I have an ongoing an unproven hypothesis based on what I’m seeing in the eating disorder world, and what I’ve experienced myself; that there are two ways you can have Orthorexia. As depicted in the title.
For example, I was the latter. I was proud of my diet, my health, and my beliefs. I was superior and righteous. I would preach to anyone who didn’t understand my way of eating and exercising. I knew so much (or so I thought). I was proud to be looking after my physical health, and be in the top tier of human beings. Even when I discovered Orthorexia was a thing, I was proud about that.
“I have an eating disorder…” I’d say casually to friends when we got talking. “Yeah, it’s a thing. I’m obsessed with health, like, addicted to being healthy, yeah tough life, but better to be addicted to health than smoking right?!”. It was part of my identity. And in the purest definition of Orthorexia (righteous eating), I believe this is the original. Those who are truly obsessed with health above all else and this is partly made acceptable by society. Especially before Orthorexia and clean eating became worryingly mainstream, there was no social media backlash to being a healthy person, it was respected.
Then you have the other kind. And let’s be honest, these are most people with an eating disorder. It seems rare people are loud and proud of anorexia or bulimia, often hiding/disguising their behaviour rather than boasting about it. When it comes to Orthorexia, my anecdotal encounters suggest that whilst many sufferers do have the same kind of Orthorexia I did, many have a form which blends with other disorders and belief systems.
Some may have hybrid disorders which blend with Anorexia, but as Bratman not so long ago pointed out some people are also using healthy eating as a proxy to weight loss obsession – not anorexia per se, but a way of avoiding the apparent obsession with weight, by excusing behaviour through health – to the point they buy into that as well in their conscious narrative.
On reflection, this is where it gets complicated because people’s underlying reasons for developing eating disorders are complex, personal and hard to deconstruct. They often stem from deep-seated insecurities or desire to maintain control over an aspect of their lives. Maybe, weight loss is an aspiration stemming from childhood, maybe their behaviour has no link to their physical self-image or aspirations but rather their identity, or control over their self-perception, or even a deep-rooted need to punish oneself in some way for apparently unrelated reasons which we or they may not even know.
I guess, me being the first kind, was actually a form of superiority complex. And the psychological mechanism which drove my behaviour and outward promotion of my beliefs were quite straightforward. Deep-seated values; worthiness derived from my good health – a pillar of my potential, and success derived from independence and control – a perfect diet at all costs no matter what. It took me a long time to realise I was suffering mentally and socially. Whereas in other cases it’s harder to understand. Perhaps the common theme is that silent suffering and avoidance, is something we see in more understood EDs and this is what makes Orthorexia stand out as a little different kind of ED. Maybe? I’m open to views. Just a hypothesis. If you have Orthorexia, can you relate to one of these two mindsets?
Whereas in other cases it’s harder to understand, but perhaps the common theme is that silent suffering, and avoidance we see in more understood EDs. Maybe? I’m open to views. Just a hypothesis. If you have Orthorexia, can you relate to one of these two mindsets?