VLOG 10: Eating Disorders & Identity Part III

My Survivor Story of Childhood Sexual Abuse — Peaceful Hearts Foundation

“I grew up in charming Charleston, South Carolina in the eighties and nineties. Its beautiful cobblestone streets were lined with gorgeous gardens and mansions that dated back well before the Civil War. At first glance, one would have not suspected that anything bad could have happened behind the wrought-iron gates and pastel-colored walls of the grand estates. But like all homes, each one holds a story, and ours was no different.

After the divorce, Momma and I moved into a modest, one-story home on a quiet street shaded by Spanish Moss trees. It was no mansion, but it was our dream, an escape into another world. I was only two, and Momma was nineteen, and more than she desired love, she wanted security. She soon found it in the arms of an older man who promised to love and protect us. Our home quickly expanded, and the idea of a ‘family’ was no longer a fantasy, it was real.”

Read more on Peaceful Hearts Foundation.

8 Ways Your Struggle Brings Gifts

8 Ways Your Struggle Brings Gifts

  • They make us stronger. That’s right — after recovering from a lifetime of abuse, eating disorders, drug addiction and alcoholism, one thing is for certain, I am a stronger person. I don’t see my former addictions and mental health issues as a downside, rather as things that have made me more powerful, able to tackle anything life brings my way.
  • They help shape our character. Of course we are all born with character, but I believe that my struggles have sharpened mine. With every challenge we face, our character is being built, so we can choose to see troubles as a blessing.”

Read more on Recovery Warriors.

 

Eating Disorder Recovery — Seeing The Value Within

“We are all precious and unique. Every body has a destiny to fulfill, and we cannot do that unless we learn to see our value on the inside first. When something is valuable it is considered very worthy, of great importance.

There is no person that is more worthy than you. Yes, you. From the day you were born, God considered you the most valuable person on the planet.

He molded you in His image. He didn’t make one person more special, one more beautiful, and another more interesting, no, He made every person of equal value.”

Read more on Eating Disorder Hope.

 

Paint Me A Soul Part Five

Over the next week for NEDAwareness I will detail raw, personal accounts of my time in the modeling and entertainment industries. These stories serve to inform and educate the masses about eating disorders, mental health issues, drug and alcohol addictions, and what really lies behind the doors of the fashion world.

March 2009.

My twenty-fourth birthday had come and gone, and I could hardly recall any of it…at least anything honorable.  Although I had set out to enjoy the evening sober and in an elegant fashion, by the time I saw myself dressed and sporting new gold stilettos from Bloomingdales, I couldn’t let the night unravel without the heavens spinning.

I wanted to get drunk, fast and hard. As usual my innocent plans ended in raging fights, binges on birthday food, party goodies and alcohol, multiple episodes in the bathroom for purging sessions and, ultimately, a blackout.

I had managed to hide my binging over the course of the night, and purging, I thought that to be a cinch. Because I was partying in the Miami scene, the bathrooms were continuously filled with people who were hurling the hard liquor they had churning in their bodies…at least I thought. I used that as my excuse every time I made the trip into one of the disgusting stalls. As the evening drew on, I looked and behaved like something out of a deranged circus show. I needed a team of people to help put my life together, however I continued to look for fixes in all the wrong places.

 

***

Spring had finally arrived. Outside the world overflowed with cotton candy skies, lush Hibiscus flowers swirled kisses to ethereal butterflies and rows of Royal Palm Trees bended and swayed to the rhythms of the sweet, salty air, that tangoed with the sunshine.

But inside, oh but inside, my reality was muted and bare. Moment by moment I was being strangled by the pasty walls inside Dr. Melbourne’s office. The thick smell of sterilization and cleaning fluids filled my lungs and brought me to a nauseating reality. Blood red. It was, in fact, the only color apart from the chalky white that was in this hell hole. Gallons of blood trickled from the bodies of hundreds of victims, just like myself, down through plastic tubes and into clear containers. With every drip into the container, another soul was exposed and washed away.

The only noise I could detect besides the frail beating of my heart was the maniacal tickings of the stale clock that hung directly above the wooden entrance. I was trapped, and if I wanted to escape, which I did, I would have to dash down the long hallway of slippery shame and face one beautifully altered nurse after another, explaining why I didn’t want to get my breasts enhanced.

Enhanced sounded so…so innocent, as if putting on a padded bra would have sealed the deal. But no, I was fully aware that soon I would be under the knife…again…and Dr. Melbourne…Miami’s finest, would cut and stuff large balloons of potentially harmful substances into my chest. All for the sake of…what?

I wanted to please. I wanted to feel better about my body. I had always wanted a larger chest. Now that not just one, but several of my agents had agreed and brought it to my attention that implants would make my career more successful, I was convinced I was making the right decision. I believed that after the surgery, I would finally be…good enough. I couldn’t tell what was more superficially inflated…my ego, or the sample implants enclosed in the glass case across from me.

Only a few months ago, I had walked through these same doors for rhinoplasty. Any fear that I had was replaced once Dr. Melbourne reassured me with a marker outline on my face of what my new and improved self would look like. As he held up the mirror, I was pleasantly shocked.

That’s…that’s my new nose?”

He remained neutral and said nothing. Suddenly I dwindled into an eight year old, afraid and timid. I was an annoyance with my mouth.

Yup! As I told you before, it’s not a big deal. Rhinoplasty is a common procedure. Especially with girls in your line of work.”

I felt…insulted on some levels, but I also couldn’t help noticing how seeing myself in a potentially new way soothed my emotions. As I turned my head from side to side, I believed that this surgery would fix all of my problems. No one could ever make fun of me anymore. I would book more jobs, and become a supermodel. Everyone at the agency would be astounded by my success. I could never be looked at as ugly again, and coming from a woman who as a child had been made fun of for her big nose, chunky cheeks and glasses, I felt that reducing my nose was a slap in the face to everyone…at work, and at home.

I’ll show them.

I can’t wait to do it, Dr. Melbourne.”

A few months later, after weeks and weeks of lying in bed with bandages on my face like a mummy, I uncovered my new self. A reinvented me. Dr. Melbourne removed the layers to reveal a nose that was more petite, and in my mind, a me that was finally worthy and desirable. However, I was severely swollen and numb to the touch. Numb like my life. The surgery didn’t stop my binging, or purging. Although I saw myself with a new face, I was ridden with issues. I spent hours in the bathroom, obsessing over every little detail. The sadness and anger ate away at my skin, and I wanted to die. I contemplated suicide during my rehabilitation.

Pig. Now you look even more like a pig! Your nose is tilted!

I seriously considered a second nose procedure to correct the first one, but those sane around me talked me out of it.

Now, a hard raspy knock on the door brought back me to these chalky walls, and a life-sized doll stepped inside.

Hello, I’m Theresa. Ms. Du-Boise? Du-DuBose?”

DuBose.”

Ok. Ms. DuBose, please come with me, we need to take your vitals, check your weight, etc.”

God, my weight.

As she turned out the door, I put my feet together and checked to see if my thighs were touching. I hadn’t eaten anything that day, in preparation for this very moment. My jeans were looser. I was down to wearing between a size two to four.

Just don’t look at the number.

We walked over to an area where a shaky scale sat. Fleshy eyes knocked and rolled all over my back as I took off my shoes and stepped onto the platform. Clenching my eyeballs shut, I squeezed my hands until I was sure I would burst into flames.

Please God, please don’t let her tell me the number. Please God, please don’t let her –

God wasn’t listening.

123.” She scribbled some notes on her pad.

123, that’s actually not that bad!

Not my goal, but, not enough to send me into a tailspin at the moment, either. I lifted my flat chest a little higher, and, walked out of the torture chamber straight into the room of doom. I gloated in my number.

123, 123, 123, 123…

My glory, my shining moment was shredded to pieces, the moment she closed the door. Unbeknownst to me, she mentally whipped out her blood-spattered butcher knife and sliced me in half.

123…that’s a lot for models, isn’t it?”

 

Paint Me A Soul — Part Four

Over the next week for NEDAwareness I will detail raw, personal accounts of my time in the modeling and entertainment industries. These stories serve to inform and educate the masses about eating disorders, mental health issues, drug and alcohol addictions, and what really lies behind the doors of the fashion world.

Only a couple weeks had passed since I had first walked into the doors of the agency, but it felt as though I had journeyed through an entire lifetime. My universe consisted of photo shoots, blind contracts, and meeting person after person in castings all over town, although hardly ever eye-to-eye. Most just wanted to evaluate my face and body, not look into my eyes…that required a sincere connection and I was quickly learning that I was in the wrong place for that.

 There was a sort of bitter flow that just…worked. It only took a couple of days before I understood certain protocols and ideals. Show up, on time. Do as you’re asked. Dress to show off your body, and, work hard to maintain certain measurements. The thinner, the better. Always, always appear immaculate. Practice, practice, practice your walk. Be the best. Once you complete a job, don’t ask questions as to when you will get paid. If I had a question about something, I asked, but many times I was shot down and ignored. The tactics seemed…familiar. It was a reflection of my childhood, and one that I was willing to give up everything for. It was a family that I wanted desperately to call my own.

November 2008

Pinching the skin between my forehead repeatedly, I fell off into space. Darkness ran in all directions as the world ceased to exist. My body tingled and my brain throbbed. Suddenly I was sorry for the massive purging session that had just taken place in the bathroom of the downstairs cafe. I couldn’t really think, I was numb. Numb to it all.

Get it together. You have to take new polaroids!

I forced my eyes open to splotches and grey floaters. Sitting on the toilet, clothed, in the agency bathroom I gathered the strength to stand. Dizzy, my stomach churned with anticipation. I walked over to the sink and brushed my teeth. As I spit and raised my head, I came face-to-face with a reflection that was not my own. The glazed eyes, puffy cheeks and red lips didn’t belong to me. Who was I?

I didn’t have much time to contemplate because the door swung open and a fellow model rushed in. She glanced at me and my swollen face, suspiciously.

My gaze went from her, to myself, and back to her again. I watched her walk into a stall and shut the door.

I bet she doesn’t throw up. Why can’t you get yourself together stupid? Why can’t you just be…normal?

I packed my items away in my bag and scrutinized my body in the mirror. I just had to observe it from all angles. The fear of being rejected and criticized by my agents loomed largely. I smoothed my stomach over and over, as I moved from side to side. I checked my back, legs, everywhere. Then I fixed my hair and re-fixed it. I wanted to smash my face into the glass as I morphed into a giant swine.

God Nikki you look like a fat pig. Ugly!

After the polaroids were updated, I was asked to stay longer. Besides the negative comments that were made about my thighs, I was unsure as to why I was asked to stay behind. I wanted to leave, but I patiently agreed and sat down in an empty chair that was normally occupied by the men’s agent. I sat for an eternal time, hot and anxious.

I bet they’re going to tell you about your weight! That’s what happens when you eat right before! You better starve!

I drifted off to the wall of cards that showed off all of the women the agency kept on roster. There I was, on the bottom right. All around me were the most beautiful of the beautiful. I was still on a paper card and didn’t even have my permanent card yet.

You’ll never be like them. Never. Look at their beautiful faces.

I sunk into a bottomless pit of depression, and I couldn’t see the light. Pile after pile of dirt was thrown on top of me. I was suffocating.

Nikki?”

I snapped to my senses, but only for show.

Yes, I-I’m ready. What is it you wanted to see me for?”

My agent came over to me and firmly placed her hand on my shoulder.

Helena wants to see you in her office.” With that she motioned for me to go upstairs.

Upstairs. It was a place that few ever ventured. The owner of the agency practically lived there. Many days as I passed through the main entrance, she was always aware, yet somehow engrossed in her affairs. She intimidated the hell out of me, and she knew it too. A well-known figure, she had guided the careers of some of the world’s most recognizable faces. For a brief second, I wondered if she wanted to help me, too. Adrenaline exploded throughout my body.

As I crept up to the door I adjusted my clothes for a solid five minutes. I closed my eyes and exhaled heavily.

Finally I rapped lightly on the door. I was afraid to disturb her.

Come in and sit down please.”

Pushing the door slightly, I quietly walked in and sat in the chair across from her. The office was even more elaborate than what little bits I had noticed from downstairs. Fur rugs were strewn across a dark hardwood floor. Animal prints and jewel tones were highlighted by fancy candles and framed pictures of articles that boasted of her years of accomplishments. Her massive desk was coated with photographs of famous faces. I felt as big and important as a discarded peanut shell.

She took in a long, heavy breathe and searched me up and down with a neutral expression. Her eyes, however, were piercing. Then she unfolded.

It has come to my attention that, that there is a – a problem darling with some things. Some things that need – attention.” As she spoke she twitched her hand in the air and rolled her eyes to either side.

Attention? Oh my God. What is wrong with me?

I was transported back to my childhood. All at once I was nine years old again, waiting to show my mom my report card. Perspiration trickled between my legs and behind my neck.

It’s, it’s your nose, darling. It’s the shape. And the width. It’s too big. One of the agents brought it to my attention in the polaroids that you took. At first I didn’t notice and I thought that you could cover it up with makeup, but really, it is going to be a problem for clients.”

It took me a while to recover from the massive punch in the face I had just received.

What had she said? It took all my strength not to melt into a puddle of tears.

O-OK,” I stammered. “I understand. You are just looking out for my best.”

I have a wonderful plastic surgeon that I have sent other girls to, he’s the best in Miami, you’ll really love him. Think of it as an investment in your career, and in your life.”

Yes ma’m, thank you for telling me.”

Ok, that’s really about all I needed to tell you.” She stared blankly out her window and motioned me out the door with her crimson fingernails.

I turned, dejected and hopeless. My dreams were shattered. Change my face? Change my life. As I shuffled out of the room I felt the heat from the blistering flames, threatening to singe me.

Podcast — “From Fashion Model to Role Model” with Recovery Warriors

My podcast with Recovery Warriors is now LIVE!

Hear me speak on overcoming a more than seventeen year battle with binge eating, bulimia, anorexia, drug and alcohol addictions, and mental health issues. Also I talk about my experiences in the modeling and entertainment industries and how walking away from them led to my recovery.

God Bless,
Nikki DuBose

Face of Fear

Moving in the face of fear

drowning in a sea of devils,

I saw hope all around me

pushing me forward.

I suddenly felt courage

like never before.

‘Who are you?’

The devils sneered,

‘How dare you try to pass by.’

Dripping with uncertainty I glanced down

With one hand I gripped my fist,

pointed my finger in a demon’s eye

and screamed,

‘Who are YOU!’

blowing them away with one breath,

laughing as I passed by.

©2014 Nikki DuBose

Be Informed: Do You Know the Warning Signs of an Eating Disorder?

The term “eating disorder” is used loosely nowadays in the media and amongst young people. But if you or someone you know may be suffering from any degree of a real struggle with body image or an eating disorder, it can be life threatening.

The earlier an eating disorder is recognized and treated, the more likely the sufferer can go on to lead a normal, healthy life and even help others. Don’t wait seventeen years like I did to seek treatment. It was a mistake that nearly killed me, and to this day I struggle with emotional and physical side effects related to my disorder having gone on so long untreated.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, there are clear and important clues to look for to know if you or someone you know may be at risk for bulimia, anorexia, binge eating, or other types of eating disorders.

“Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss.

Symptoms

Resistance to maintaining body weight at or above a minimally normal weight for age and height.

Intense fear of weight gain or being “fat,” even though underweight.

Disturbance in the experience of body weight or shape, undue influence of weight or shape on self-evaluation, or denial of the seriousness of low body weight.

Loss of menstrual periods in girls and women post-puberty.

Eating disorders experts have found that prompt intensive treatment significantly improves the chances of recovery. Therefore, it is important to be aware of some of the warning signs of anorexia nervosa.

Warning Signs

Dramatic weight loss.

Preoccupation with weight, food, calories, fat grams, and dieting.

Refusal to eat certain foods, progressing to restrictions against whole categories of food (e.g. no carbohydrates, etc.).

Frequent comments about feeling “fat” or overweight despite weight loss.

Anxiety about gaining weight or being “fat.”

Denial of hunger.

Development of food rituals (e.g. eating foods in certain orders, excessive chewing, rearranging food on a plate).

Consistent excuses to avoid mealtimes or situations involving food.

Excessive, rigid exercise regimen–despite weather, fatigue, illness, or injury, the need to “burn off” calories taken in.

Withdrawal from usual friends and activities.

In general, behaviors and attitudes indicating that weight loss, dieting, and control of food are becoming primary concerns.

Health Consequences of Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa involves self-starvation.; The body is denied the essential nutrients it needs to function normally, so it is forced to slow down all of its processes to conserve energy. This “slowing down” can have serious medical consequences:

Abnormally slow heart rate and low blood pressure, which mean that the heart muscle is changing. The risk for heart failure rises as heart rate and blood pressure levels sink lower and lower.

Reduction of bone density (osteoporosis), which results in dry, brittle bones.

Muscle loss and weakness.

Severe dehydration, which can result in kidney failure.

Fainting, fatigue, and overall weakness.

Dry hair and skin, hair loss is common.

Growth of a downy layer of hair called lanugo all over the body, including the face, in an effort to keep the body warm.

About Anorexia Nervosa

Approximately 90-95% of anorexia nervosa sufferers are girls and women.

Between 0.5–1% of American women suffer from anorexia nervosa.

Anorexia nervosa is one of the most common psychiatric diagnoses in young women.

Between 5-20% of individuals struggling with anorexia nervosa will die. The probabilities of death increases within that range depending on the length of the condition.

Anorexia nervosa has one of the highest death rates of any mental health condition.

Anorexia nervosa typically appears in early to mid-adolescence.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by a cycle of bingeing and compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting designed to undo or compensate for the effects of binge eating.

Symptoms

Regular intake of large amounts of food accompanied by a sense of loss of control over eating behavior.

Regular use of inappropriate compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting, laxative or diuretic abuse, fasting, and/or obsessive or compulsive exercise.

Extreme concern with body weight and shape.

The chance for recovery increases the earlier bulimia nervosa is detected. Therefore, it is important to be aware of some of the warning signs of bulimia nervosa.

Warning Signs of Bulimia Nervosa

Evidence of binge eating, including disappearance of large amounts of food in short periods of time or finding wrappers and containers indicating the consumption of large amounts of food.

Evidence of purging behaviors, including frequent trips to the bathroom after meals, signs and/or smells of vomiting, presence of wrappers or packages of laxatives or diuretics.

Excessive, rigid exercise regimen–despite weather, fatigue, illness, or injury, the compulsive need to “burn off” calories taken in.

Unusual swelling of the cheeks or jaw area.

Calluses on the back of the hands and knuckles from self-induced vomiting.

Discoloration or staining of the teeth.

Creation of lifestyle schedules or rituals to make time for binge-and-purge sessions.

Withdrawal from usual friends and activities.

In general, behaviors and attitudes indicating that weight loss, dieting, and control of food are becoming primary concerns.

Continued exercise despite injury; overuse injuries.

Health Consequences of Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa can be extremely harmful to the body. The recurrent binge-and-purge cycles can damage the entire digestive system and purging behaviors can lead to electrolyte and chemical imbalances in the body that affect the heart and other major organ functions. Some of the health consequences of bulimia nervosa include:

Electrolyte imbalances that can lead to irregular heartbeats and possibly heart failure and death.

Electrolyte imbalance is caused by dehydration and loss of potassium and sodium from the body as a result of purging behaviors.

Inflammation and possible rupture of the esophagus from frequent vomiting.

Tooth decay and staining from stomach acids released during frequent vomiting.

Chronic irregular bowel movements and constipation as a result of laxative abuse.

Gastric rupture is an uncommon but possible side effect of binge eating.

About Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa affects 1-2% of adolescent and young adult women.

Approximately 80% of bulimia nervosa patients are female.

People struggling with bulimia nervosa usually appear to be of average body weight.

Many people struggling with bulimia nervosa recognize that their behaviors are unusual and perhaps dangerous to their health.

Bulimia nervosa is frequently associated with symptoms of depression and changes in social adjustment.

Risk of death from suicide or medical complications is markedly increased for eating disorders.

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is a type of eating disorder not otherwise specified and is characterized by recurrent binge eating without the regular use of compensatory measures to counter the binge eating.

Symptoms

Frequent episodes of eating large quantities of food in short periods of time.

Feeling out of control over eating behavior during the episode.

Feeling depressed, guilty, or disgusted by the behavior.

There are also several behavioral indicators of BED including eating when not hungry, eating alone because of embarrassment over quantities consumed, eating until uncomfortably full.

Health Consequences of Binge Eating Disorder

The health risks of BED are most commonly those associated with clinical obesity. Some of the potential health consequences of binge eating disorder include:

High blood pressure

High cholesterol levels

Heart disease

Diabetes mellitus

Gallbladder disease

Musculoskeletal problems

About Binge Eating Disorder

The prevalence of BED is estimated to be approximately 1-5% of the general population.

Binge eating disorder affects women slightly more often than men–estimates indicate that about 60% of people struggling with binge eating disorder are female, 40% are male.

People who struggle with binge eating disorder can be of normal or heavier than average weight.

BED is often associated with symptoms of depression.

People struggling with binge eating disorder often express distress, shame, and guilt over their eating behaviors.

People with binge eating disorder report a lower quality of life than non-binge eating disorder.

Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED) previously known as Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS)

Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia include extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviors surrounding weight and food issues. They are serious disorders and can have life-threatening consequences. The same is true for a category of eating disorders known as Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder, or OSFED, which used to be classified as Eating Disorders not Otherwise Specified or EDNOS. These serious eating disorders can include any combination of signs and symptoms typical of anorexia and bulimia, so it may be helpful to first look at anorexia and bulimia.
Symptoms associated with anorexia nervosa include:

Refusal to maintain body weight at or above a minimally normal weight for height, body type, age, and activity level.

Intense fear of weight gain or being “fat”

Feeling “fat” or overweight despite dramatic weight loss

Loss of menstrual periods

Extreme concern with body weight and shape

Symptoms associated with bulimia nervosa include:

Repeated episodes of binging and purging

Feeling out of control during a binge and eating beyond the point of comfortable fullness

Purging after a binge, (typically by self-induced vomiting, abuse of laxatives, diet pills and/or diuretics, excessive exercise, or fasting)

Frequent dieting

Extreme concern with body weight and shape

The following are some common examples of eating disorders not otherwise specified, but your experience may be different. If you are concerned about your eating and exercise habits and your thoughts and emotions concerning food, activity and body image, we urge you to consult an ED expert.

Examples of OSFED (EDNOS)

Menstruation is still occurring despite meeting all other criteria for anorexia nervosa.

All conditions are present to qualify for anorexia nervosa except the individual’s current weight is in the normal range or above.

Purging or other compensatory behaviors are not occurring at a frequency less than the strict criteria for bulimia nervosa

Purging without Binging—sometimes known as purging disorder

Chewing and spitting out large amounts of food but not swallowing

The commonality in all of these conditions is the serious emotional and psychological suffering and/or serious problems in areas of work, school or relationships. If something does not seem right, but your experience does not fall into a clear category, you still deserve attention.

Diabulimia

Diabulimia is an eating disorder which may affect those with Type 1 Diabetes. Diabulimia is the reduction of insulin intake to lose weight. Diabulimia is considered a dual diagnosis disorder: where one has diabetes as well as an eating disorder. While diabulimia is generally associated with use of insulin, an individual with diabetes may also suffer from another eating disorder as well.

Health Risks of Diabulimia

High glucose levels

Glucose in the urine

Exhaustion

Thirst

Inability to think clearly

Severe dehydration

Muscle loss

Diabetic Ketoacidosis (unsafe levels of ketones in the blood)

High Cholesterol

Bacterial skin infections

Yeast infections

Menstrual disruption

Staph infections

Retinopathy

Neuropathy

Peripheral Arterial Disease

Atherosclerosis (a fattening of the arterial walls)

Steatohepatitis (a type of liver disease)

Stroke

Coma

Death

Possible signs of Diabulimia can include:

Hemoglobin level of 9.0 or higher on a continuous basis.

Unexplained weight loss.

Persistent thirst/frequent urination.

Preoccupation with body image.

Blood sugar records that do not match Hemoglobin A1c results.

Depression, mood swings and/or fatigue.

Secrecy about blood sugars, shots and or eating.

Repeated bladder and yeast infections.

Low sodium/potassium.

Increased appetite especially in sugary foods.

Cancelled doctors’ appointments.

Orthorexia Nervosa

By Karin Kratina, PhD, RD, LD/N

Those who have an “unhealthy obsession” with otherwise healthy eating may be suffering from “orthorexia nervosa,” a term which literally means “fixation on righteous eating.” Orthorexia starts out as an innocent attempt to eat more healthfully, but orthorexics become fixated on food quality and purity. They become consumed with what and how much to eat, and how to deal with “slip-ups.” An iron-clad will is needed to maintain this rigid eating style. Every day is a chance to eat right, be “good,” rise above others in dietary prowess, and self-punish if temptation wins (usually through stricter eating, fasts and exercise). Self-esteem becomes wrapped up in the purity of orthorexics’ diet and they sometimes feel superior to others, especially in regard to food intake.
Eventually food choices become so restrictive, in both variety and calories, that health suffers – an ironic twist for a person so completely dedicated to healthy eating. Eventually, the obsession with healthy eating can crowd out other activities and interests, impair relationships, and become physically dangerous.

Is Orthorexia An Eating Disorder?

Orthorexia is a term coined by Steven Bratman, MD to describe his own experience with food and eating. It is not an officially recognized disorder, but is similar to other eating disorders – those with anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa obsess about calories and weight while orthorexics obsess about healthy eating (not about being “thin” and losing weight).

Why Does Someone Get Orthorexia?
Orthorexia appears to be motivated by health, but there are underlying motivations, which can include safety from poor health, compulsion for complete control, escape from fears, wanting to be thin, improving self-esteem, searching for spirituality through food, and using food to create an identity.

Do I Have Orthorexia?

Consider the following questions. The more questions you respond “yes” to, the more likely you are dealing with orthorexia.
Do you wish that occasionally you could just eat and not worry about food quality?
Do you ever wish you could spend less time on food and more time living and loving?
Does it seem beyond your ability to eat a meal prepared with love by someone else – one single meal – and not try to control what is served?
Are you constantly looking for ways foods are unhealthy for you?
Do love, joy, play and creativity take a back seat to following the perfect diet?
Do you feel guilt or self-loathing when you stray from your diet?
Do you feel in control when you stick to the “correct” diet?
Have you put yourself on a nutritional pedestal and wonder how others can possibly eat the foods they eat?

So What’s The Big Deal?

The diet of orthorexics can actually be unhealthy, with nutritional deficits specific to the diet they have imposed upon themselves. These nutritional issues may not always be apparent. Social problems are more obvious. Orthorexics may be socially isolated, often because they plan their life around food. They may have little room in life for anything other than thinking about and planning food intake. Orthorexics lose the ability to eat intuitively – to know when they are hungry, how much they need, and when they are full. Instead of eating naturally they are destined to keep “falling off the wagon,” resulting in a feeling of failure familiar to followers of any diet.

When Orthorexia Becomes All Consuming

Dr. Bratman, who recovered from orthorexia, states “I pursued wellness through healthy eating for years, but gradually I began to sense that something was going wrong. The poetry of my life was disappearing. My ability to carry on normal conversations was hindered by intrusive thoughts of food. The need to obtain meals free of meat, fat, and artificial chemicals had put nearly all social forms of eating beyond my reach. I was lonely and obsessed. … I found it terribly difficult to free myself. I had been seduced by righteous eating. The problem of my life’s meaning had been transferred inexorably to food, and I could not reclaim it.” (Source: www.orthorexia.com)

Are You Telling Me it is Unhealthy to Follow a Healthy Diet?
Following a healthy diet does not mean you are orthorexic, and nothing is wrong with eating healthfully. Unless, however, 1) it is taking up an inordinate amount of time and attention in your life; 2) deviating from that diet is met with guilt and self-loathing; and/or 3) it is used to avoid life issues and leaves you separate and alone.

What Is The Treatment for Orthorexia?

Society pushes healthy eating and thinness, so it is easy for many to not realize how problematic this behavior can become. Even more difficult is that the person doing the healthy eating can hide behind the thought that they are simply eating well (and that others are not). Further complicating treatment is the fact that motivation behind orthorexia is multi-faceted. First, the orthorexic must admit there is a problem, then identify what caused the obsession. She or he must also become more flexible and less dogmatic about eating. Working through underlying emotional issues will make the transition to normal eating easier.
While orthorexia is not a condition your doctor will diagnose, recovery can require professional help. A practitioner skilled at treating eating disorders is the best choice. This handout can be used to help the professional understand orthorexia.

Recovery

Recovered orthorexics will still eat healthfully, but there will be a different understanding of what healthy eating is. They will realize that food will not make them a better person and that basing their self-esteem on the quality of their diet is irrational. Their identity will shift from “the person who eats health food” to a broader definition of who they are – a person who loves, who works, who is fun. They will find that while food is important, it is one small aspect of life, and that often other things are more important!”