpline at: (800) 931-2237
On campus resources:
Monsour Counseling: http://www.cuc.claremont.edu/monsour/
The Eating Disorder Task Force on campus: http://www.cuc.claremont.edu/shacs-edtf/