National Eating Disorders Association

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dontknowwheretoturn
Orthorexia

I'm in a place I never thought I would be. My daughter has a disease which I just don't understand.

I'll give you the basics and see what advice you can give me. I'm 100% in her corner, I just don't know whether to press issues or stand back.

My daughter is a Div 1 athlete. She has been diagnosed with orthorexia. (only eats clean foods). This started in HS. She is now a Junior in college. It started with only wanting to eat healthy foods. The sport was an easy coverup (as she explained to us recently). We truly had no idea. She's maintained a fairly good weight throughout all of this. Things took a bad turn this past summer and we finally strongly encouraged her to see the athletic department's nutritionist who in turn referred her to the psychologist.

She's been going to therapy for about 5 months. She's open with us and is really trying. She has gained some weight and does look better (her eyes and face aren't so drawn and tired looking). Her athletic performance shockingly hasn't been affected by this disease. I don't know how it couldn't have been but she had a great season this past fall. My husband and I were looking for signs of lack of fitness and strength but she was the most fit of any athlete on the field and one of the strongest.

So, she's been home for the first time for an extended amount of time for the first time in a couple of years. She's eating a fair amount of food but no foods which are outside of what she considers healthy. Should I be pushing this or letting it go?

I know that she had a really rough time with her ED when she first came home but seems to have settled in a bit better as the break has gone on. But still not eating anything outside of her "clean diet" Anyone have any experience with this? This is how the whole ED started. It got bad with restrictions and excessive exercise this past summer but while I wouldn't say she's eating to excess, she's still not eating a lot. Excessive exercise is difficult to moniter as she has a program that she needs to follow from her coach over break which is pretty intensive.

She is open with us and is on medication. It's difficult to know if she's making progress or if she's just holding steady .

_admin_moderator
Hello dontknowwheretoturn and

Hello dontknowwheretoturn and welcome to the forums! A portion of your post was edited due to mention of specific foods which may be triggering to other forum members. Our community guidelines can be found here: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/forums/community-guidelines

BobJ48
Orthorexia

Orthorexia can seem like a strange thing alright. It's hard to fault the things they eat, but the fact that the person is so mentally effected and constrained by their obsessions - That's where the issue is.

You probably have figured out by now that "safety" is a big part of this. If a person is going to "stay safe" it's going to involve some fairly rigid personal control. Which is one of the themes which ties it in with the other eating disorders. The exercise thing can also involve themes of control and safety as well. And really, who among us doesn't hope to feel safe and in control ? So there really are some potent emotional themes here that she'll need to be aware of, and see if she can experiment with letting go of some bits of the sort of rigidness that's involved.

You mentioned that she was able to be open with you about her situation, so that's a positive thing right there.

Has she been able to tell you what she wishes she was able to do ? These are difficult matters, but If so, that's probably a start.

lovetowrite81
Hello!

Hello-

So glad that you decided to post here! I struggled with orthorexia nervosa throughout high school so perhaps I can offer something that is somewhat helpful. I honestly look back and my parents didn’t really know what to do. My mom was so scared, I found out later she was sneaking stuff into my 'acceptable' food to increase the amount of calories. But otherwise, she did not push me towards eating any particular thing and for the most part just encouraged me to seek professional help I needed. I started seeing a therapist for the first time- and began getting at the underlying root causing my ED. It didn't happen overnight but over time, my need to cling onto ED behaviors became less and less. It is a process. But what ultimately led to my recovery was my own inner work- learning how to identify my emotions for the first time in therapy and beginning to develop my identity outside of the ED.

As much as you care for your daughter and want to help, my instinct says that ultimately her recovery will happen on her own timing. I know that as much as others tried to be helpful and encouraging, if I wasn’t ready to eat certain things, I wouldn’t. Breaking out of the good food/bad food mentality takes a lot of time and happens gradually. I honestly think the best thing you can do for your daughter is just continue to be a safe space for support, continue to foster the openness in what she’s going through and be there to listen. You can support her but it’s ultimately her fight. And it seems like she is on the right track with seeing a therapist & is putting in the effort. And it’s awesome that she is able to be open with ya’ll and will be super important in this process.

Keep us posted on how your daughter is doing and how things are going. And be sure you are taking care of yourself as well & getting support as you continue to go through this with your daughter. Let me know if there’s anything else I can help with. Hope to hear from you again soon.

<3 Lovetowrite81

dontknowwheretoturn
following up

So, Christmas break ended and she's back at school. If I had to guess I would say that she lost a few pounds over the break. She seems to be much better at school, happier and pretty open. I don't think her food intake at school has improved. She's still not getting enough calories and is working out with her sport which is excessive by non-NCAA athletic standards.

In my mind, I think she is at a dangerous crosspoint. She either needs to stop the sport until she's healthy or someone needs to be pushing her to eat more calories/food varieties. How do I know which is the right way to go?

We are out of state so this complicates things...

brutus94
I also have a 19 year old

I also have a 19 year old college daughter with Orthorexia. I feel like I'm in a similar spot (I don't understand it). The insistence on "clean eating" is putting her physical health in danger. I try reason and logic, but it is usually a losing battle. I watch her eat salads and drink water (in addition to other things of course) and then she is frustrated when she fails to gain weight. Honestly, I don't know if she really wants to gain weight like she claims or if it is just the disease causing deception yet again. Part of me feels like if she were sincere in her desire to get better and gain weight then she would accept the help. But this is a very strong-willed kid, and a very stubborn condition. I don't have any answers for you, but I can definitely understand your frustration and concern.

sacreddad
orthorexia/anorexia

My 12 year old is in the same position. after a 2 week hospital stay and inpatient and intensive outpatient she is back home. It is very difficult to disagree with her as she eats so healthy most people when they see her eat would seem to think she is very healthy. They do not see all the time that goes into thinking about the next meal, the need to prepare her meal, the excuses to make when a restaurant that she does not agree with is chosen for dinner. Its not even the amounts as she eats large meals and never leaves anything on her plate but gaining i still very difficult. When we went over what a typical day of food would be, our therapist stated that this is what someone on a a diet would eat. It finally hit me, but still very difficult to add challenge foods, and for me as a father its difficult for me to decide to get into an argument to add a challenge food other than to let her eat her balanced meal. Brutus94, I hear you when you say your not sure if she really wants to gain weight but she is always genuinely surprised when she does not gain weight. She also suffers from anxiety which makes this all the more difficult.

brokenhearted
orthorexia?/anorexia

I have a 22 year old daughter with "orthorexia". Just under two years ago, my daughter, also a college athlete, began to lose weight during her sport season. I paid an out of state visit to her to evaluate the situation that was brought to my attention by her roommate. At that time, I didn't notice any big change. A month later, her father paid a visit and he did not see anything alarming. Her coach mentioned nothing to us. When she came home for Thanksgiving, the weight change was visible and I took her to the Dr. for an eval as my daughter claimed that she was not "trying" to lose weight. Of course, labs and visit were all fine. I had a serious talk with her and nervously let her go back to school.
When she returned, she was in worse condition and I was frantic, as were my friends and family.
After naively deliberating about what approach should be taken, the athletic department and I agreed to let her return to school under the supervision of weekly Dr. visits, weekly therapist visits and bi-weekly nutritionist visits. The plan was to dangle a carrot to get her to improve... that she would be able to train and compete if at a healthy weight. Dr. was not happy with the slow progress and recommended hospitalization. She spent 4 days in the hospital and was compliant, released and back to the same level of care. This was my window of opportunity to take her home and get her in the proper level of treatment and I didn't. The ED demon convinced me that she could recover with this level of treatment and with that carrot dangling in front of her. She has now experienced all levels of treatment except inpatient, with some improvements that never lasted. She has reported that she faked her way through every level of treatment that she has ever had. She has now graduated from college and we are back to square one. She has actually become more restrictive with her diet, leaving out an entire "unnecessary" food group. I used to like to call her illness orthorexia because it sounded more dignified than anorexia, but the truth is, it's a glorified word for anorexia and it's just as evil. Her father and I are divorced and he doesn't recognize the seriousness of her condition, so all eyes are on me as far as what happens next with getting her to seek some kind of treatment. I am praying that she hasn't comfortably nestled into this anorexic lifestyle and that there is still some hope for recovery. As many of the other parents in this forum feel, I am haunted by this disease on a daily basis and just want my daughter back and for her to have a chance for a normal, healthy life. At this point, I am praying for God to show us the road to recovery. I beat myself up each day, thinking things could be alot different if she had gone straight to inpatient treatment when she returned from college in rough shape. From what I have read, the anorexic habits that were developing, along with the brain changes could have been treated before getting worse. Maybe this information can help a newbie make a decision about early, intensive treatment from the get go...

iwanttolive
brokenhearted

Hello. I am sorry to hear about your daughter. I want to let you know that I am not a mother, but I have one. I had a life threatening eating disorder for thirty years. My parents did what every parent does, their best. When a child suffers from a medical condition, there are usually clear cut answers from doctors as to how to go about a course of treatment. Unfortunately not so with eating disorders. There is a lot of confusion and not so good advice and not so good treatments out there. I know most parent's second guess themselves and say.....if only. Well, that is a really difficult way to live and blaming yourself isn't going to help you or your daughter. I encourage you to try to accept the decisions you made as the best ones you could have made and that ultimately it is up to your daughter to choose if she wants recovery. I know when one is malnourished the person isn't thinking clearly and when in an addiction making wise decisions such as choosing to get help is compromised, but it is still a choice. I was afraid to get better and even though I was hospitalized twenty-seven times, some for a year, six months, four months, two weeks; and then the day programs, half way houses, I finally was able to commit to recovery. I am fourteen months free from the disorder. I owe a lot of praise to God for His help in getting me to this place. And a debt of gratitude to my parent's who stood by my side for all those long and difficult and challenging years. My Mom second guesses herself, if she had given me more ultimatums, if she had been more this and less that. She did what she knew to do at the time. Looking back helps no one and certainly not your heart. It sounds like you really love your daughter and would do anything to help her. That is loving. May I ask, are you taking care of yourself now. Living in the present? Looking back with the If onlys….isn't going to help you. I am glad you reached out for support and hope your heart heals. Take care and God bless.

iwanttolive and I am

PS I just read over a part of your post that read: I beat myself up everyday. Please don't. Please take care of yourself and let yourself off the hook. You did the best you knew how to do at the time. Even if she went into the hospital, that isn't a guarantee that things would be different. Place her in God's capable hands. Rest in His love.

brokenhearted
Thank you sweet lady for the

Thank you sweet lady for the kind and reassuring words. You brought tears to my eyes and I will refer back to your response when I get down on myself. I am sorry for all that you and your family have been through and I also believe that God will be instrumental in her healing. I am thankful that she does have a strong faith and this may be the key to her recovery.

iwanttolive
brokenhearted

Hi. That is good news. I can assure you, if she allows God to help her, He will. And for you, allow Him to heal your broken heart. He has healed my mother of hers in many ways. I am so glad to be able to reach out with what I have been through to help support others. I still need support at times and reach out for it on the forum for maintaining recovery. There are a handful of other believers and it is really wonderful to encourage one another. You may want to take a peak on those places to see the way we support each other and how recovery takes place in the daily lives of those afflicted. Let Hope arise.

Take care,
iwanttolive and I am

brokenhearted
new feeling

After dealing with my daughter's issue for almost two years, I awoke in the middle of the night just missing my pre-ED daughter. It was an unfamiliar feeling that left a pit in my stomach. What I would give to have my daughter back again...

holdingon3
I feel like I have to do this alone

I feel for all of you going through this. Unfortunately, with all the "healthy talk" in schools and online, our children are getting mixed messages and I believe untreated eating disorders are the result. My 15 year old son was a healthy eater and active sports player at 10 until his pediatrician reinforced that he was "on the high end of the chart" right in front of him not understanding the bitter feelings he already had for his muscular body. He immediately lost an enormous amount of weight by restricting specific foods. By the time we realized what was happening he stopped so we didn't seek any help. However, low self esteem, OCD, and body dismorphism led him back to anorexia and last spring (of 2019). When I called his pediatrician and explained he was fainting, had blue fingernails, rapid weight loss and extreme thoughts of depression, he saw that his "number" was still on the accepted scale (albeit low) and said he "looked alright". Needless to say this did not help. When I took him to an eating disorder clinic the next week they said the opposite. His heart rate was low and he was in an extreme state. However, his conformation was in two days, something he had worked for for a year, and he is a very spiritual person, and the medical doctor would not treat him there and wanted him to check into the local emergency room (where they do not specialize in eating disorders). I knew this would traumatize my son who has an eating disorder BECAUSE of underlying issues and we left defeated. I lost a really important window of help and now he is entrenched in this lifestyle.
It has been a year and he has not gained any weight. I finally went to a therapist for myself and at her encouragement came "clean" to him that I was adding calories to his acceptable foods, but I didn't tell him the extent. My son and I have a great relationship and I feel constantly like a liar. However, now I can see his body fat percentage getting even worse. I finally have an appointment with a new doctor and pray to God that this doctor will see the health struggle we are going through for what it is and partner with my son to get him to see that what he is doing to his body is not healthy. I feel like people reinforce his orthorexia all the time and this makes it harder.

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