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Orthorexia: a Love story

By the time I reached the first naturopathic doctor I hired to support my healing process, I had seen dozens of providers in hopes of being able to sit again without pain, all of whom promised me results, took my (parents) money, had me diligently follow their protocols with no results- which of course I blamed on myself as it further cemented this idea, I’d had for a long time- that something was wrong with me, that I was the broken one.

I was drawn to the naturopathic approach, I liked the idea of holistic healing. Many people lauded this particular doctor as someone who healed them through the impossible.

As a person whose trauma relived itself in perfectionism and hyper vigilance, I diligently followed recommended interventions, I bought all the supplements, followed the strict dietary interventions recommended. I was 28 and had been in chronic pain for over a year, my digestive issues had gotten to the point that they were causing disruptions at work and in my daily life. I was desperate for relief.

After dozens of visits with this particular provider, I started to notice the felt sense that this wasn’t actually about me or my healing- that this was about something else. I left appointments feeling unseen and unheard, and it took me a while to gather some data around that (I just wanted relief and had met so many dead ends I didn’t want to admit to myself that this was yet another waste of my time and money and emotional investment). On the last appointment with that doctor, I timed it- and he was with me for 7 minutes- barely looking at me as he changed the supplement regime (again) and explained the new course protocol and why the last hadn’t worked and why this one would. He talked with himself, mostly, about concepts that were new to me- like candida and biofilm and all of the bad things that were happening inside my body because of choices I had made- but that I could remedy through diligence and commitment.

I left his office with a now well-rooted eating disorder, more terrified of my body than I had ever been (a spectacular feat), with a lot less money and a sense of failure. Thanks Doc!

I wish I could tell my younger self that I was correct- this was about this man and his fragile ego, this was about his inability to see and therefore interrogate his race, class, and body privileges, that this was about his disordered relationship to food and health that he was spewing on his patients, who like me were desperate for relief.

I still get emails from the next ND I saw, promoting her new program with the golden ticket to health, who didn’t do quite as much damage but didn’t recognize my eating disorder or suppressed weight (she applauded me for it) and just continued to treat me like a puzzle to be solved without examining the most crucial piece: the roots of my anxiety. Likely because she had not explored her own.

I eventually gave up on doctors all together for a bit. I clunked along with intermittent crippling back pain and digestive issues, and my eating disorder to manage my undiagnosed ADHD and some of my pain symptoms (staying in my head helped me detach from the physical pain of my body). And of course still deeply committed to the lie I’d been sold from healthism my whole life, that with diligence and commitment I can achieve this fictional state of being we have defined as “health”.

Today, with full eating disorder recovery mostly behind me, which made way for grappling with my trauma, the root cause of my anxiety (that and my unmanaged ADHD), I feel rage and grief when I think of my story of which themes reverberate in my client’s stories, my friend’s, my family’s stories.

White supremacy, classism, able-sim, capitalism all work to disrupt our *actual* healing. Un-interrogated narratives about food, bodies, and health are undoubtedly perpetuating the problem and are predatory and insidious (a dangerous combination) for people who are desperate for relief. And in our model, when recommendations from providers do not work, it is always the vulnerable one in the relationship that takes the blame (unless this is mitigated from the one with the power of positionality).

I sometimes miss my orthorexia, the sense of control it offered me in an out of control world, the false hope of a life without pain it allowed me to curl up and find comfort in, and the access it got me in this culture that reduces an entire life into an expectation on how the human holding it should look (thin). I have not reached food and body peace in the absence of it- food is still complicated with my nervous system reactivity, my chronic digestive issues (which there may not be a solution for), the logistics of eating (the militant regiment of my orthorexia made meal prep easier - cutting though so much choice and variety), my sensory issues; my body still experiences pain and disability and I have not eradicated all of the anti-fat bias I’ve been seeped in as well so I still at times judge my body (knowing that my body is fine and beautiful and miraculous and just is, it’s the sickness of our culture that’s caused this disruption)- it’s hard to love it though these times, and being in process with it is continuing to move towards my healing and my liberation.

I see my walking away from my orthorexia as necessary for deepening into my relationship with my true and authentic self. In the shedding of my own layers of coping and protection, I found a strength that isn’t flimsy and dependent but that is rooted in a wisdom that is more vast and with more possibility than the ways that health and our bodies are reduced to within the dominant culture. Within this space I see and trust my own strength and how I can sit with and tend to all the parts of who I am. I can miss how my orthorexia held me through what I needed it to, and what is more valuable to me is falling in love with who I truly am and witnessing what I’m capable of while honoring and nurturing the wounded parts of me.

This is what it means to me to deeply heal.

Very little of this article came from my formal education, other than the financial stability I was provided in order to write it, and that had deeper roots in my many unearned privileges. There are many things that disrupt a person’s access and relationship with food, and that shifts drastically with the amount of privileged and marginalized identities a person holds. A one size fits all never has, and never will, work. Food and bodies in this culture are complicated. Let’s get comfortable with that, start to heal, and get to work on doing better.

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