Sally O’Neil, the popular food and fitness blogger behind @thefitfoodieblog, has shared a powerful post detailing her experience with orthorexia and how far she went to achieve the “perfect” six pack.
“I’m supposed to be incredibly fit, and eat all the right things, all of the time,” she wrote. “Here’s the thing though… I did that for a while, and got incredibly sick.”
The 31-year-old reveals how she “fell victim to social media envy” describing how #fitspo spurred her into believing she could “have a washboard stomach”.
“I was motivated by their words and selfies, and embarked on a gruelling program of exercise and dietary restriction.”
Believing she was on the right path, the UK born now Sydney based photographer and food stylist began working out as much as possible – “two hours per day, most days” – and became severely strict about her diet.
“I thought that eating this way would get me to my goal faster. I felt strong and in control. I had power over my body, I could shape it in any way I chose, and I was going to get my abs. They were slowly appearing, and I was just as awesome as all the chicks on Instagram. Right?”
But there were consequences. At her lowest weight, Sally’s periods completely stopped, she had spent so much time on the cross trainer that she wore away the fat pad behind her knees, and her mental health was severely impacted.
“[I] felt low. ALL. THE. TIME. I had to get on top of my uncontrollable weeping, and constant thoughts of food. I couldn’t eat out because I couldn’t accurately calculate how many calories were in my order, and therefore how much I had to burn off at the gym. It was a constant game of maths and food planning, and it was making me miserable.”
When she eventually spoke to her GP about her lack of periods and the diagnosis left her “devastated and shocked”.
“The GP was clearly running behind schedule and didn’t have time to tread on eggshells. ‘Stand on the scale’ she said. She quickly concluded ‘you're anorexic. You just need to eat more and stop working out so much…. NEXXXXTTTTT’.”
“I knew I had a problem with my menstrual cycle and yes, my weight was the lowest it had ever been, but WTF??? A mental health diagnosis couldn’t have been further from my radar.”
Fortunately, a second GP gave Sally a clearer diagnosis.
“She was incredibly understanding and warm, and clarified that what I was potentially looking at was ‘orthorexia’ – an unhealthy pre-occupation with eating only ‘pure’ foods – rather than trying to lose weight (as in anorexia) which was never my goal. Throw into the mix exercise addiction, and you’ve got one very underweight, miserable gal whose body doesn’t have enough energy to have monthly periods.”
Sally wrote that it took her 12 months of therapy to begin healing her relationship with eating and exercise, and four years on from the experience she still faces challenges.
“It’s not perfect, but I’m a world away from restricting every crumb that goes into my mouth.”
She says that although there’s less ‘sexy’ or ‘dedicated’ selfies on her Instagram account these days, she’s healthy and hopes that motivates people in a better way.
“I made a choice to have a healthy mind, and the body that comes along with that – whatever that looks like.”
“For any girl who’s ever dreamed of having abs, I can promise you they don’t make you feel better about yourself. For a fleeting moment you feel like you won, and then….nothing. It’s just like having a big toe. It’s there, and you know it is, but it doesn’t serve a higher purpose than that. I found out the hard way that manipulating your body shape is not the road to happiness.”
Sally told Women’s Health that the response to her blog has been incredible and it’s encouraged many women to open up about their own battles.
“I feel incredibly empowered and privileged to be in a position to voice my story to so many women who just need that reassurance that they’re not alone. We’re all craving for people to talk about what real, healthy bodies look like - I’m not excluded from that. My hope is to spark a few more stories to be shared in media so we can really open up a conversation about true health and wellness.”
She says her experience with orthorexia is part of her story, but it doesn’t define her and she has a powerful message for others who might be in the same situation.
“It’s okay to feel like no one could possibly understand where you’re at right now. Please know that there are thousands of women out there that have the same thought processes, and finding a greater balance in life is achievable alongside great health without extremities. There is definitely such as thing as being ‘too healthy’ to the point where it no longer benefits your body, and it’s an incredibly brave thing to address that. Reach out to friends and family, or even the anonymous web chat available through The Butterfly Foundation to talk out your concerns. There’s nothing healthy or dedicated about stripping your gorgeous body of energy, nutrients and it's essential functions.”
If you are worried about yourself or someone in your care, the best thing you can do is talk to someone. Please contact the Butterfly Foundation 1800 33 4673 or chat online.