When we think of eating disorders it’s easy to think of an anorexic person, and this is exactly what National Eating Disorders Awareness Week is about: it’s not always what you think.
The awareness is aimed around the phrase, “I had no idea” to show the different ways an eating disorder may present itself.
“I had no idea … that my passion had become a problem” was the one that hit me the most because I related to it.
In November of 2011 I left my husband after two years. At 26, I felt like I didn’t know who I was as an adult. I’d gone to college and then gotten married, but I’d never lived on my own. I wasn’t sure what exactly I liked doing, but it certainly wasn’t sitting around eating pizza every weekend. So much pizza!! I’d never been less fit or less happy with myself. In college I would run three miles and not feel tired. I tried running a year into my marriage and after 90 seconds I was hurting. I was SO unfit and I couldn’t believe it. Of course, I don’t blame him! I was the one living a life that wasn’t about me because I didn’t know what I wanted.
I’ve mentioned before that I’ve found a lot of inspiration from blogs in my quest to become healthier and eat better food. A healthy cook book is fine, but healthy recipes with personal stories bring food to life for me.
What I didn’t go into was that finding these blogs required navigating through an ocean of “healthy living” blogs (known in the blog world as HLBs) that were often diaries of people with eating disorders disguising themselves as health-oriented. Andrea Wachter at The Huffington Post wrote a good piece on this titled, “When Healthy Eating Becomes Unhealthy.”
“It starts out healthy enough — or, seemingly so. Maybe you started by cutting out processed foods. Then desserts. Then sugar. Then meat. Maybe you switched to all organic and while you were at it, went gluten-free and wheat-free. In a culture that has gone health-food crazy, it’s easy to see how some people can take a “healthy” diet to an unhealthy extreme.”
After we broke up and I moved out on my own I quickly became completely obsessed with eating “real” food and not eating any animal products. I would spend my weekends making all of my food for the entire week so I didn’t have to risk eating out and consuming anything processed or containing animal products. I thought this was normal because I read a lot of blogs where people talked about doing the same thing. I thought it was totally fine to obsess over meals because it was in the name of health and I wasn’t trying to lose weight. Another point in Wachter’s article resonated with me:
First, take a look at when it all started. What was going on for you at the time? Many of the people I have treated in my counseling practice have discovered that they started when something painful happened, perhaps a loss, trauma or difficult situation in their lives. Feeling out of control with their painful life situation, they turned to perfecting and purifying their eating.
Whether someone has a full-blown disorder or a lesser-degree preoccupation, what is unhealthy about being too healthy is that it is extremely limiting, very time-consuming and can ironically lead to malnutrition. It can also become a replacement and a distraction for finding healthy ways of dealing with anxiety or grief.
That was me! I thought I was just being ME for the first time: eating what I wanted, when I wanted, without anyone to tell me what to do. I wanted so badly to figure out who I was and what I was doing in life that I went overboard and let food consume my life. But the break up was the absolute starting point of this obsessive behavior. I was devastated about my decision to get married and hurt someone I cared about, so I think my diving into the world of “healthy living” was my attempt to make it better. Like, if I was able to completely invest myself in this then it wouldn’t have been for nothing.
Slowly I came to see that I wasn’t actually bettering myself, and I didn’t really feel that well! What was worse was reading the stories of others and seeing how sickly they looked. There was one blogger in particular who was so funny and a great writer. She’d blog her daily eats, and let me tell you … it was close to nothing. No healthy fats, no animal products, no alcohol, no sugar. In addition, she was working on body building. She surprised readers by writing a post in which she announced she was leaving the blog world because for so long she thought she was finding inspiration, but it had ultimately become an eating disorder. She was no longer having periods, felt sick constantly from eating the same foods over and over, and was depressed to the point where she had quit her job and moved to another state to start over.
This is why I think the #IHadNoIdea campaign is so powerful – it’s much harder to spot an eating disorder that’s under the umbrella of healthy eating. I was lucky that it didn’t negatively impact my life in the long run, but I see lots of bloggers today who are clearly suffering with body image issues and practicing “healthy eating” to the extreme – the point where it affects your daily life, friendships/relationships, and you’re no longer healthy.