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Confessions of an excessive exerciser with Orthorexia

I very often mention to friends and family that I have an eating disorder. But I’ve rarely spoken about what it is, or how it affects everyday life, not just for me, but for those around me. At any stage when I’ve been out or out to eat with friends and family, it becomes more obvious. I will often choose the lightest meal on the menu – very rarely have a starter – and never have pudding.

I’ve had an eating disorder for such a long time, that I don’t remember not having it. I have always over exercised – to a major degree. For years before I had Meadow, I would run at least 13 miles a day, do a spin class or other HIIT class and do weight training – e v e r y d a y. And on top of all the exercise, I have Orthorexia. For those who don’t know what it is, it’s a form of disordered eating, and for me is being obsessed with healthy foods, ie no take aways (EVER!), no donuts, no ice-cream, no milkshakes, no candy or chocolate, no cake or pastries, no filo pastry or anything that may have a huge amount of butter or cream. It’s so bad that I occasionally feel physically sick seeing people eat things like chocolate eclairs with all the cream and fake chocolate icing.

It can be socially limiting. Recently at our mum’s Christmas night out I didn’t eat a single thing. No, not one thing. I took homemade chocolate brownies that I made – and no I didn’t lick the spoon or bowl when I was making it. I didn’t even taste them. So everyone around me is eating and drinking, but I will refrain.

When we were in the US in October and the food was so unhealthy, it meant I had an apple instead of a meal. This is dreadful when I’m still exercising. But I couldn’t bear to watch people throw themselves into their foods as if they were trying to win a war.

I’m much better than I have been. I don’t excessively exercise. I follow a structured programme with set exercise for a particular day. I try not focus on the step count on my Fitbit – I TRY! I have recently studied and completed a nutrition diploma – and I’m currently studying sports nutrition. All of this to help me see just how important it is to eat a balanced range of food.

I still won’t eat take aways or cakes/pastries – but I’m getting better. The nutrition plan I carefully follow – helps to make sure I get a range of foods – including good fats – that make sure my body absorbs the nutrition, my body needs to overcome all the previous damage I have done. I have a dense nutrition shake to complement my food intake – and for the first time in a very long time (decades) I have a more balanced approach to food and exercise. More food, less exercise.

I look and feel better for it. I never would’ve believed that eating more and exercising less would actually make me look more healthy, have more muscle tone and definition, and also have much healthier looking skin and hair. It started a long time ago for me – doing ballet – when my ballet teacher would tell me I was plump. I was never going to be tall and slim like my eldest sister. Or have a six pack like my other two sisters. I’m short, so clothes don’t look great on me – and it didn’t feel great without them haha. I always wanted to be thinner. I could blame the media or society. But the reality is I didn’t like the way I looked or felt in my skin. So I would push myself so hard physically – running miles and miles – doing exercise in excess. And then limit what I ate – usually the same food.

Now I kind of like who I am. I like that I have scars and faults and wrinkles. Means I’ve lived a little. I have a beautiful little girl who looks up to me. She sees me exercising and sees me eating well. What I don’t want to do is pass on my unhealthy habits to her. I want her to be able to go into a restaurant and order anything she wants – including pudding, which I never ever do. To be comfortable enough to accept that there’s an 80/20 balance – and that not everything has to be on point or clean eating absolutely 100% of the time.

Recognising that there’s a problem is the first step. Working on it is a lifelong challenge – and can’t be done alone. Educating yourself and making sure you have people who can give you access to healthy exercise programmes and nutrition plans is key to success. It isn’t just to maintain weight that I’m so dedicated and committed to being healthy. It isn’t just for me. It’s for all the people, who like me, have some hang up of some kind. That use food for comfort, or food to deprive or worse food to punish yourself for how you feel about yourself.

Or perhaps like me you use exercise to face the stress of the day. The endorphins so addictive to help you feel much better. But it should all be balanced. Anything and everything to excess is never a good thing.

Disorders have many guises – but there’s good help available, you just need to recognise the issue for yourself and seek the right help from those who have been there, from experts, from family and loved ones. What are your struggles? Where are your points of pain in your life that cause you to overeat, or to over exercise or overindulge?