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Eating healthy foods is generally considered to be positive. After all, it helps you maintain healthy skin, hair, and nails, keeps bone density at optimum levels, and prevents dangerous weight gain that may lead to obesity, which in turn can lead to other health risks. If you’re honest, having a healthy physique also improves your mood. 

In 2013 I was at my heaviest, almost 170 lbs. I was on anti-depressant medication, eating everything in sight, often others’ leftovers too, and not giving my increasing frame or shortness of breath a second thought. One day I stood in front of the mirror, fighting with my size 14 jeans and decided this is it, I’m going to join a gym. I thought it would be torture, but I turned out loving it. As I began to shed the extra pounds, my mental health improved (or so it appeared). So much so, that I was able to wean off my medication. I was eating healthy, exercising regularly, and loving my new-found zest for life. But…

I became obsessed with eating only healthy foods. If I went grocery shopping, I would spend countless hours comparing the nutritional value on product labels. For example, I would opt for a more expensive brand of peanut butter, because it contained less sugar or salt, even though it was higher in calories. The obsessive shopping behaviour resulted in my friends not wanting to go to the store with me. It didn’t stop there.

As far as possible I refused to eat any vegetables that had been frozen or canned unless I had bought them fresh, blanched them, and then froze or preserved them. I also only wanted to eat in places where I could see my food being prepared. I needed to know the kitchen was clean and see that what was going to end up in my plate wasn’t a shortcut to a heart attack or diabetes.

Before I’d lost the weight, my friends and I would go out once a month to a restaurant for dinner and a glass of wine. My invitations to these regular get-togethers stopped coming. I couldn’t understand why, and when I did ask the answer shocked me: we don’t want to be around you anymore; you have a problem with food. You’re forever telling us what we should be eating or drinking. You’ve changed.

It seemed ludicrous. A problem? Me? The healthiest one in the circle of friends? Never! In my mind, people who had problems with food were those with eating disorders. What I didn’t know was that an obsession with healthy eating can be an eating disorder in its own right: Orthorexia.  

A friend politely steered me in the direction of researching the condition and I was shocked to see how many of the boxes I ticked.

  • I ate only healthy foods, and if I so much as looked at a chocolate, I would immediately feel ashamed of myself,
  • I had ‘juicing’ days, because my body needed a ‘cleanse’;
  • I berated other peoples’ food choices,
  • I had to be in control of my food all the time, and
  • My relationships were suffering, or almost non-existent

I clearly needed help, and I got it. Today I no longer gym five times a week. I take a walk around my neighbourhood or along the beach. Sometimes, if the weather is nice, I have an ice-cream, followed by a hearty meal afterwards. That supper could be anything from fish and salad now, to a burger and chips. 

I’m grateful to the friend who called me out. Without her giving me a reality check, who knows what my physical and mental state would have been by now? I’m grateful to her and the counsellor that helped me. One of the biggest lessons I learned from the experience, that having everything in moderation is much healthier for both body and mind.

If you are looking for support with disordered eating or an eating disorder, get in touch with Bristol Counselling and Psychotherapy.

Priscilla is a regular 40-something South African with extensive qualifications in Import and Export management and is currently employed as a Marketing Assistant for the largest producer of ostrich leather in the world. She also possesses certification in the fields of proofreading and copy-editing. Her biggest aspiration is to one day travel far and wide and share her stories.

All photos contained within this blog are Priscilla’s own, unless otherwise specified, and may not be used without prior permission.

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