When I was in the deepest, darkest depths of my orthorexia, I had one fear that overwhelmed all of the others. Food. Not all food, but certainly most foods.
While other young girls my age where enamored with boys, I was concerned with sandwiches. While other students in my college classes were going to happy hours, I was going to the gym and then straight home to bulk cook my specially prepared salt-less, fat-less, yummy-less meals.
I was obsessed with not only eating clean and pure foods at all times of the day, but I was also obsessed with living an entire lifestyle that revolved around appearing healthy. Every semi-enjoyable activity I did was scheduled around how hard I workout out earlier, how many calories I burned, how many I ate, and how good I was at eating the standards I set for myself.
That was my life for about five years. It's been two years since those days and I'm fortunate to be able to say that I experience freedom with my food choices today, as well as how I move my body. I've said goodbye to being chained by a "perfect" body and instead, I live my intuition-driven life exactly how I want, which has led to so many fulfilling side effects.
One side effect I did not expect has been creeping up on me lately. Since I began eating disorder recovery, I have been slowly eating all of the foods that once terrified me. It was so liberating. I could drink lattes, eat burritos, have pizza, salads with numerous ingredients and unlimited amounts of fruit!
While this newness was exhilarating, I realized I was also having intense stomach pains nonstop. I was gassy, bloated or stressed in some form or another. Most of the time, I thought it was only because of the anxiety that was hiding in the back of my mind when I was eating those scary foods.
My other guess was that my body was just getting used to eating foods that it hadn't digested in a long time.
I believe both of those reasons are huge causes of bloat for many people recovering from an eating disorder. That could be the only reason they have bloat! But what about when it extends a year later? Two years? Five years? Ten?
I have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) meaning I, once again, need to be careful about how I eat. Being a Body Image and Eating Disorder Coach, this scared the crap out of me.
I thought to myself, "Is this going to affect my own confidence when I'm coaching others? Am I a hypocrite for telling people to eat fear foods, when I'm over here having to cut some meals out of my diet once again?"
I came face to face with that little pesky voice for a few weeks as I ventured into the world of gut-healing, probiotic-rich, dietary eliminations once more.
A beautiful thing happened. I began to realize that the more I openly discussed my own IBS, the more other recovering orthorexics came forward too. IBS is an extremely common syndrome already, but you'd be surprised to see just how many people have it after experiencing an eating disorder.
So what does one do? Limit food again? Continue to eat the off limit foods disregarding digestive pain?
More importantly, how do you not wind up exactly where you started?
This challenge has presented to me a very simple (almost too simple) answer.
A reason why eating disorders can create chaos in the bodies and minds of men and women of all ages is because of fear. Whether they fear lacking control, approval, money, abandonment, beauty, or size, an eating disorder can quickly become their coping mechanism of choice for that fear.
Food was never the real issue. It was merely a side effect of the disease of fear.
Similarly, no event or action is bad. It's the perception of that event or action that creates the real trauma.
While I have recently had to eliminate foods from my diet again as I venture to heal my gut and create a smoother digestive system that won't leave me in the fetal position night after night, I have had to come face to face with a fear that has quietly resided in the back of my mind.
Will I become orthorexic again?
Uncomfortably sitting in this question and facing it head on will bring you ten times more clarity than running away from a question ever would. My answer was simple: no, I will not. I know that orthorexia is no longer in the cards for me (and you too) if you can realize one thing. The reason you are eliminating foods this go round is out of love for your body and not hate.
There is no more self-denial. There is no more fear. The building blocks of an eating disorder have been ambushed, demolished and burned to the ground.
All that is left is you and your desire to feel nourished from every single bite of food, and there's never any shame in that.
If you're suffering from IBS post-eating disorder, continue to keep in mind that your journey moving forward is one full of curiosity, love and patience. Your body will always be fighting for you, and now it's up to your mind to view every experience as a chance to learn and grow as the courageous fighter you are.
If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.