It is that time of the year when the topic of mental health is openly discussed. It is through initiatives such as, Bell Let’s Talk, that encourages individuals to open up and express their battle with mental illness while removing any and all negative stigmas surrounding the topic. I personally feel so empowered reading and listening to others share their story because we all have one to share; so let’s jump right into a chapter of mine.
Orthorexia (n) an obsession with eating foods that one considers healthy.
A medical condition in which the sufferer systematically avoids specific foods in the belief that they are harmful.
My battle with orthorexia nervosa first began at the young and impressionable age of 16. Growing up in a world where people were idolized for being extremely thin made me believe that my skinny and otherwise gangly stature was a gift from God. As a teenager, I would get approached almost anywhere and be asked if I was a model, or if I wanted to become a model - blah, blah, blah. As flattering as the constant reassurance from strangers felt, I would always dismiss the idea as it was something I was never truly interested in.
This was also around the time that my Nana was diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer which metastasized to her entire body in a matter of two months, claiming her beautiful life right before my very eyes. As a 16 year old girl, I made the vow to myself to do anything and everything in my power to try and reduce my risk of developing cancer which led me to the path of orthorexia. For those that have never heard of this medical term before, it is an eating disorder that arises from one’s obsession with only eating foods that they consider “good.”
Although at the time I simply thought I was eating healthy (which I must note, my family has always eaten well-balanced and nourishing meals) I would take it to an obsessive level. To give you an example, I would Google and research the health benefits of every single food before I would even consider consuming it. Every. Single. Food.
Talk about exhausting.
My “good” food list consisted of: vegetables, fruit (I think I ate Costco out of its grapes for years) a very small portion of meat and poultry, washed down with endless cups of green tea. This was my steady diet for a couple of years. My weight remained around the 100 pound mark on my 5’7” frame. Again, I did not think I was doing anything wrong. I truly thought I felt fine and it was the constant reassurance from strangers and friends that fed my ego making me believe that I was so lucky to have a body like I did.
It was at this time that I decided to bite the bullet and give this whole “modelling” thing a go. A few photoshoots later, I received calls from agencies and scouts telling me that if my waist was a little smaller I would be perfect. I was told that my ‘look’ would be exquisite for catalogs in Japan.
Hello Kitty, who?
So, it was when I turned 17 and still did not yet get my period (TMI maybe? But who cares) that my doctor insisted I work towards gaining weight since my body was essentially in starvation mode, preserving my organs and thus not letting Mother Nature do her thing. Hearing this information I was confused and upset. I thought she was lying - I felt fine. What are you talking about doc?
Dr. Google was my go-to and reaffirmed to me that I was the epitome of health. Grapes, salad and excessive amounts of green tea kept me feeling in tippity top shape, or so I thought.
Looking back on how I acted, I feel so incredibly grateful to have had the support of my family who took me to endless doctors appointments, therapy sessions and dealt with my anger at the demands of gaining weight. It wasn’t until nearly being admitted into the hospital to be put in “eating disorder” school for two months, that I said, "fuck this!" Gimmie that bag of chips A$AP Rocky.
It was a gradual process of introducing different “good” foods into my diet, eating more frequently and learning to fill my body with the nutrients that it so badly was needing. I know I talk shit about dating, but I will forever owe a part of overcoming my eating disorder to my ex-boyfriend. It was through dating him, that I wanted to be the “cool” girlfriend who would crush pizza and beers with the boys instead of simply ordering a water with lemon and a side house salad without dressing.
It was over the year that I slowly began to learn that food is not so scary after all. I began getting boobs (ayyye what’s up B cup), I finally got my period, my feet and hands were no longer numb or purple due to the lack of circulation, my hair got thicker, my skin began to radiate, I had more energy and I began to feel free and beautiful.
Today, I feel so incredibly proud as I look back on how much growth has come from that time in my life. Although I might be up a few clothing sizes, I feel that I have so much more confidence in who I am as a whole. My message to those reading this is that there is so much more to life than looks. I am not telling you to eat like shit, drink your face off, never exercise or put effort into yourself - but I am telling you that you are so much more than the vessel of a body that you were born into. Your self-worth is not determined based on how skinny, muscular, thicc, sexy or hot you are. Your self-worth comes from your ability to be a beautiful person to others, to have goals, dreams, ambitions, passions, to be quirky and own it and to have hobbies that you enjoy.
Your self-worth comes from how you treat yourself from the inside out.
I would be lying if I didn’t get emotional looking back on photos of myself when I was battling my eating disorder and I do sometimes miss feeling that skinny; but then I remember how far I have come and I remember how truly happy and grateful I am. I fucking love feeling strong, I love pizza, I love wine, I love nourishing my body with what it craves; not just with what I allow it to have. I love being me, extra weight and all.
So a final message to those still reading, please know that you can in fact have your cake and eat it too!