orthorexia, body image, food moralizing

trigger warnings: disordered eating, food moralizing, health moralizing

up until recently, i had thought that i didn't have body image problems during the height of my orthorexia, but i'm realizing now that i did. it just wasn't about weight or my appearance.

orthorexia is an eating disorder characterized by an obsession with eating "correctly," with extreme rigidity and food restriction. people with orthorexia have a compulsion to restrict their diets this way, and they categorize all food items as either good or bad. eating a "bad" food causes extreme anxiety. at the height of my disorder, when in situations where the only available foods were "bad" (which was frequent for me due to poverty and food insecurity), i chose to skip meals.

food moralism isn't precisely "this food is generally unhealthy." it's more rigid than that. it's "this food item will always be bad for you." to give an example of how this is unhelpful and even harmful, if you are houseless, big macs can keep you alive far longer than foods rigidly labeled "healthy." when i buy food for a houseless person, i make sure it has lots of fat and protein to give the person long-lasting energy. because that will keep them alive when they're on the street. houseless people are not moral failures for opting for "unhealthy" food that keeps them alive.

i had a negative body image that was based on health. i thought that i was sick and unhealthy and that it made me a less valuable person. i believed the detox movement's claims that conventional food is toxic and that eating it was worse than not eating at all. i believed that people with health problems were to blame for them, because they didn't eat like me.

i thought that my autistic traits (which i didn't know were autistic traits) were the result of long term low-level heavy metal poisoning. i took a detox supplement for it. i was recommended chelation, and thank fuck i was too poor to ever attempt it.

i once had a panic attack while grocery shopping with a friend who was a survivor of childhood cancer, because he was buying conventional chicken and not organic. i literally thought that the conventional chicken would kill him.

i thought that all my minor body complaints meant that i was chronically ill, though they didn't affect my ability to go about my business. i thought that this chronic illness made me less valuable. i blamed myself for the body complaints, and it reinforced my compulsions to only eat natural/organic foods, and to take supplements that i didn't actually need. (i know now that my hand pain and propensity toward repetitive strain injuries are due to the hypermobility and proprioceptive weirdness i was born with. back then, i blamed myself.)

i resisted friends who tried to help me expand what I was willing to eat. the detox/clean movement was a powerful reinforcer of my eating disorder, by telling me that I was unhealthy and my issues were my own fault unless I rigidly ate like they told me to (which most of the time i couldn't actually afford).

because i thought then that i had a moral responsibility to pursue health, i thought that it was a moral failing to be unhealthy, and i hurt a lot of chronically ill and disabled people in these beliefs. i believed that chronically ill people were moral failures undeserving of compassion unless they did absolutely everything in line with the detox movement—only then was it morally acceptible for them to exist as a sick person.

today, i bristle at the suggestion that it's morally unacceptable to have a certain health status. because it alienates and isolates people who are chronically ill. i don't believe anymore that health problems are punishments for making "unhealthy" choices. i don't believe anymore that smokers deserve COPD and emphysema and cancers, or that people who eat a lot of fast food deserve heart attacks. (i also hate that people continually misinterpret this as me valorizing smoking and eating lots of fast food, or asserting that they can't be harmful.)

i don't like the person i was, during the height of the blend of orthorexia and superiority complex the detox movement magnified in me. the idea of health as a moral imperative, and health problems as deserved punishments, immensely damages our ability to be compassionate toward each other.

adapted from a tumblr post i made in april 2019

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