In honor of February being eating disorder awareness month, I have decided to share my experience with Orthorexia. Right now, you may be thinking, “What is Orthorexia?” 

Orthorexia Nervosa is an unhealthy focus on eating in a healthy way. Although eating healthy is good, orthorexia is an obsession with eating healthy that is often paired with extreme exercise and calorie counting. This disorder is becoming more common, yet little education has been provided on what this disorder is and what it’s signs and symptoms are. 

My name is Ellie Wardell and I am a student-athlete here at Winona State majoring in Movement Science. I have struggled with orthorexia for 8 years. My hyperawareness of clean eating and compulsive exercise began in middle school. I was a super health-conscious, fit 7th grader. I began developing the mindset that if I ate clean and put in the extra work outside of soccer practice, I could become the best on my team and achieve my goals.  

Over the years, my focus on food became a constant thought and stressor in my life. I began cutting out food groups, and rejecting food that was given to me because it did not match my standard of “healthy.”  If I didn’t prepare or plan my meals ahead of time, I was anxious. To cope with the fear of eating indulgent foods, I started to exercise excessively and limit my daily calories.   

By my freshman year of college, orthorexia had become an obsession that took control of me. I became obsessive with the number on the scale to make sure I didn’t gain the Freshmen-15. I started increasing my physical activity and limiting the number of calories that I ate. If I didn’t work out to the point of exhaustion or meet the required calories that I was supposed to burn–I wouldn’t eat. To me, food was something that was earned, not deserved 

I lost my period, weight and began getting injured more frequently. I lost 10 pounds by the end of the year, developed anemia, stress fractures, and my performance on the soccer field decreased dramatically. I couldn’t hold my own in 1-on-1 battles. I was easily fatigued, despite all the extra miles I ran outside of practice. I was not getting enough calories and it was taking a toll on my body. However, my obsession with calories continued.  

This past summer, I was working out, on average, three hours a day. I ran 4–10 miles, practiced soccer for an hour and a half, and walked about 6 miles for my job as a landscaper. I developed shin splints and a stress fracture due to the amount of stress I put my body through.  

My eating habits and calorie intake remained consistent despite my activity level; I was eating about 1500-2000 calories a day while burning an average of 2000 calories alone in exercise. I felt extremely stressed, anxious, irritated, and guilty.  

Eventually, my obsession led to me relating how I looked with my weight, as well as how much I ate and exercised. The worst part of this disorder is the fact that I cannot let myself be satisfied and feel beautiful. I cannot let myself rest and be okay with taking a day off. 

So why am I sharing my story? I believe coming forth with my experience is part of my healing process. This past year, I was confronted by my roommates about my unhealthy habits. An ultimatum was given, which resulted in me coming to terms with the fact that I have let this disorder take hold of me for too long. I needed help.  

I have gradually made progress; however, every day is a battle. I know that Orthorexia will always be part of me, but it’s not going to define me. I would like to thank all of you for letting me share my story.  

– Ellie Wardell ’23

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, help is available.

Reach out to counseling service at counseling@winona.edu. 

If you are in a crisis text “NEDA” to 741741 or you can use online chat. 

 

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