Sunday, January 25, 2015

My Battle with Orthorexia: Relapse, Tricking Myself and Bananas

I keep saying "I'm going to write a blog about this." This being, the past year, my struggles with living in a new city, living alone, charging away in my career, developing and pursuing my passions, battling my eating disorder, the ups, the downs, the in-betweens ... No wonder I have been struggling to find the words. That is a lot to write about. I've just been bouncing words around in my head that barley form sentences. There is so much to say, so much I have learned, so much that has changed, so much that I want to share, so many feeling I want my readers to understand and so many messages that I wish convey. So where to begin?

The year 2014 was by far the most challenging year thus far - in my life. Wait, didn't I feel that way about 2013? Certainly in 2012? Maybe even 2011? Perhaps the years do continue to get more challenging. Wouldn't one expect for life to get a little easier as you learn a little more each day on how to navigate through it? You're all LOL'ing right now I'm sure. Because yes, isn't there a popular saying "No one ever said life would be easy" or something like that?

Ah, yes.


Is what we strive for in life ease? Does ease equate happiness? I'm sure you're all shaking your head 'no,' because of course ease does not equate happiness. Happiness is a state of mind - or a state of being - happiness can be embraced in the midst of struggle and when life is difficult. Or, not easy. In fact, there is another popular saying suggesting that easy is quite boring and that we should challenge ourselves.

So you know what I mean when I say that it (2014) was a challenge? That it was a massive struggle? That it was difficult beyond comprehension? That is was hard?

What the !*$# happened?!? You may be wondering. Well, I'll tell you what happened. There were shifts in my life that I hadn't expected. In fact, just about everything in my life changed dramatically (as a result of my doing btw). My move from sunny Boulder, CO to the enlightened Bar Harbor, ME was a beautiful and transformative journey with many ups and downs. I met some of the most incredible people and embraced the sacred land of Mt. Desert Island. From there, I went to West Palm Beach, FL after falling deeply and madly in love - and when that came to end, I started anew in not so sunny (but shockingly authentic and charming) Philadelphia, PA to take on a new career endeavor and start my 'new life.'

That is where my 2014 began. So, not only did I have a heart wrenching break-up from a man that I thought I would spend the rest of my life with, I was working in a new career and living in a new city. And, I was lonely (not be confused with being alone as I have come to find that we are never truly alone). Needless to say, there were times that I not only felt uneasy, but I felt unsafe, unloved and unworthy. That's a lot of un's. And un's weigh us down. Un's trigger all sorts of physical, spiritual and emotional responses.

What happens, when we are not at ease? Let's say, we are not at ease for an extended period of time. What happens? Disease.

When we simply examine the word, we can see how very true this concept is: 

Dis • ease = disease. Louise Hay, the great Metaphysical Teacher and motivational author, explains this concept at length.

There were moments through the changes in my life that I started to feel at ease -  comfortable, safe, confident, loved and deserving. And it was during those times that I naturally took care of myself in all areas of my health. Physically, emotionally, spiritually, financially and so on. Yet, it was during the times that I felt uneasy or was at dis-ease, that I neglected each area of my health - some more than others and it was during those times that I began to feel particularly unwell (aka malaise) and unbalanced.

If you've been reading my blog over the years, you know that I have struggled with an eating disorder known as Orthorexia for quite some time. After my initial breakthrough in recovery, I was able to stay true to myself, listen to my intuition and my body and stay in recovery for many months. However, when certain things in life started to feel 'out of control,' I relapsed quite heavily. An eating disorder, like an addiction, does not simply go away. It is always with you and you have to learn how to overcome the antagonist (for lack of a better word) day-in and day-out. Some days, weeks, months and years may be better or easier than othersIn 2014, I relapsed a few different times throughout the year, with the latter part of the year being the most devastating. It was difficult for me to recognize when I fell back into old behaviors because I went about it differently. The obsessive compulsive and destructive behaviors and patterns were present but the methods were different. In other words, the what and why where the same, but the how was different. 

I thought because I wasn't 94 lbs and starving myself that I didn't have a problem. 
In essence - I very strategically yet subconsciously tricked myself.

In fact, I actually gained weight and lost muscle with my new way of restricting. Instead of restricting carbohydrates and sugar, I restricted my intake of other foods like protein and fat and increased my carbohydrates and sugar (fruit) but the underlying pull was the same - a desire to be clean, pure and healthy. At a glance, these don't seem like bad things to desire. Doesn't everyone want to feel healthy? So, looking at it the other way, it is an obsession and feeling that you are dirty, impure and unhealthy and unwell. Now that...that feeling will not only bring you down but disturb any shred of peace and confidence you may have.

So when does this obsession fire a trigger in my brain?

Well folks, as I have said in previous posts, it doesn't have anything to do with food. These thoughts and behaviors rear up on their hind legs when things in my life feel out of control and I am frightened or uncertain (aka fear of the unknown). Food is something I can control - of course this is a false sense of control because it actually ends up controlling me. I touched on this in my previous posts on Orthorexia.


Mind you, restricting is never a good idea, but restricting protein and fat is especially detrimental and the crux of it is that I would NEVER coach anyone to do what I was doing. Red flag number one. I had gotten so wrapped up in this new style of eating (remember, desire to be pure and clean) that I had transitioned to Vegan then onto Raw Vegan and then nearly Fruitarian following an 80/10/10 lifestyle spear headed by Dr. Douglas Graham and his practices. In fact, I did actually try 'The Banana Diet.' What happened? Well, I truly felt like I had gone...bananas. All the while, I had this nagging thought in my head that I needed to heal my body. That there was something wrong with my body.

Please understand that I do not think there is anything wrong with a Vegan, Raw Vegan or even Fruitarian way of life if it truly works for the individual. 

But the simple fact of the matter is that these styles of eating were extremely detrimental to my health. In fact, I function very poorly on them and become very sick. I actually lost strength and energy and literally felt down-right loopy. Some people DO thrive on beans, legumes, nuts, seeds and very little or no animal protein. I on the other hand, do not. I actually have a true sensitivity to nuts and seeds especially sesame and flax and have a very difficult time digesting beans and legumes but I ate them anyway. I ate them because I wanted to be able to, I ate them because I was rebelling against my body and angry at my body for all of the food intolerances that I have (like eggs, gluten, dairy, yeast, sulfites ...and more). Let's back up a moment though, I wasn't only angry at my body for these food intolerances and allergies... I was angry at my body for much more than that. And this is deeply rooted to my past of sexual assaults, abusive relationships, body shaming and low self-esteem. I was trying to design a diet for myself that screamed health to me - that let me know that I was OK - and in my mind, that was strictly plant-based.

After a just a few months on a strict vegan diet, along with the loss of muscle and disruptive cognitive function, I also developed cystic acne, my eyes become very bloodshot surrounded by dark circles, extreme fatigue, headaches, my hair dry, I become more depressed and increasingly irritable. And, because I was consuming foods that didn't agree with with me and perpetuated inflammation while depriving myself of the foods that I thrive on (like properly sourced animal protein), I started a cycle of binging; which I had never experienced before. I would be floating along 'just fine' and then I would find myself out and about or invited to a dinner and my hunger and cravings would be so extreme and out of control that I felt like I could eat through the night. And then I would leave feeling bloated, with heartburn and full of guilt and shame for eating so much and feeling that out of control. 

I had this picture perfect image in my head on what health would look like in my life. 

Smoothies every morning! Wheatgrass shots! Green juice and salad for lunch and dinner! Plant-based! Cleanse, cleanse, cleanse! Detox! Alkalize! Doesn't paint a picture of health in your mind?



Now, some advocates from those types of food lifestyles may argue that I wasn't doing it right or that I didn't give myself enough to heal. That I still had toxins in my body or that the feelings I was having and physical difficulties like fatigue and trouble concentrating were just the side-effects of detox and that I needed to push through.

Some "Food" for thought: This Will Change Your Mind About Hunting

This 21st century notion that we are walking toxins and need to constantly detox is part of what is wrong with the world. If we go about thinking everything that we eat is going to have a negative impact on our health - well it probably will just by detrimental emotional impact of fearing the food that you are putting into your body. Don't get me wrong, I will always lean toward buying organic and I will do my best to always by properly sourced animal meat and fish but that apple at the airport that surely had pesticides at one point is NOT going to kill me - in the scheme of things, I am better off eating the apple then a) Starving or b) Eating some gluten-free vegan processed junk. This constant 'oh, I need to detox' or 'oh, I need to cleanse,' is a vicious cycle in our society.


We need to eat a diverse selection of real whole foods as close to their natural state as possible. And we need to be grateful for our food while honoring our body and our hunger. That's it. It's really not that much more complicated. I believe the human body is well equip to take care of any toxins that we encounter and if we are eating real whole foods that are nutrient dense and yes, mostly plant-based, then we are giving our body's what they need to naturally and continuously cleanse and detox.  

The simple fact was that I was not honoring my body and I certainly wasn't honoring my hunger. I lost all sense of when I was hungry and when I was full. I had to get real honest with myself. Smoothies generally make me feel sick, I'm not sure if it's the concentration of fruit and vegetables all once or what but smoothies off all kinds will usually hurt my stomach no matter how slowly I drink them. I seem to be able to tolerate them better during the hot summer days. And juice (you know the Cold-Pressed, Fresh-Pressed, High-Pressured, Organic, Non-GMO, Enzyme-rich, Juice Frenzy of the decade) unless mostly vegetables spikes my blood sugar - even green juice I need to be careful and drink sparingly. And most (certainly not all but this post is already a novel) nuts and seeds cause not only digestive distress but because of my sensitivity to them, migraines and motional disturbances as well similar to when I have gluten.

So, what is this desire to be clean and pure really about it?

Well, I already told you that it really doesn't have anything to do with food and is more about control. Yes, this true but that only grazes the surface. The desire to be clean and pure doesn't even have anything to do with the physical body at all. This desire is deeply rooted on a spiritual and emotional level. This past relapse has shown me that while I made great progress uncovering old wounds that need to be healed and made strides in my recovery before, I still have a lot of work and healing to do. This type of emotional healing is a continuous process - though sometimes... we need to go back further. To points and times in our lives that may have been too difficult or painful for us to deal with it when it happened.

There comes a time when your soul has to let your mind know that you the issue can no longer be pushed aside - the memories can no longer be suppressed. And that in order to fully heal on a physical level, you need to heal on the emotional and spiritual level first.

(I know I am saying 'you' when I mean 'I').

Those of you that know me on a personal level, know that I have a tendency to build walls. OK - THICK HEAVY walls. And I tend to keep things inside - only opening up to a few if that - and have a very difficult time reaching out to others for help. I don't even like writing that word. Help. Ah, yes, "I Am a Rock," by Simon & Garfunkel comes to mind.


A winter's day
In a deep and dark December;
I am alone,
Gazing from my window to the streets below
On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

I've built walls,
A fortress deep and mighty,
That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.
It's laughter and it's loving I disdain.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

Don't talk of love,
But I've heard the words before;
It's sleeping in my memory.
I won't disturb the slumber of feelings that have died.
If I never loved I never would have cried.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

I have my books
And my poetry to protect me;
I am shielded in my armor,
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb.
I touch no one and no one touches me.
I am a rock,
I am an island.


And a rock feels no pain;
And an island never cries.


Transformation is a funny thing. A year goes by and at first I think, "Wow, that went fast." And then, I really think about... and I'm like "Wow... I feel like I've changed so much in last 12 months. Certainly 24 months. And 36 months? I feel like I was a completely different person. Actually, I take that back. I was not completely different but my life was different, the way I lived my life was different, my thoughts were different and my surroundings were different. But the core of me has remained the same - my roots - my values  - my morals. Yet there were moments... moments where I lost grasp of that core. I fell away from my Authentic Self and lived my life according to how I thought I should rather than how I wanted. Out of FEAR, I separated myself - from myself. 



Music is one of the elements that can bring me back to my Authentic Self - that core - and that bring ME back. In fact, sometimes, it is the only thing that will. Actually, I have a playlist that I have titled 'Authentic.' When I have that feeling that I have lost my roots and I don't feel like I can trust myself and have lost that connection with my intuition - I put on that playlist, sometimes for hours and slowly but surely, I come back around. I have quite a bit of Simon & Garfunkel on that list.

Other songs on my Authentic playlist (btw this is extremely personal so please treasure that I am sharing):

The Wind by Cat Stevens
Flowers Never Bend with the Rainfall by Simon & Garfunkel 
The Sounds of Silence by Simon & Garfunkel 
Bridge Over Troubled Waters by Simon & Garfunkel 
Bookends by Simon & Garfunkel 
The Boxer by Simon & Garfunkel 
Mrs. Robinson by Simon & Garfunkel 
America by Paul Simon
Blackbird by Paul McCartney
Here Comes The Sun by The Beatles
Suite Judy Blue Eyes by Crosby Stills Nash & Young
Teach Your Children by Crosby Stills Nash & Young
Helplessly Hoping by Crosby Stills Nash & Young
Helpless by Neil Young
American Girl by Tom Petty
Bye Bye Blackbird by Joe Cocker
All Mixed Up by The Red House Painters
Crash Into Me by Dave Matthews 
Fortunate Son by Creedence Clearwater Revival 
Follow the Son by Xavier Rudd
Green Spandex by Xavier Rudd 
Let Me Be by Xavier Rudd
Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot by Sting
I Prefer by Barefoot Truth
Landslide by Fleetwood Mac
Me and Bobby McGee by Janis Joplin

OK, that my dear ones, that was just a sample - also on my list are songs by Willie Nelson, Bob Marley The Black Crows, Norman Greenbaum, Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Rolling Stones. I highly recommend creating our own Authentic playlist to tune into when you are feeling out of sorts - or otherwise 'not yourself.' 

"Just as one must not attempt to cure the eyes without the head or d the head without the body, so neither the body without the soul. In fact, one must care 'first and foremost' for the soul if one intends the body to be healthy. If the soul is moderate and sensible, it will not be difficult to effect health in the body; if not, health be difficult to procure..." Ancient Greek philosopher, Socrates.

Most people think of health as one dimension: Physical. I tend to think of it as three dimensions: Physical, Emotional and Spiritual. Though, truly, it is more accurately six dimensions: Physical, Mental, Emotional, Spiritual, Social and Environmental. Where I get into trouble is when I focus too much on one of those dimensions and for me, that is typically too much focus on the physical. Then what happens and when I really get into trouble is that ALL six of my dimensions of health fall out of whack.

The first step for me in cure my 'dimensional upset' is to get grounded. Get back to my roots. I mentioned music as one way that I start that process. There are many others.

Things that I do to get ME back (aka Embracing my Authentic Self) and connect to my Higher Power:

1) Get out in nature 
2) Do yoga
3) Listen to my Authentic Playlist
4) Talk to my family and/or close friends
5) Meditate
6) Get some perspective and read some books (books of all kinds!)
7) Write (non-fiction, fiction, free-form and all of the above!)
8) Play! Do something FUN like swinging on swings
9) Drive - anywhere
10) Indulge in something that I have deprived myself from (like a decadent piece of chocolate cake - yep gluten/dairy/egg free chocolate cake does exist ;) )

Hiking may trump all others on my Authentic list
Coming to the realization that I wasn't taking care of myself and that I had relapsed was somewhat devastating. How could I possibly help others if I was neglecting myself?  How could I, as a Health & Lifestyle Coach, create these beautifully healthy and balanced programs for other people and do the exact opposite and place extreme restrictions on myself? But then I had to remember something. I had to remember to love myself through it. To forgive myself and love myself. To honor my Eating Disorder Demon for serving a very important purpose of giving me a sense of comfort and protection in a time that I was uncomfortable and scared. 


Once again, I am so very grateful for the people that I have in my life. Some of you are dear old friends, some of you teachers and mentors and some of you are wonderful new friends - I lovingly embrace all of you and thank you for being along side me as I go through the many adventures that life has to offer. 

I find great comfort in knowing that I have a strong support system and I have great knowledge and resources around me to help me through this and keep me strong on my road to recovery once again. Part of this recovery includes abstaining from alcohol as well. Alcohol has a very negative effect on my body and my find and consequently, the other dimensions of my health. It is one thing that will very quickly disrupt the connection and communication with myself and my higher power. 

My Book 'stash' 
Below are some great resources on Eating Disorders, Addictions and Recovery: 

"Addictions are not just to drugs or alcohol but to food, people, shopping, gambling 
and other compulsions and behaviors that distract ourselves from being with ourselves.

To read and learn more about Orthorexia and my experience, you can read the following posts:

I will be spending time reading through amazing and inspiring books. Some I have read before like Eating in the Light of the Moon by Dr. Anita Johnston and some of them are new to my collection. I've also been spending time on my creating a new Vision Board and tapping into my creativity.  



What's the moral to my long story?

Always, always listen to your body. Trust your intuition. Trust yourself.
Always, listen to The Wind of Your Soul.


I listen to the wind
To the wind of my soul
Where I'll end up, well, I think
Only God really knows

I've sat upon the setting sun
But never, never, never, never
I never wanted water once
No, never, never, never

I listen to my words
But they fall far below
I let my music take me where
My heart wants to go

I swam upon the devil's lake
But never, never, never, never
I'll never make the same mistake
No, never, never, never



Peace, Namaste and Love,  


- Ashley 

2 comments:

  1. Hi Ashley,

    I started reading your post because you posted it in a comment in The Paleo Approach Community...but I wanted to tell you it really spoke to me because I have experienced some of the same things and feelings you have and it can be a long, hard journey to healing and peace sometimes! But then I guess you know that :) I also wanted to tell you that I especially love your "Authentic Playlist"...I have a playlist called "KC's Faves" that are my go-to songs when I need to find peace and be reconnected with myself, and the songs on my playlist are so similar to yours it is CRAZY! Loveee me some Cat Stevens and Simon & Garfunkel, and pretty much every other artist and song on there! I wish you the best of luck in your future journeys and healing, just remember, you're not alone and you are strong enough to bring yourself to brighter days :)

    Much love,
    Kierstin xoxo

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    Replies
    1. Dearest Kierstin,

      Thank you so very much for reaching out and your kind words. I have Simon & Garfunkel on RIGHT NOW! ;) Isn't it incredible how connected we are without ever even meeting? I am touched to hear that you can relate to my story and I hope that you are in a healthy place and state of peace. Maybe one day - we will be able to join one another over an espresso and share our stories and music. <3 Namaste.

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