Part 2, The Seeds of Orthorexia: Guest Post by Client McKenzie

Part II: The Seeds of Orthorexia: Guest Post by Client McKenzie

Instagram Diagnoses and Diets

I became the healthy girl with the help of Instagram. I became reliant on online “wellness” sites that are catered to an astonishingly white, and privileged crowd. Instagram accounts from healthy-foodies. Podcasts from voices who all want to speak the loudest.

I have read, believed, and tried it all. As a former Strategic Communications major, I pride myself on being quite media literate. What I never factored in was the way this trained literacy can become clouded in the face of fear, a loss of self-compassion, perceived societal pressures, desperation, anxiety, and ultimately depression. To recap, here is what the past three years on the internet taught me.

First, I was a vegan. I had trouble digesting anything, so I decided to cut out meat in conjunction with the foods I had already taken out on the Elimination Diet. I read countless articles, binge watched Netflix documentaries, and neurotically listened to podcasts that promised as long as I sprouted my oats and lentils, drank homemade nut milks, and stuffed my meals with avocados and cashew cheese.

I was left feeling more bloated, uncomfortable, and weak than ever before.

Eventually I transitioned and began to eat a small amount of responsibly raised meats, and would define my eating style as predominantly “paleo.” What a transition.

Then, there was the Whole30.I demonized gluten, dairy, sugar, anything processed, alcohol, and anything sweet. I grew smaller and smaller only to be complimented by friends and colleagues.

Soon, I lost my period, and became more aware of my hormonal imbalances. Instagram ensured me that adaptogens would solve all of my problems. I spooned Ashwaganda into my turmeric tea with reckless abandon. I tried chaga, maca, camu camu, reishi, anything the L.A. elite would do. What I didn’t have was their bank accounts. My affinity for all things woo-woo and powdered dwindled as I watched my finances do the same. I continued to restrict more, try harder, do better.

After two colonoscopies, my doctors believed I had endometriosis. I had a surgery, and the disease was ruled out.

I then went to a naturopath who told me I had Candida.

My conventional doctor told me I had Small Intestine bacteria Overgrowth.

My gynecologist told me to get colonics.

My hydro therapist that I should never even consider eating sugar, especially from fruit.

Restrict. Restrict. Restrict.

Instagram affirmed this belief. Bananas became the enemy. So did sweet potatoes, and any starchy carb. Hell, any carb became the enemy. It would feed my candida, and SIBO. If I starved the bacteria, they would die. I would be strong. I would WIN.

But I also starved myself. My curiosity, desire to dig into literature, to spend time with my family, to make a change in my community grew hungry. I was tired. Tired of starving. Tired of “healing.”

But I persevered. Morning and night I burned out my Vitamix with a no-sugar smoothie. I would load frozen vegetables to supplement the creamy texture a frozen banana usually gives. I supplemented dinner with frozen bowls. I grew colder and colder, and shivered incessantly.

Keto? I considered it. I began to demonize all carbs, as Instagram also told me that fruit sugars are just as bad as the refined stuff.

I looked in medical journals, and skimmed the abstract to glean the same consensus. I read what I wanted to read. I chose the articles that confirmed my pre-conceived notions. They said that fruit spikes your blood sugar. That carbs flood your body with glucose that is stored as fat unless you use it. And fat storage is bad right? Especially when you’re 40 pounds underweight… Fat, on the other hand would fuel my brain, and keep me full for hours. Or, so they said.

Instagram told me that I would be full off a no-sugar smoothie for dinner. Instagram told me to feel guilty for eating a banana coin out of the freezer. Instagram told me if I was smaller, I was more worthy.

I never fully went “Keto.” Vegetables have carbs too. I know, because I have checked the nutrition facts of a zucchini and acorn squash while I was on the Stairmaster.  Have I mentioned I tried low-fodmap(ish)? What about Specific Carbohydrate where carrots became the enemy? Yeah, I did that too.

In December, after antibiotics to eliminate the SIBO, I had a blood test that showed an IGA deficiency and the markers of a severe gluten intolerance. I was lead to believe I had an auto-immune condition, and needed to cut out any possible allergens.

This included eggs, nightshades, nuts, seeds, some spices, you name it I probably cut it out for 30 days. And, oh, yeah I still was low-sugar, low-ish carb. But I never counted calories or macros. So how could I have an eating disorder?

I tried everything. I tried every diet. Yes, I said diet. Because despite Instagram’s best effort to call these ways of eating a “lifestyle,” or a “healing protocol,” if abused and done without supervision they are all diets in disguise. Let’s cut the bullshit.

The one illness my team of doctors never diagnosed, that Victoria immediately did, was an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. While my digestive disorder and gluten intolerance are very real, many of my food fears were irrational, unfounded, untested and frankly unsustainable. I fell into the trap woven by capitalism that if we spend enough money on pretty, packaged supplements, protein powders endorsed by influencers, and magic elixirs, that we can be healthy, worthy, and loved.

The Inaccessibility of Wellness

This system has created an un-attainable definition of “wellness,” largely reserved for our country’s thin, white, and wealthy elite.

I recognize my privilege. I admit, with regret, that I have contributed to this colonization of “wellness.” I too, have unintentionally made “healthy” more inaccessible for those who need the most.

Working with Victoria has helped me to reclaim my feminine energy, admit my role in this problem, release shame from having an eating disorder, and understand that an eating disorder is never the product of one thing, but is simply a handful of seeds that were consistently given a series of nutrients, or traumas that helped them grow.

Victoria has helped my find the honestly to admit that I “achieved” what I initially set out to do. While I was trying to heal my digestion, I was also on the pursuit of becoming smaller. And I did that, I eventually found a size zero. Ans I lost the rest of my life.

The Weight of ED

While I was busy getting physically smaller, so was my curiosity, my kindness, my passion, energy, capacity to care, to love, to work, to learn, to contribute, to revolt, to take up space that all women deserve.

They will tell you that nothing tastes as good as skinny feels. I would contend the opposite.

A size zero (for my body) is cold, so bone chillingly cold that you curl up your bony body in front of a space heater cranked to the highest temperature just to feel some semblance of warmth. A size zero is a forty pound weight loss and a loss of social interaction. It is the loss of a sex drive, or a period, of the opportunity to feel like what society tells you it feels like to be a woman.

It is saving on tampons and spending on supplements. It is an hour in a Whole Foods deciding if you should buy a loaf of gluten free bread and leaving it on the shelf because you fear carbs are too much for your body to process. It’s the sound of a Vitamix every summer night with smoothies for dinner instead of the beat of an outdoor country concert.

It’s laxative use because your body loses so much muscle mass it no longer knows how to move the intestines without help. It’s wetting your pants at work because your bladder muscles have wasted away from starvation, and you couldn’t make it to the bathroom.

It’s looking into your city for the first time in a year and noticing detail, because when you were becoming smaller, so was your wonder.

It’s 23 years young, and sitting at home after grueling workout you chose over a night out. It is buying a nice pair of black slacks for your dream job in a size two and watching them fall off of your sunken in legs. It was three years living in a season that felt like a bitter January raging in your body when you always thrived in the summer glow of June. 

Shrinking is not the answer.

I am here to tell you that I have tried it all. Vegan. Whole 30. Paleo. Keto. Instagram named it? I’ve tried it, so maybe you don’t have to. In January, I looked at my smaller body in the mirror and said enough was enough. I took the first step to reclaim my power, admitting I was weak and needed help.

After six months of working with Victoria to heal my digestion and regulate my hormones, our most impactful work was uncovering the seeds of Orthorexia. Understanding why it developed. Committing to feel the emotions I had chosen to repress for decades. Going to therapy, and reframing my thoughts about recovery, what it means to have invisible illness, and how to cope with generalized anxiety. Victoria and I still have work to do, but I now know that we can do this work together.

I can have a community to support me on my healing journey. I no longer have to submit to the masculine voice, shouting that I can do it alone. I am honored to join Victoria’s clientele of strong women, and truly believe that Victoria has saved my life.

Victoria has taught me that Instagram will not heal me. Cauliflower does not solve your problem. And listening to your feminine intuition, the one you have silenced for so long, can lead you on a path to recovery and reclaiming the woman you never believed lived inside of the vessel, the body you are so fortunate to call home.

McKenzie, thank you SO much for sharing your beautiful words here on this blog. Every word was impactful and I am so grateful to have the opportunity to be part of your healing journey.

If you’d like to follow along with McKenzie on Instagram you can find her at @thecutoffkitchen.