I recently read an article by Karin Kratina, PhD, RD, LD/N titled Orthorexia Nervosa. I will share the link to the article at the end of this post. This article meant more to me than just an interesting read about a subject very close to my heart. The truth is that my heart nearly stopped when I read the article. I see its companion with exercise as the primary symptom instead of food. This author put into words something that it has taken me years to describe. This article very eloquently outlined my son’s behavior, the only difference being that his was with exercise more so than food. The start of his illness was so insidious. It was
so much so that my husband would ask me what was raising the red flags for me. My answers fell flat when compared with my mother’s sixth sense that something wasn’t right. I just couldn’t seem to put into words what my heart knew was something gone very wrong. Can anyone else relate?
What I saw in the beginning was a rigidity; a fixation on finding the “healthiest” exercise routines. The reason given in the beginning was to improve athletic performance in baseball and weight lifting. Who could argue with that? In a very short period of time we went to being unable to miss a workout; not for bad weather (with running) or even for illness. The routine must be followed and it became more and more strict. There was a sharp progression to the length of time increasing and a need to “challenge” himself to do more and to add to his routine. If there was any temptation to cut back or to miss a day, he seemed to punish himself by not only resisting the temptation, but adding additional exercise. There was a very self-righteous attitude that I observed which went way beyond pride in an accomplishment. It was an attitude of competition, although he was the only competitor. He must do more than anyone else he knew. An air of superiority came with the knowledge that he would be out running 10 miles in wind chills in the single digits, the snow, the rain, etc. His life became more and more consumed with his exercise routine and he would often lament that he couldn’t take a break because it would be “weak”. Exercise became his life.
A chord was struck as I read the words “nutritional pedestal” and thought about how my son put himself on an athletic or exercise “pedestal” and looked disdainfully on those who he viewed as less active. His sense of self-control seemed to come from pushing himself physically to the brink of exhaustion and he chastised himself severely if he felt that he had “slacked off” on any particular exercise routine. I can still remember my son telling me that he had to continue to push himself this way, because if he cut back even a little bit he would fall prey to laziness and inactivity. It was all or nothing. All of the above mentioned behaviors are outlined relative to food in Karin Kratina’s article.
Things did move to food. Our son did begin to become just as rigid about “healthy and organic” food. While he could clearly see that despite all of his exercise, his body was getting weaker and that he was losing a great deal of weight, things had gotten way out of control and he couldn’t stop. It escalated into a very life threatening situation that seemed to come at us all from behind and was veiled in many disguises.
It took awhile for me to identify what was going on. I was never really able to clearly put into words what, in my heart, I knew was very different from the Anorexia stereotype with which I was familiar. What happened to our son seemed hard to touch and hard to describe. It was very hard to make a case that something was really wrong, especially in the beginning, because it could all be so “normalized”. That voice in my head told me that something was wrong, but that voice was anything but articulate in describing why. Thank you Karin Kratina for putting into words what I never could clearly define! You wrote my story, so to speak. Even though my experience wasn’t primarily with the food until very far into the illness, you wrote what I saw if I just substitute the word exercise for food. I am sure that there are others out there who can relate. For some reason I had a lot of difficulty making this link work. Please copy and past into your browser to read the article. It is well worth it! Without further adieu, here is the link to the article: