My Health Story - Orthorexia, Reproductive Health, and Weight Restoration

My Health Story - Orthorexia, Reproductive Health, and Weight Restoration
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I’ve been putting off this post for a long time because I’ve thought, how do I even begin to explain the journey I’ve been on for the past year? How do I explain something I haven’t even really understood until now? I tried my best to explain it all, and I hope that by sharing my story and what I’ve gone through, I can help those who might be going through something similar or provide a better understanding on the topic.

Those who have followed me on Instagram for a while know I became very underweight after I started my page and living a healthier lifestyle beginning around June 2017, and that I’ve been on a journey to gain back the weight I lost (and then some) for about 9 months. In retrospect, though, I know now simply eating healthier wasn’t the whole story as to why that happened.

My senior year of high school is when I started to get into health and fitness. I’ve always been naturally thin and didn’t even get my first period until I was 16, so it wasn’t really until then that my body started holding onto weight caused by my lack of healthy eating and regular exercise. Naturally, I started to become interested in eating right and working out; I’d go for runs and work out at home several days a week; I’d eat more veggies, salads, and chicken, and much less hamburgers, Doritos, and instant ramen noodles, the latter of which I had been eating my entire life without thought.

I lost some weight but still looked healthy, and eventually stopped getting my period, which was already pretty irregular. I didn’t think much of it, and looking back I’m sure it was mostly stress related, as I used to get very stressed out with school (nothing like the zen chica that I am today!!), and maybe from being a little on the underweight side. But of course I thought, hey no period?! Fine by me! All in all, I was eating healthy and exercising and I honestly felt like I was at a healthy weight for me.

After that I pretty much kept up the same fairly easy workout routine, balanced diet, and still no period through my first semester of college, but then I started going through some pretty rough stuff emotionally.

I was only 18 years old and pursuing my dream of going to fashion school in New York City, which happened to be about 3,000 miles away from my family and everything that was familiar. Except for people I met through school (which still was very few), I knew absolutely nobody in the city or even in a 1,000 mile radius.

On top of that, I went through two very stressful, toxic living situations that year where I started to use exercise and long distance running as a way to get out of the dorms and combat my loneliness and unhappiness from living in such a harsh city.

It was also at this time in my spring semester that I discovered the health food community on Instagram and was absolutely fascinated by it. I started following a few big accounts and, as I was stuck eating what I’d call junk-on-a-plate at my school’s dining hall, I fell in love with reading about all these healthy recipes and alternative baking (You can bake desserts without dairy..?! Whaaat?!), and I couldn’t wait to move home for the summer so I could make my own food account and try out these recipes myself.

What started out as an innocent interest in health and fitness, quickly became an obsession once I moved home for the summer. You can ask my mom, health food and exercise is pretty much all I ever talked about for the following 5 months. I thought this behavior was normal and couldn’t possibly be wrong because, there are worse things I could be obsessed with right? Some people are addicted to cigarettes, so how could eating right and working out be bad for me?

Obtained from the official NEDA site.

Obtained from the official NEDA site.

Orthorexia is a term used to describe the unhealthy and disordered obsession with health foods (ah, irony). I’ve put the symptoms listed on the NEDA site above, and I can say they all pretty much describe me at this time last year to a T. I was absolutely absorbed with this newfound health world and everything I did revolved around it. I had no interest in regular desserts , going out to eat, or any kind of sugary baked good or snack; I wanted foods made by ME so I could know exactly what went into it and make sure it was as healthy as could be.

This coupled with my obsession of exercising, I started to lose weight quick.

I was so consumed with only putting those top-notch, healthy, plant-based foods into my body, I didn’t even really stop to think about how little calories were in my meals and how they weren’t nearly making up for the energy I was exerting.

Although I wasn’t intentionally losing weight (and I do want to be clear here: I wasn’t losing weight on purpose, it was an after-effect of the obsession with exercise and health food I had developed), I didn’t exactly do much to stop it.  Again, I thought, how could eating healthy and working out be bad for me? If I’m losing weight from living a healthy life then maybe this is just what I’m really supposed to weigh! Get off my back, people! I didn’t want to change the way I ate just to put the weight back on; all I wanted was to just post and eat my healthy food, work out, and be left alone about my body (which was very visibly thinner).

August rolls around and I am back in New York City for my sophomore year of college, and I am unhappier than ever to be back. I had clearly become so into the world of health over the summer and pretty much lost all interest in pursuing fashion and living in NYC, and I had never felt more like I didn’t belong in this high-stress environment.

I continued to use exercise and eating healthy as a coping mechanism for my unhappiness and to just control something in my life, and I lost even more weight. Sitting started to be painful; all my old clothes were ridiculously baggy on me; I never smiled or joked anymore because I was so unhappy and not eating satiating foods; and, now that I see old pictures, I really did look sick.

How in the hell did I get here, and how do I get back to ME? Who even is ‘me’ anymore? I knew I didn’t want to go back to the stressed out, unhealthy person I was a few years ago, but I had no idea how what I was doing would sustain me for the future. I was uncomfortable in my frail body and so so lost.

I’ll never forget when I hit the low point in all this. I finally went to my school’s health center to talk to the nutritionist about how I could gain weight, and she was helpful for the most part in telling me to double the carbs I was eating, up the portion sizes at every meal, which high calorie foods to eat (I’ll do a separate post on this soon!), yada yada yada. I thought, okay yeah sure I can do that, but we’ll see what happens. Wasn’t really all that moved by it, I still had thoughts in my head of maybe this is how I’m just supposed to look?!

What really changed things, though, was when I came in that same week to get some routine blood-work to check my levels and one of the nurse practitioners there accused me of being anorexic and/or bulimic.

She instantly looked me up and down, weighed me, and spent the next 20 minutes pointing out how my frail features, BMI, and lack of period were clearly signs that I was starving myself. She asked if I ever deprived myself of food (never even skipped a meal in my life) or made myself throw up ever (haven’t puked since I was 9), and then didn’t believe me when I told her no and explained that I just ate very healthy and worked out a lot (understatement of the year). This woman then went on to tell me if I didn’t put on weight the school was going to send me to a rehabilitation center (!!). It was one of the most traumatizing, humiliating, and frustrating experiences of my life. I was shocked and so confused.

I knew I didn’t have a disorder in the way she believed I did, but in the back of my mind I knew that the obsession I had with healthy eating was not right. The term orthorexia was entirely unheard of to me (and apparently the health center) and the school did not believe that I wasn’t that thin on purpose. I was pretty much on my own in figuring this out and how I could get better,

I eventually figured out all obsession with controlling every little ingredient that went in my body needed to be kicked out the door and to the curb if I wanted to do this and really get back the weight, so that’s what I did.

Starting that day I pretty much stuffed myself with food every hour, stopped obsessively reading nutrition labels, and within just a matter of days my energy and moods were SOARING. I couldn’t believe I had gone on so unhappily for that long when all I needed to do was just let go and eat a freaking pint of ice cream or a couple bowls of cereal after dinner if I wanted. All I needed was to just lay down and relax and watch some TV after class rather than going for a high speed walk or pumping out some crunches and squats in my dorm.

It took me months of eating in surplus and changing the way I worked out – lots of cardio before to (less frequently) lifting heavy weights once I had a good amount of body fat on me – to get to where I’m at now. There were times I was so uncomfortable in my changing body and wanted to say screw it I don’t want to gain any more, but I knew I needed to keep going. Somehow I knew when I finally got my period again that I would be at the right place.

Last weekend, about 20+ pounds on me from this time in 2017, I got my period for the first time in almost three years. I’m at the heaviest weight I’ve been since, well ever I suppose, and I don’t care. I don’t care about the delicious and probably sugary batch of fig newtons I made and ate in 2 days, or that I took 3 days off from the gym last week. I don’t care because I know this is me thriving and actually living a healthy life.

I don’t regret or dwell on a single thing that I went through this past year, because somehow in losing who I was and hitting rock bottom, I was truly able to find the real me. It took falling to the complete other end of the spectrum for me to get to my happy-medium when it comes to health, and I was able to build my body up from practically nothing. I’m stronger, smarter, and happier than I have ever been. I’m even grateful to that nurse who scared me sh*tless into gaining weight so I didn’t get shipped off to some center.

If you are struggling with something similar to what I went through, please know you are not alone. Not everyone out there wants to lose weight. Please talk to someone you trust in your life who will actually listen to you and help you learn how to let go of that obsession. Own your truth, get any kind of help you need, and start getting back to who you want to be TODAY. You can eat intuitively again, you can dance again, you can be FREE again! It is entirely up to you and how badly you want it.

I know there is nothing scarier than diving into the unknown of what you may come out looking like or who you’ll be without this obsession, but I promise you will make it to the other side and be SO glad you were brave enough to take that risk and see just how worth it all of it was.

Working clockwise from top left: October 2017; November 2017; March 2018; July 2018.

Working clockwise from top left: October 2017; November 2017; March 2018; July 2018.