The Seeds of Orthorexia: Guest Blog Post by Client McKenzie

Today I am so excited to share another client series with you. When I say my clients are the best, I truly mean it. I am honored to get to work with them, and even more honored that they are willing to share their journeys in hopes of helping others. Its the perfect example of empowered women empowering women, and McKenzie is a shining example of just that. In part one of her guest post, she shares an honest, open look at her journey to developing orthorexia.

The Seeds of Orthorexia: Unexplained Illness, Masculine Energy, and the Pursuit of Purity

Part I

In January of 2018, I looked into the mirror after a melancholy holiday season and found a reflection of a ravaged, tired body with empty eyes and thinning hair. After a vicious stomach bacteria, repeated failed attempts to heal myself, and a forty pound weight loss, I finally silenced the masculine voice in my head screaming to me that if I just tried harder, restricted more, that somehow I could be “fixed.”

With the help of Victoria for six months, and now a year, I have finally learned to silence him, the masculine voice, and listen intently to her. Me. The woman I somehow lost along the way. I learned that the only way I could re-claim the power I so desperately sought after was to slow down, to ask for help, to soften, to pause. To realize that the internet, Instagram, and cauliflower would not fix my problems. But admitting there is a problem, fostering community, and going the therapy? That just might.

The Evolution of My Eating Disorder

Orthorexia does not develop overnight. Admitting you have orthorexia, or any eating disorder, certainly does not come easily either. It is painful and heavy. It is a path ridden with guilt and growth. With discomfort and with peace. In my early stages of working with Victoria, she was patient with me as I lied to her and myself saying “But I don’t have an EATING DISORDER.” “You should see how much I eat!” “I only exercise six days a week, not seven.” “I can eat whatever I want.” (Yeah, if you don’t count grains, dairy, gluten (I do have celiac), sugar, packaged snacks, alcohol, sneaky sugars, anything refined, or nightshades.)

Victoria stood by me until I finally admitted to her, and myself that I had an eating disorder. I had developed orthorexia and severe restrictive eating habits and rigid exercise patterns. What was even more difficult? Uncovering, feeling, and understanding the WHY behind my eating disorder. Facing the seeds that were planted into my frontal cortex over the course of decades. Watered by unprocessed trauma, unexplained illness, patriarchal structures, and societal pressures.

We couldn’t even begin our true work, until I put in the effort to understand and accept the root of my Orthorexia. Release the shame. Ask for help.

I was not always the girl who spent a Saturday scrolling Instagram for the cure for a constantly distended stomach, convinced I would find it in a thirty dollar jar of fermented coconut yogurt. I used to be the “cool girl.” Okay, eww, I know but let me explain.

Prior to getting sick, I was the girl eating a Seattle dog on a greasy, street corner at 2:42 a.m. I had cream cheese and sautéed onions dripping off the side of my lips. With grease, and factory- farmed meat juiced streaming down my cheeks I made it look good. Because the lips that were dripping the remnants of a six-dollar dog were curled up on the sides from the curvature of my smile. My dimples were indented, a sign that I was laughing loudly and sweetly with the encouragement of cheap whiskey and cheaper beer.

I wasn’t concerned with how much space I occupied, or how loud my laugh was as it ricocheted off of the overpriced apartments of Amazon’s elite. It wasn’t graceful. Instagram-worthy. Lady Like. It wasn’t small.

I pounded Jack Daniels, and scoffed at Smirnoff (Because I could drink like the boys, and somehow that made me worthy).

I was “healthy” by collegiate standards. I ate steel cut oats and fruit for breakfast, whole grain breads, meat, and frozen yogurt, plenty of packaged snacks, quad-shot Americanos, and late night Paninis when I was hungry and even when I wasn’t. I drank milk straight from the carton, and had a bowl of cereal for dessert every night.

I was healthy. Happy. Confident. Compassionate with my reflection. Sexy. Beautiful. Womanly. Strong.

I live in a privileged, white body. No matter what I ate, how often I exercised, or what foods I deemed healthy and unhealthy, for the majority of my young adult life I hovered at the same size. My 5’10 frame, long legs, and broad shoulders settled into a naturally muscular body. Athletic with straight hips. A medium bust I cherished after puberty. Legs I flaunted with cutoff Levi’s that I bought from a thrift shop. I loved that body. It was my home. It was safe, warm, happy, flexible, and strong.

While I loved that body, upon reflection, I realize she too was crafted out of the ideal image created by the patriarchy.

The patriarchal we all operate under has crafted this image of the “cool girl,” creating yet another standard for women to measure up to, another way for us to compete with each other, another way to occupy our minds with ways to garner male attention so we won’t focus that same energy on disrupting the social constructs that silently cage so many of us.

You know the woman I am talking about. The girl on the big screen showing just enough cleavage while still holding on to perceived innocence. The woman who isn’t too “high maintenance.” Who works hard, and plays hard like the boys. Maintains curves, but not too many. The woman who is just small enough.

I would have never admitted it, but I deeply cared what men thought and worked to maintain my alter ego, cool girl persona. But, I always loved her, that body. Because she had always been my hiding place. Because despite the storm she weathered, she persevered. 

She was steady. She endured childhood trauma from an alcoholic parent whose words and sharp tongue would carve insecurities into her mind, only to be covered up by external achievements. While her house became hostile, she remained sturdy.

She never cried. She always achieved.

She was my vessel as I excelled in academics, a high school social life, and anything extracurricular. She housed a masculine energy that taught her the only way to survive was to push harder, try again, never cry, never stop.

After working with Victoria, and a therapist I now recognize this as the first seed. The conception of orthorexia. The water to help the seed grow? A pervasive masculine energy that fed a Scorpio’s Type A perfectionism and told my feminine intuition to man up, keep fighting.

A Missing Diagnosis and the Pursuit of Healing

Unprocessed trauma planted itself in the burrows of my brain, only to blossom in the summer of my Junior year in college when I traveled to the Dominican Republic to finish my Spanish major.

My dreams of the island life and Coronas came to a halt in October of 2015, when I contracted a vicious, unidentified stomach bacteria that left my digestive system ravaged and distended. Three years after I traveled to the Dominican Republic, the girl who used to wash down Jack Daniels with a Seattle dog was a ghost that I simultaneously feared and envied. To make a long, painful story short, in the span of this time, I had been told by doctors that I had Chrons’ Disease, Post-Infectious IBS, Amenorrhea, Endometriosis, Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth, Candida, a laundry list of food allergies, Gluten intolerance, and an Immunodeficiency.

Many of these possible diagnoses were eventually ruled out by way of countless, invasive tests that left me feeling more like an extra on Grey’s Anatomy and nothing like a woman worthy of love and acceptance. I have been prescribed steroid treatments, vicious antibiotics, antimicrobials, prescriptions I never picked up, and Chinese medicinal herbs that made me smell like a dimly lit drug den off of a bad Hangover sequel.

My masculine energy I had used as a survival mechanism told me if no one could fix me, I could fix myself. And believe me, I tried.

It began with an innocent elimination diet suggested by a doctor, which kick-started a social media search for ideas to cope with my illness I worked so diligently to hide. While I finished up college, I continued to lose weight, developing restrictive habits and consistently doing elimination diets to find the root cause of my digestive distress.

I would only break from my restriction on the weekends to maintain my cool girl persona. If a boy asked me to go get ice cream. Drink a beer at a baseball game. Pound a pizza. Drink too much Jose Cuervo. For about a year, I lived in this box of juxtaposition, hiding my illness from all of those closest to me because of my embarrassment.

I continued this exhausting dichotomy until on my last night of drinking Silver tequila, on Halloween night, I was touched and grabbed in public by a boy who took my repeated NO, as an invitation.

This was the final step. The seed was planted. It was watered. And now it received the sunlight to sprout, and grow.

Trauma. Masculine Energy. Illness. Perfectionism. Assault. Orthorexia.

I stopped caring what men thought of me, and dove headfirst into my “healing protocol.” I stopped wanting frat boys to herald me like they Playboy posters plastered on their ceilings, the ones with sad eyes. The boy who touched me, grabbed me, and froze me took away any sex drive I held and ripped it away with his greedy fingers in a dimly lit bar. His greed was the final till before the harvest. And the seed grew.

Such powerful words from McKenzie! Part two will be up next Wednesday. Follow along with Mckenzie on her Instagram page @thecutoffkitchen.