By Michele Herenstein
The last days I spent in Denver were a mixed bag of emotions. On one hand, I was leaving people who helped me feel safe. On the other, I was going back to what I knew; my friends, family … And on the “third” hand, I was moving into a new apartment which was both scary and exciting all at once.
Recovery is tricky; you don’t become a different person … you’re still you. Now several years into my recovery, I realize that I’ve become a person with stronger emotional senses, a person with clear intuition.
I can’t swear my positive changes are due to my recovery, but maybe having been close to death, perhaps I feel more intense feelings about other people and their needs. I want to help people more intrinsically. I feel closer to people with illnesses whose illnesses are ignored.
Oh, you’re full? Those must have been six yummy walnuts. Oh three? My apologies! Oh, was this lunch? Excuse me – I thought it was one of your snacks.
Anorexia isn’t truly about food; it’s way more complicated than that. It is an unhealthy way to try to cope with emotional problems.
A so-called new eating disorder varies from the other eating disorders on the market.
Orthorexia nervosa is a proposed eating disorder characterized by an excessive preoccupation with eating healthy food. The term was introduced in 1997 by American physician Steven Bratman, M.D. He suggested that some people’s dietary restrictions intended to promote health may paradoxically lead to unhealthy consequences, such as “social isolation, anxiety, loss of ability to eat in a natural, intuitive manner, reduced interest in the full range of other healthy human activities, and, in rare cases, severe malnutrition or even death.”
When I was in the middle of my eating disorder, the illnesses that stood out at the time were anorexia and bulimia. I had never heard of orthorexia. Just because people take on wacky strange diets, does not make them people with eating disorders. However, orthorexia is quite real.
And I must dispense some truly important advice that often goes in one ear and out the other: IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT. Anorexia and orthorexia are diseases. We don’t ask for diseases. They overtake us. All we can do is try to recover, which is incredibly difficult. But NEVER blame people with diseases, like cancer, diabetes, or anorexia. That is the most important thing to keep in mind. Without the support of family and friends, it is a lot harder to get well and live a “normal” life.
“Orthorexia, unlike anorexia and bulimia, differs in that its preoccupations concern the quality of food rather than the quantity of food,” Dr. Bratman explains. Another difference between Orthorexia and the more common eating disorders is the underlying motive.
For example, anorexia is characterized by significant weight loss and a fear of weight gain, whereas with orthorexia, weight loss might not necessarily be the goal. Rather, orthorexia is motivated by the desire to establish feelings of health, cleanliness, and pureness, particularly through one’s eating habits and food choices.
While orthorexia is not listed as an official diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or recognized as a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association, it is largely used by health practitioners who have observed the conditions characterized by this eating disorder.
Below is a personal narrative called “What it feels like to be in ‘partial’ depression recovery,” written in November 2017.
“In the middle of a depressive episode, all I want is to find medication that helps (without unbearable side effects). As long as I’m in that black hole, there is no point in therapy, because I’m too depressed to even be aware of what is being said. I don’t care, and I don’t want to care. Forget diet, exercise, yoga or meditation. Those things aren’t going to do me any good without the solid foundation of the right medications. And as long as I’m severely depressed, that will be all I am thinking about, and hoping for. Relief. Just a tiny bit of relief.
But the battle doesn’t end with the right medications for me — it begins there. The relief can seem short-lived as the reality sets in — there is so much work left to be done. Self-care doesn’t come in a pill, it requires you to work for it, and never give up. Medication doesn’t eliminate bad days, it just gives you back the potential for good ones. And ultimately, I’m never fully recovered. I’m always in the process of recovery, because that is what it is — a process.
On a good day with depression, I feel productive and alive. But that’s not most days. Most days are a mix of feeling “better” but not “well.” Being tired, anxious and still depressed. But better. Yet somehow, I feel just as broken. Not alive enough, not good enough, just not enough. I’m grateful, for that part of me that seems less broken. But I’m angry and sad for the part of me that still hurts. I’m frustrated that I can’t just “be normal.” Completely normal. The kind of normal everyone else seems to be.
We keep going, keep fighting — even when it feels impossible. We remember that we are not alone, we are never alone. We are in pain and afraid, but we are not broken. We are strong — stronger than we know. So, we keep going. Because partial recovery is something. And something, is a start.”
On the one hand, I feel that I’ve over-written, and given my readers way too much information. Not everyone can handle it. On the other hand, there’s an incredible amount of information still to impart.
I want to explain anorexia and orthorexia in more detail, because any diseases that can cause mortality, and are relativity unknown, deserve as much attention as possible.
I want to make sure that families and friends of victims of eating disorders know, or learn, that ED’s are NOT A CHOICE. They’re a disease and a victim should never be blamed. This is one of the most important things to remember when dealing with victims of this disease.
And on my theoretical third hand, it is so important to know how victims of eating disorders feel inside. How many people get asked how they’re feeling; not a month after recovery, but a year plus after recovery. Because from my knowledge and from reading the narratives I’ve been immersing in, even years after recovery there is pain. Real terror, fear and pain.
And we need people to fall back on. If there’s someone willing to “have your back”, even better. The more support, the better the chances are for recovery.
For sufferers of eating disorders, there’s a site on Facebook called The Mighty. These narratives make me cry about 50 percent of the time, but they also me more prepared to “go save the world.” That begins with support. You for me; me for you!
My heart is with each one of you, and to each of you I wish a heartfelt, sincere, speedy recovery.