Sunday, March 24, 2013

My Battle with Orthorexia

This is the most difficult post that I have written. In fact, it is one of the most difficult things that have ever written, period.

Has anyone ever told you that you are 'too close to the situation'? I had quite a few people in my life tell me this throughout the past couple of years. I thought: "Nah... look at all of this research I do. Look at all of this information I have found. Look at all the progress I have made. Look at all of these people that have healed themselves this way. Look at all of this groundbreaking literature to back it up. Look at all of this HEALTHY stuff I buy!" 

Since 2010 I have been on an endless search to heal various physical ailments through food elimination and diets. In doing so, I became acutely aware of all the nasty things that get put into packaged and processed foods, the dangers of this food and that food and benefits of this food and that food. And countless diets. Paleo, Primal, Raw, Vegan, Vegetarian, Pescatarian, Anti-inflammatory, Macrobiotic... seeking that perfect combination that would allow me to feel my best. Be the healthiest. The cleanest. The Purest.

During this same time, I continued to suffer from gastrointestinal issues (chronic diarrhea). So, in my mind, there was still something wrong. There was still something to fix.

The search consumed me.

What I have is called, Orthorexia. It is different than Anorexia though it can have the same physical effects. While anorexia typically has a fixation of weight, orthorexia is a fixation on eating healthy. They do overlap. And I believe my struggle with orthorexia, obsession with healthy eating and having a clean body was morphing into anorexia.

" 'Orthorexia' is defined as an obsession with 'healthy or righteous eating'. The phrase was first created in 1997 by California doctor Steven Bratman, and refers to people who create severely limited diets in the name of healthy eating. It often begins with someone's simple and genuine desire to live a healthy lifestyle. The person may choose to stop eating red meat, but eventually cuts out all meat; then all processed foods, and will eventually eat only specific foods that are prepared in very specific ways.

As with all eating disorders, the core issue is not about food. My struggle began at a time in my life when I was dealing with massive emotional stress.  In the fall of 2010 I was sexually assaulted and during that same time, had recently left a relationship and entered into another unhealthy relationship (both unrelated to the assault) quickly after. With my life in dissaray, and my emotions crying for help, food was something that I could control. 

Or so I thought.

Note: This post is on MY battle. I do not believe that everyone on a restrictive diet has orthorexia nor do I think there is anything wrong with 'diets.' Though, this post may raise awareness that 'diets' can become an obsession. And can be a 'gateway.' Most of all... listen to your BODY. Always.

It was a slow progression. For much of 2011 I was 'tweaking' if you will, still maintaining a pretty 'healthy diet and body weight but experimenting with elimination diets. And in 2012, I tweaked a bit more and become increasingly strict with what I allowed into my body. Following my surgery in December of 2012, I became even more fixated on eating healthy, weighing in at 94 pounds at my doctor's appointment just a few weeks ago.

And then I got sick. Twice. And weighed 'who-knows-what' and then I landed myself in the ER with severe abdominal pain. This pain that I was feeling was on the surface, not dangerous. But the underlying cause - in sum, was that my body just did not have the reserves to sustain me while being sick nor did it have the strength to recover 'like a normal person.'

"A healthy body is a guest-chamber for the soul; a sick body is a prison."
Francis Bacon – an English philosopher, statesman, scientist, lawyer, jurist and author

No doctor has ever told me that I should not eat the foods that I have eliminated from my diet. I truly believed that I was doing the best and healthiest thing for my body. I eliminated entire food groups. No processed foods, no packaged foods aside from bars and sweet potato chips, no refined sugar, no corn, no beans, no grains at all except for oats and brown rice (so no gluten, millet, spelt etc), no yeast, no soy, no dairy and very limited starches. The consequences to this type of restrictive eating are massive.

The side-effects listed below are side-effects that I experienced. These are not researched and therefore I do not know if they apply to others with orthorexia/restrictive dieting.

Physical Side-Effects:
  • Insufficient nutrients/ malnourished
  • Insufficient calories
  • Dangerous weight-loss / unhealthy BMI
  • Decrease in energy 
  • Dangerously low blood pressure
  • Insomnia
  • Hormone inbalance
  • Loss of appetite
Emotional Side-Effects:
  • Anxiety 
  • Obsessive-Compulsive behavior (measuring food, listing out meals, only eating at certain times)
  • Fear (of food/ingredients)
  • Depression

"The spirit cannot endure the body when overfed, but, if underfed, the body cannot endure the spirit."
~St Frances de Sales

There were many signs along the way that I chose to not recognize. For every sign, I had an answer. A rather good one, at that.

I had one woman I didn't even know straight up ask me: 'Do you eat?' I thought it was the rudest thing I had ever heard. And perhaps it was rude. But maybe it needed to be said.

During this time, I was cooking, baking, blogging about food and my love of food, helping to guide others in their path to a healthy lifestyle and so the thought that I could have a problem was downright absurd to me. Ha!

I would NEVER EVER advise someone else to do the things that I was doing. I re-read what is on my website after acknowledging that I have a problem and thought "Wow, I'm pretty dang intelligent. Why didn't I just listen to myself?"

Simply put, I got caught up in my passion. As a friend stated to me: "You know, people take great pride getting taken by their passion. You simply did that."

I was being dishonest with myself. But most of all, I was not loving myself. I was not nurturing myself and I was not accepting myself. I was loving and accepting myself in ONE condition. I was not loving and accepting myself through thick and thin (pun intended).

Although, I was doing all of these wonderful things like reading several different self-help books, doing affirmations, connecting with my spirituality and becoming very aware of myself and my surroundings, I was not recognizing the thing that I needed to face the most.

I hit bottom.


Through all of the deaths, break-ups, moves, sicknesses, and surgeries, this struggle, right here, right now, is by the far the hardest that I have fought. And I am honored to be able to share my experience.

And the work begins....

Some books that I purchased to help me in this journey.

"An eating disorder can be a dead end or a door opening to a life better than you can imagine."
-Carolyn Jennings

This Wednesday, I start an outpatient program and will be seeing both a nutritionist and psychologist. I am excited for this journey to begin!

Rest assured, I am still very much in love with food, cooking, baking and all that it has to offer. I cannot predict how this will unfold, but I can tell you this: 

Bodhi Life will continue. My posts will change slightly and my recipes will evolve but I will be here. Learning, pushing forward and sharing my experiences.

And I have an incredible support system. My family and friends have embraced me with loving arms and for that I am immensely grateful. Thank you.




  1. Wow Ashley, Even though I only know you on FB, you seem like a friend to me. What a powerful experience you have gone through. I am glad you have been able to understand some of your issues, and are seeking help. I could sense in your posts something wasn't quite right in your life. I am the valentine friend that just wanted you to know there are people out here that care about you. Hang in there, and you will thrive!!!!

    1. John, thank you very much for your kind words. I am curious to know how you sensed this - but that is OK. I appreciate your support. And you could have told me who you were when you sent those flowers. :) Hanging in there. Hanging strong.

  2. Your bravery is inspirational. I continue to be motivated by you and your strength every day! HCG :)

    1. Thank you kind soul! Your support means the world. xoxo ;)

  3. Congratulations for admitting this to yourself and good luck in your journey!
    -Tricia, Milwaukee, WI

  4. Suffering from a general anxiety disorder myself, I started on a similar dietary journey last year to "fix" and issue of chronic hives, which a naturopath convinced me could be resolved by eliminating a very very very long list of things. I did it for 4 months, it didn't help anything other than make me start to transform some of that anxiety into OCD-like behaviors. I started to fear putting anything in my mouth and stopped going out to eat convinced that the preparation would not adhere to the diet plan. Thankfully, I recognized what was happening and starting re-introducing things back into my diet and am now eating normally again. I still avoid eating too much added sugar and processed foods (though I do eat some), and avoid foods that I know are issues for me. As I have perspective now, really, if you listened to all the different "evidence" that is out there about all the things to avoid, there is very little left to eat! Rice = arsenic. Fish = mercury. Chicken & Eggs = inflammation. Grains = the devil. :) Ashley, my thoughts for you is that as you go through your healing, you will learn that we each have unique needs for our diet. What might be good for one person isn't good for another, and you should build your elimination list around obvious, repeated negative reactions that your body has to a specific isolated ingredient. The naturopath told me to eat lots raw veggies -- but I have learned that raw veggies give me digestive issues, and I am better with cooked veggies. Anxiety can have an even more negative affect on health than the occasional pepperoni roll. :) I know, I've been there. Best of luck to you!

    1. Wow. Thank you so much for sharing your story and for your support. I am taking this one day at a time- sometimes, one moment at a time.

      Thank you again and take care.

  5. Thanks for sharing your story Ashley - you are such an inspiration. We are here for you, but you should know that you bring us far more than we offer you through your transparency, honesty and inspiration.
    - Your Rally Family

  6. Ashley, wishing you all the best in your journey. Always remember the best is yet to come! x

    1. Thank you so very much Dashelle. And you are SO right on that. It's coming ;)

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    1. Very much appreciated! Thank you :) Take care.

  8. You go girl! Reading this almost a year after you posted, so I hope you've made enormous headway on healing yourself, body and soul. Sending love and hugs.

    1. Thank you very much Angela! I have 'retired' Bodhi Life for awhile (as of October 2013) but just logged on for some reason tonight and saw your comment!

      It has been almost a year since this post and boy life has taken me for a ride! I have made tremendous progress over the past year - but actually, much of my progress has been in just the past few weeks when a few epiphanies came crashing in on me in MASSIVE waves. It's been amazing! A LOT of healing over the past year. A LOT of forward progress, some relapses both in actions and thought patterns, but, I have pushed through, continued to learn about my body, mind and soul - getting stronger and stronger- physically and emotionally... Thank you again for your support.

      Take care ;)

  9. Thankyou for sharing your story