Health And Wellness

How An Extreme Health Fad Led To A Dangerous Unhealthy Obsession That Nearly Killed Me

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woman with fruit platter

I came across the fruitarian lifestyle last year; more specifically, the 80/10/10 diet — a raw vegan diet consisting primarily of fruit and leafy greens, with 80% of calories from carbs, 10% from protein, and 10% from fats. Though extreme, I was intrigued by testimonies from those who had healed various ailments and diseases through this diet.  

I’ve always leaned toward a healthy lifestyle but my well-being took a downward turn in my late 20s when I became ill with mononucleosis. With four children under the age of six years old, adequate self-care was impossible and consequently, six months later I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome; from there, further deterioration to autoimmune disease.

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Anyone who has dealt with autoimmune disease understands the frustration of its unpredictability and shifting of goalposts; the defeat of doing everything right, yet dealing with a body that stubbornly refuses to heal. And while a Paleo-based lifestyle affected vast improvement, I wanted to know if the testimonies were true and if a fruitarian diet would bring further healing as others had claimed. 

What I first found, is it takes a while to get used to eating such massive volumes of fruit — in fact, 2000 calories worth per day to meet recommended energy and nutrient requirements. That’s about 20 or so bananas, in case anyone was wondering. Or like, eating an entire pineapple and a kilogram of watermelon for breakfast alone.

However, this way of eating soon became normal for me. Too normal. This is the thing with such radical health fads: if you spend enough time entrenched in the lifestyle and culture of it — whether in real life or online — you don’t even see the way extreme becomes the new normal. 

There’s a reason a blind spot is called a blind spot.

For me, I became convinced this way of eating was the only way I could be healthy and well; that all other food was the enemy.

I read and researched the best fruit combinations for digestion, mono-fruit meals, fruit fasts, juice fasts. I hung out on social media forums, learning all I could from seasoned fruitarians. I googled, YouTubed, and followed every online page I could find.  

Every thought soon became centered around food. There was so much need to be in control; to the point I became anxious about social events and began to decline invitations from family and friends knowing an event would compromise my perfect diet. The more obsessed I became, the narrower my world grew. 

If I was away from home with no acceptable food choice available I simply chose not to eat, resulting in caloric and nutrient deficiency, fatigue, and unnecessary stress on my adrenal and hormonal systems. If I did eat something other than fruit, I would feel anxious, guilty, and unclean, often punishing myself after with extreme detox cleanses.

My entire self-worth and happiness began to rest upon whether I had met my self-imposed standards of dietary perfection and I soon found myself in a cycle of obsession, control, guilt, punishment, and reward.

I’ve never had an eating disorder or even been inclined to that way of thinking. But when I one day realized how desperate my need had become to stay in control of my environment — and how fearfully out of control I felt when that environment was compromised — I knew something wasn’t right.

The focus wasn’t on weight like we have traditionally come to believe of eating disorders; instead, it was the strive for purity and perfect health. But the mindset of extremism was equally as detrimental and dangerous.

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Orthorexia Nervosa is the obsession with eating in a way that is perfect, or pure; often beginning with an intention to eat as healthy or clean as possible, but soon turning into such a strict and inflexible diet there is psychological distress when the rules around a certain way of eating cannot be fulfilled.

Labeled the “healthy eating disorder," it has not yet been classed as an official eating disorder but is being recognized by health professionals as part of the eating disorder spectrum. 

Orthorexia begins with healthy eating: raw, vegan, paleo, keto, fruitarian, etc. but the desire for good health soon becomes an obsessive striving for dietary perfectionism.

More and more foods are eliminated and more time is spent obsessing over food and self-imposed rules around food. Cycles of guilt and punishment are implemented, as well as social isolation, often malnourishment, and disinterest in other areas of life. 

The first step in overcoming orthorexia is acknowledging that a problem exists. Not everyone who embraces such an extreme lifestyle will struggle with orthorexia; I cannot tell you how or why I was affected in such a way.

I can only tell you that I am thankful I was able to see something wasn’t right before it completely took over my life, and thankful to now be in a much better place — to have not abandoned all my health beliefs but restored balance and moderation and made food part of my life again as opposed to the center of it.

I’m not here to dispute the fundamentals of diet and nutrition. But with statistics suggesting a 40-fold increase in eating disorders since 2003, it’s important to acknowledge that the obsession over health can become as much an eating disorder as anything.

There will always be benefits to embracing a healthier lifestyle. But extremism, of any kind, is never healthy. And when the need for perfect health comes at the cost of our mental health, we need to step back and ask ourselves if the sacrifice is really worth it. 

RELATED: Orthorexia: My Obsession With Eating Healthy Almost Killed Me

Kathy Parker is a freelance writer, poet, spoken word performer, and author of The Unravelled Heart, her first collection of poetry and prose. She writes of abuse, trauma, mental health, domestic violence, loss, grief, survival; but also recovery, healing, overcoming abuse, and empowering women in the truth of their worth.