THE BLOG

Orthorexia Nervosa in Recovery: It's Time to Talk

16/09/2013 15:52 BST | Updated 16/11/2013 10:12 GMT

There's something really wrong with me, isn't there? It's not normal to live like this, is it?

Words I'd been too afraid to speak, a kaleidoscope of thoughts that had been free-wheeling around my head formless for so long-now clicking into place with frightening clarity. I didn't understand my own behaviour at all. I'd spent years trapped. Trapped mentally by drinking. Trapped physically by a wheelchair. Why would I choose to spend the years afterwards trapped by food?

Turns out I wasn't alone. Turns out it had a name. And if you're in recovery? You're probably doing it too.

That's disgusting-how can you put that rubbish into your body?

Orthorexia Nervosa literally translated from Ancient Greek is Righteous Eating. It's a fixation with eating food that is deemed clean. Judging food as good or bad. Safe or poisonous. Being in sole charge of food preparation so it won't be contaminated. Obsessing over dietary requirements to the exclusion of everyone and everything else in life.

I'm detoxing today

People in Recovery are massively susceptible to Orthorexia. If the recovery is from physical illness? Then it starts with massive restriction of food groups. If it's recovery from addiction? It's embraced as a form of legitimate extremism. The all-or-nothing mentality addicts are so skilled in. And it almost always starts with a fixation on sugar.

Either way it's isolating. Either way it's dangerous

Truly there is nothing that makes you feel more like a crazy person than being frightened of food. It's embarrassing. Child-like. In recovery you're frightened pretty much all the time as it is, so the fear feels less significant. Food brings people together. To refuse to eat with people is an isolating experience. It's weird. And sad. And lonely.

If I can't bring my own food I'm not coming.

Every recovery forum of any nature has discussion groups dedicated to eating. At least one of those threads will be inadvertently dedicated to Practising the Art of Orthorexia. Keeping tabs on eating. Keeping score on who's doing it right. The real bugger is how hard it is to spot. When does healthy eating become distorted or disordered eating?

Who made this? Can I see the ingredients?

It's to do with the motivation behind it. An inclination to embrace a strong and healthy body is one that can be shared with people. It makes our world bigger. Restrictive eating from a place a fear is isolating. It makes a world as small as possible to lessen the contact with bad things. Orthorexia is frighteningly common in recovery circles. At best it delays full recovery and causes mental distress. At worst it kills.

Sometimes we just need someone to point out that it's okay if you developed Orthorexia in a misguided attempt to recovery. Sadly full recovery of any nature can't be achieved until Orthorexia is dealt with. It's too isolating. People need to have the mental freedom to join in with the world fully. Say no to things because they choose to. Not because of fear. All fear is damaging. Toxic.

You're the one with the problem. I'm just doing what's good for me.

An Orthorexic is rarely going to admit they have a problem. It's really up to the people around them to spot the signs. Trouble is, apart from a "feeling" that something is not right people don't know what to say. My cousin spotted it with me. She was the only one who could see through it. No one listened to her. Not for years.

These days I am free from it. I keep my mind as blank as possible when it comes to eating. Just don't have an opinion. I enjoy food. All kinds. That's good enough for me. I don't need to go any deeper than that. I can eat in front of people. With them. That's fairly incredible to me. Not to be isolated anymore in that way. Not to feel fear constantly around something so integral to day-to-day living.

Socialising is so important in recovery. We all need it. To survive really. Food is a very important part of that. I try to bring sharing food with people as early in recovery as possible. It's always met with massive resistance. Because most people in recovery have Orthorexic tendencies. Whether or not they are willing to admit it.

It really is time to start talking about Orthorexia. To not be ashamed anymore. To get past this massive stumbling block on the road to recovery. Together.

I'm ready when you are.