Hi! Wow, this week has started off on a pretty profound note. Yesterday I was followed around from breakfast to dinner by a wonderful guy named Chris James from ABC News Nightline, and I got to meet the fabulous and even-more-gorgeous-in-person Jordan Younger of The Balanced Blonde. We’re going to be featured together in a Nightline segment on orthorexia, which I could not be more thrilled about. This disorder is something I’ve suffered with for a very long time, and I want more than anything to spread awareness about it. It’s my dream to be a voice in the eating disorder community, and to be of support to those who are struggling. So many people know nothing about orthorexia, even some of the people who have it. It breaks my heart that so many “healthy” people in this world are suffering in silence, all the while causing the health they’ve worked so hard for to slowly deteriorate. Ironic, isn’t it?
I will speak more about the segment when I know when it’s going to air, but one thing I want to touch briefly on today is the concept of labels. Jordan wrote about this topic in her most recent blog post, and we talked about it a lot when we met yesterday afternoon. I experienced a disturbing realization in the midst of our heart-to-heart: I am label crazy. Whether that label is vegan, paleo, gluten-free, or even health foodie doesn’t matter. What matters is that I turn labels to define who I am, and that’s not healthy, even if the diet itself is wholesome in its own right. I use labels as a means to restrict. I turn to them to unburden my mind from decision making, to ease the pressure of having too many foods to choose from. I tend to not want that power because, when given it, I don’t trust myself to make the right choices. I put all my trust in a label. I need a label to tell me what I’m allowed to eat and what’s forbidden from passing through my lips. When I do this, it only fuels my eating disorder, because there is no restrictive diet that I am able to do healthily. I may be able to sustain myself for a small time, but eventually I end up in destructive patterns.
This is definitely not true for everybody with an eating disorder (just look at all these inspiring Green Recovery stories!), but I know now that it’s integral to my personal recovery process to not label my diet. Like I said, it doesn’t matter what the label is. I’ll end up taking it too far by overly restricting within the confines of an already limited diet. Take veganism, for example. Back when I called myself vegan, I was not doing the vegan diet justice. I was eating the same foods every day, and not consuming nearly enough variety to cover all my bases. It is possible to get enough protein on a vegan diet, but I was not. It is possible to be vegan and get adequate calcium, but I was not. It is possible to be vegan and be radiantly healthy, but alas, I was not.
Recently I’ve been calling myself paleo. You see? I’m a label whore. I simply swapped one label for another. After I my most recent stint with veganism ended, there was a short time when I ate “all foods” (in quotes because my idea of “all foods” is still rather narrow) in moderation, but that came to a screeching halt when I found out I have adrenal fatigue. I immediately started researching the best diet for adrenal health, and discovered that the paleo diet is touted to be most beneficial for my problems. Yay, a label! I was on that game like white on rice. Get me back to that warm, safe, cozy place where I don’t have to make any decisions for myself. Give me a “yes” list and a “no” list and I’ll rock it.
I realized yesterday that it would only be a matter of time before the paleo diet would fail me. Or rather, before I would fail the paleo diet. (That’s what happened with veganism.) Let’s be honest, there are only so many meals of meat and vegetables that I can tolerate. I have not been doing paleo correctly, because I am not comfortable eating the amount of meat and fat that most paleo eaters sustain themselves on. This is why labeling can be so detrimental to an orthorexic; we take an already restrictive diet and restrict it even more. We find more foods to become afraid of. I ate lunch at Cafe Gratitude yesterday with Chris from Nightline, and I felt dirty for eating brown rice and quinoa. I used to eat brown rice and quinoa all the time when I was vegan, but now that I’ve been calling myself paleo, they’ve become fear foods. It’s time to abolish this fear around particular food groups. With all the truly unhealthy food that exists in modern time, it is absolutely absurd that I would be afraid to eat quinoa. This is what labeling does to me. It creates unnecessary fear, which only exacerbates my orthorexia.
My eating disorder is more clear to me now than ever before. I understand that having no restrictions scares me because it puts all the power back in my hands. It doesn’t give me excuses to deny food I’m petrified of eating. It opens up so many possibilities to be “right” or “wrong” with what I eat. Well, I’m taking my power back. If I’m ever going to recover from my orthorexia, which I am now solidly determined to do, I’m going to need that power, because it’s that power that will allow me to listen to my body and honor what it truly wants. My orthorexia has detached me from my body’s wants and needs; it has removed me from my intuition. Intuition is so important when it comes to eating. Do not dissociate from it. Intuitive inclinations should be listened to and respected.
I’m always going to have a propensity toward healthy eating. That’s simply how I am. I’m passionate about health and nutrition. Allergy-friendly baking has also become a huge passion of mine lately. I find working with alternative ingredients to be fun and challenging. I don’t have to give that up simply because I’m allowing myself to eat gluten again. Life doesn’t have to be about this or that, all or none, one or the other. I can eat a little bit of gluten and still bake gluten-free treats. I can use eggs in my baking but also enjoy making raw vegan goodies. I can eat a vegan lunch and a paleo dinner in the same day. I can be an overall healthy person but still eat some popcorn and candy at a movie theater if I want to. I don’t need a label to tell me how to eat. All I need is my intuition.