If you could, for a moment, imagine the life of a wild animal. It can be any wild animal of your choice–it can be a bear, a lion, a wolf–anything your fair mind can think of. Now think about how an animal eats. The reason animals eat is for a very simple reason: because they are hungry. They need nutrition to stay alive and healthy so they can survive, procreate, and reproduce the healthy offspring you see on the Discovery Channel. These animals eat because it is in their nature to survive; there is no “if or but” for them when it comes to survival. Food is necessary and it is not negotiable. They don’t weigh their food in precise measurements; they don’t fast in the name of detox; they do not ignore their hunger signals and do not try to replace their meals with genetically modified sources of nutrition.
Imagine how different it is for people. Specifically, people with eating disorders.
I can discuss a number of eating disorders, but the one I know best and want to address is orthorexia nervosa. Orthorexia nervosa is the act of going too far with healthy eating, the paradox of an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. Note that orthorexia may seem different to anyone who suffers from it, but it is mostly present among gym goers and health freaks you see on social media. I can only speak for people who are incredibly active, but workout enthusiasts who unknowingly suffer from orthorexia nervosa are involved in things like calorie counting or intentional deficits, restrictive diets, meal replacements. (especially protein shakes) and probably everything you’ve heard. on radio, TV and social media about weight loss. These measures are taken to ensure that only “pure foods” are consumed and to advocate for “healthy eating”.
Unfortunately, I suffer from orthorexia nervosa because I have been incredibly active my whole life. I started martial arts at the age of eight and became a second degree black belt in Taekwondo at eleven. Around the age of thirteen, I started to learn to dance on my own and got into art. Soon after, I joined the Navy JROTC program at the age of sixteen and got incredibly invested in weightlifting and running. When I could reduce my mileage to seven minutes, I switched to another form of martial arts. At seventeen, I started my journey in Wing Chun Kung Fu as well as Shaolin and Tai Chi, and today, at nineteen, I am learning Thai Boxing myself. .
I know my journey so far seems impressive, but at nineteen I have chronic knee pain, neck pain, and a horrible relationship with food. It’s hard to eat something “unhealthy” without feeling guilty, and every day it’s a struggle to force myself to eat properly before and after workouts so that I don’t pass out and fall victim to my own madness. Food is no longer a fuel, it has become an obligation.
Exercising with my body took precedence over eating; I pushed myself until my feet let go and my arms were hanging limply by my side. Each set of burnt biceps was a sign that I needed to gain more weight, do more reps, get fitter, and feel stronger, but with every physical goal I set for myself, my relationship with food plunged further. deeper into a depression. black hole that has only festered in me like a disease. I couldn’t do anything about it other than being a victim of my own thoughts, and it wasn’t until recently that I admitted to myself that it’s not normal.
Food is not the enemy. It never has been. The road to recovery is excruciating and so uncomfortable, but it is the road to a better life–a freer life.
That being said, orthorexia nervosa is very present in the fitness community. Many weightlifters, cardio enthusiasts and Swedish gymnastics enthusiasts suffer from orthorexia without even knowing it. This is because of the amount of orthorexia rented at the gym where self-destructive behaviors are admired and modeled as the “ideal life” in the name of bodybuilding and weight loss. In a culture where a fabricated sense of beauty and fitness is revered and placed on a pedestal, it is difficult for people to recognize what they are feeling and how to approach it without feeling alienated.
If there’s anything I want the audience to take away from this, it’s this: if you’re a gym buddy like me and spend a lot of time thinking about food and how such a thing can be “improved” while consuming it, I beg you to reconsider your point of view. Food, any type of food, is good for you. The media will present fatty foods as an evil one day, then carbohydrates as a threat the next. They will skew the conclusions of corrupt scientists and make you believe that you are not allowed to eat when in fact you are. You have full permission to eat. Trust your body to process what’s needed and get rid of what’s not. As a recovering person, I can say that it is so good and so liberating to let myself eat what I want when I want. My body is still lean, and even though I am putting on weight, it has never been clear to me that this is how much I was supposed to be. Our bodies do so much for us, so do our best to give back to the very vessel that gives us life.