My name is Melissa. I am a writer by trade, a life coach by profession, a wife, and a mother… and I suffer from ‘orthexia nervosa’. This disorder came about in my early 30’s, when I least expected it, and I am afraid to share with you the fact that yes, it is contagious. Not only that, it is a disorder that can and will take hold rapidly, and once afflicted, you can bet it will more than likely stay with you for the rest of your life.
You may be wondering, what in the world is orthexia nervosa? Well, in Latin it means “nervous about correct eating” and simply put, it means if you place your focus on eating healthy foods, you are mentally distressed and most likely need some treatment that involves pharmaceuticals I’m sure and psychological counseling. The theory behind orthexia nervosa is that the fixation with healthy eating is a sign of a serious psychological disorder and left unchecked it can cause malnutrition.
Let me see if I can get this straight. Removing processed foods and focusing on healthy eating, choosing whole, organic foods, and cutting toxic transfats, deadly chemicals and additives from our diet can lead to malnutrition? Seriously? The desire to avoid foods that have been genetically modified or that contain pesticides, herbicides, growth hormones, antibiotics, steroids, or anything artificial is a mental disorder? Wow.
I am an orthexic (the official name for those afflicted with the disorder), and even though that sounds kind of scary, in great big life-altering sort of way (it even has the big Latin name to lend it gravitas) it is what it is, and I’m just going to have to come to terms with it because it isn’t a disorder I am willing to go into treatment for, and isn’t a disorder that I am willing to take steps to “overcome”.
Why? Well for starters, let’s look at the immediate effects of orthexia nervosa in my life. Just last week I went in for my yearly physical. Now keep in mind that I am not 20 anymore, and that’s where the irony and the visible effects of orthexia come into play. I am 41 years old and my physician said I was HEALTHY.
Try as she might to come up with high blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, or blood sugar issues, she can’t. She told me to keep doing what I’m doing, thankfully orthexia didn’t enter the conversation, and I can honestly say the visit went very well. As a matter of fact, I left her office with not one prescription or test order, just the words “call us if you need us, if not, we’ll see you next year.”
Now it hasn’t always been this way for me. By the age of 24 I had undergone a major operation, had two kids, and was facing some very real problems. By the age of 30 I felt 50 and was depressed, overweight, tired all the time, sick more often than not and suffering from a host of different problems. As a matter of fact, when I was 30 I worried that I would not live to see my children grow up. I didn’t know exactly what was killing me, but I did feel like I was dying. My energy was in the toilet, my sex drive was right there with it. I would eat a “good” meal and not feel satisfied, not feel refreshed or energized, I would feel worse, more lethargic, even nauseated. My stamina was a memory and the days that I actually felt “good” were too. I felt like I was literally dragging myself through the days, putting one weighted foot in front of the other.
Instead of looking at why I was in the state I was in though, my doctor just kept prescribing, and prescribing, and prescribing what amounted to a mind-boggling array of meds to treat this symptom and that problem. And what was even worse was the fact that there were also the secondary meds, those prescribed to this side effect and that side effect. No one would tell my WHY I was in the shape that I was in, only that it could be treated. At 30 years old I was taking more medication than both of my parents combined, and there wasn’t an end in sight.
When I look back at the knowledge that I had, I can say that I really did try quite a few things on my own to feel better. I had a couple of friends who shopped in the health food stores, and couldn’t help but see them as organic, natural, nuts and berries eating fools. They were always telling me to try this, or try that, and then I would feel better. I thought at that time health food stores were filled with tofu, carob, and strange little sprouts – nothing I would want to eat. Then there were my Atkins, SouthBeach, carb counting, or carb avoiding friends. If Oprah endorsed it, it had to be good, right? I counted calories, fat grams, points, whatever was the next “cure”. I ate celery, drooled over the missing chocolate, and still felt awful.
Well, until I developed orthexia nervosa that is.
It started when I was 32, I met a certain someone. As I think I mentioned, orthexia is contagious, and this relationship provides definite proof of that. Anyway, Mr. Certain Someone is cool. And he didn’t freak me out by trying to get me to start hunting nuts and berries or convince me that carob truly is as good as chocolate. He did not tell me that tofu tastes just like chicken, he is not a carb counter, fat counter, or gram counter of any kind. When he cooks for me the food is fantastic. I feel energized, like I have done something good for my body, not the other way around.
After several shared meals and conversations, we got serious - talking about food that is, and that is when orthexia truly took hold. He doesn't eat processed anything, yet when he cooked for me there was butter, breads, meats, cheeses....even deserts. I didn't understand it, how different could a packet of taco seasoning versus the raw spices be? Cheese was cheese, right?
Wrong. He told me to trust him, taught me to read labels, and revolutionized my world. Food became my friend, not my enemy. I could eat what I wanted, when I wanted....no more counting, adding, subtracting or avoiding. The point system went out the window. There were no drugs, diet pills, or secrets to it, he just simply taught me to take the process out of food and reclaim my health.
Once orthexia nervosa took hold, all I can say is that the disorder progressed rapidly and the effects were dramatic. I had immediate and extreme weight loss, increased energy and stamina, and suddenly this medication was no longer needed, and the next one, and the next one. Within two years as a matter of fact, I was RX free! It hasn’t come without cost though, I had to give up a LOT of things – wonderful, convenient on the go things because guess what, not only was I learning that they weren’t good for me, the longer I avoided them, the more they made me sick when I decided to “cheat”. I promise you that a trip to McDonald’s or a quick Domino’s Pizza would level me for days. Anytime I deviate from my healthy eating neurosis, physical sickness is imminent.
Gone are the days of Pop Tarts and PMS, General Chicken takeout, and sub sandwich on the run, topped off of course with an evening of frozen custard. But you know what? Even with full blown orthexia nervosa I feel good, really good, and if I had it to over again I can definitively say that yes, I would risk exposure and take the plunge because being an orthexic has been without a doubt one of the best things that ever happened to me. And as I sit here 11 years beyond the point I thought I was dying, I think I can safely say that orthexia nervosa has saved my life.