Digesting My Shame (My struggles with Food)

This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, and that means a lot to many of my friends. Many more than it should, I feel in my heart, because so often eating disorders are related to trauma and abuse, or the destructive social effects in the way that people interact or experience media portrayals.

However, I am proud of these friends and so many more, and often feel appreciative of their ability to verbalize their struggles and share them with others. Food is such an intimate and necessary part of our daily lives, and thus it attracts a multitude of shame and stigma that can be hard to overcome.

So in this post today, I wanted to bring light to a new kind of eating disorder which has been rising rapidly, though it is still not a clinically recognized diagnosis just yet. It is called Orthorexia Nervosa. 

As described by the National Eating Disorder Association:  “Those who have an “unhealthy obsession” with otherwise healthy eating may be suffering from “orthorexia nervosa,” a term which literally means “fixation on righteous eating.” Orthorexia starts out as an innocent attempt to eat more healthfully, but orthorexics become fixated on food quality and purity. They become consumed with what and how much to eat, and how to deal with “slip-ups.”.. Every day is a chance to eat right, be “good,” rise above others in dietary prowess, and self-punish if temptation wins (usually through stricter eating, fasts and exercise)..Eventually food choices become so restrictive, in both variety and calories, that health suffers – an ironic twist for a person so completely dedicated to healthy eating.” https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/orthorexia-nervosa

Do you know anyone who might struggle with this, or do you yourself? Please reach out to the hotline number at the bottom of this post, or comment below to share your own experiences.

My experiences:

I have worked with a counselor for childhood related trauma and conditions for about 5 years now, and she knows more about me than most anyone else. However, I remember the day that I admitted to her that I thought I had a problem with eating, and how it was one of the hardest things I ever had to say outloud.

I know am lucky, because I am fortunate to have access to resources that many do not, including counseling, healthcare, income (though still quite limited), internet, and community.

Despite all of this, however, my struggles with food have still made me feel completely isolated among my friends and family, never quite able to describe how most days I skip food for the stress of eating something “wrong”. This “wrongness” was nurtured by many things including:

anxiety around access to food and attitudes towards food growing up

-the bombardment of healthy eating pressures in society and media

-the control over my food choices experienced while in a toxic relationship

But more than anything, it has grown out of one of my weakest abilities, which is that of self care. Self compassion is not something that I had ever focused on until the last few years, and while I’ve gotten immensely better at it in many way, I overlooked this particular element. Its strange even to me, because I’ve always fed my animals the best I possibly could, and I used to love cooking for others. And if I host someone, I always make sure that they eat 3 meals. Unfortunately, that did not translate onto the self, and for me food became so stressful not only to prepare, but simply to consume, that I just stopped.

I’ll explain: Up until recently, despite the fact that I work an extremely physical job, most weeks I  would eat what might equate to 1 meal (though definitely not a healthy or wholesome one at that). This would occur at least 5 out of the 7 days in a week, and had been going on for the better part of 2+ years. Between external and internal pressures to eat well, I just ended up skipping meals, and would be left with such little energy and time that I would resort to eating something high in calories, sugar, or fat (“its better than nothing”, “you worked hard today you’ll burn it off anyway”.)

Recognizing that my relationship with food was becoming toxic, and admitting that I had gotten myself into a bad situation with my health, was really the biggest challenge for me. I am still working with my counselor on it, waiting to see how my changes will effect my blood work, and I am still populating the hang outs with close friends with more dialogue about food than I would like too, but I’m getting somewhere.

I know I am fortunate that my struggles with eating, whether or not they are technically considered a disorder, are still manageable and reversible at this point. Because I also suffer from Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, I am putting all of my extra money towards a functional doctor, who has a nutrionist on staff, and that makes it even easier for me (Diet is a large part of healing the chronic condition).

Overall, I can rationalize that I have a lot of support and that there are easy ways to get back into eating well. But despite that and the fact that I like to make light of it most of the time because I know its rooted in irrational thought and behavior..every day is still an enormous effort for me.

It is easy to feel fatigued, isolated, and drained from struggles regarding food (physically, emotionally, and mentally). That is real, and that is okay. You just do your best everyday.

Please take this week, and some time every week, to consider those in your life that might also have struggles around food and weight, and to be kind. Remember that commenting on someone’s weight, no matter their size, crosses a very personal line, no matter how close you are to them. Wait for them to bring it up if they feel comfortable, or find a different way to approach it. Help out by following the links on the “Get Involved”  page of the NEDA. Also, remember that not every person who has had an eating disorder wants it to be part of their identity, to be viewed as “in recovery” for the rest of their life. (Here is a great article that talks about why: “It’s National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, and once again, I’m not participating” )

Thank you for reading this, and making space to think a little bit more about people’s personal struggles. There is a lot of stress to carry with politics in the US changing rapidly, but it is important to make space for basic individual struggles as well.

If you, or you suspect a loved one might have an eating disorder, please..

1-800-931-2237

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