How Being Healthy Became Unhealthy

A Look Into Orthorexia

What []_[] Want | Helen Ortiz | February 24, 2016

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By: Helen Ortiz

It’s senior year and I’m getting wine drunk on my couch and eating cheese, per my (nightly? Yeah) ritual. Earlier today I read an article on “orthorexia” – an eating disorder that is not in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) or recognized by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) but that is totally legit – and I was reminded of how cheese and wine nights were so not my jam freshman year. So not my jam, in fact, that I lost 15 pounds my first semester away from home.

So, what the fuck happened?

Orthorexia is basically an “unhealthy obsession with healthy food”. When I first came to school in Miami I was overwhelmed as fuuuuuck. Not only was everyone beautiful, but everyone was weirdly in shape. This freaked me out on a visceral level. I was pretty cool when I first moved here, and pretty confident. However, a few months of living in this superficial climate shifted the foundation of my bad self and left me in a crumbling, cheese-less pile of unsalted quinoa.

After realizing that I had relocated to a land populated by a super-human race of gorgeous athletes, I started going to the gym and eating healthier to better myself. However, with most things I do, I took it to the next level. I started eating like a goddamn rabbit and working out like the hamster I had in fourth grade (God rest his soul). I didn’t really consider myself anorexic because I was still eating, but every day the list of things I would not eat grew and grew, like that blonde girl’s hair in that fucked-up fairytale.

When I went home for winter break my sister called me out because I would only eat half a bagel, and she was like “Dude, you love carbs.” And I do, and that half bagel was my wakeup call. When I went back to school I started taking a hard look at my life and what I was putting into my body.

I remembered I once cried in the dining hall because I couldn’t figure out if yogurt was good for you or if yogurt had a lot of sugar in it (don’t make fun of me, I know a lot more about nutrition now, ok). I had to find ways to let go of my anxiety about food (but on a deeper level, life), and to convince myself that eating a piece of chocolate would not result in the immediate death of all my cells. The process was slow, and is still my beautiful dark twisted fantasy that I have to work hard at every day.

The importance of this is not that I was weird and bony freshman year. A huge part of the journey towards my self-acceptance was realizing that I was not alone. I see this shit happen all the time. Meal prepping, extreme veganism, no sugar diets, working out 7 days a week – all these things are common in Miami. And we accept them, but maybe we shouldn’t anymore.

Orthorexia is complex and tricky because eating healthy is definitely a good thing. However, there is a difference between leading a healthy lifestyle and leading a restrictive and controlled lifestyle.

I’m not saying go yell at your friends for not wanting to eat fast food, but just to be more mindful, aware, and caring. An issue like this is a complex one, and socialization is a difficult thing to deconstruct.

We can start by changing the language we use. Stop using weight as a compliment. Focus on achievements over looks, and apply these same rules to yourself. Balance is a difficult thing to achieve, but self-awareness is a good first step.

For more information on orthorexia: