Self Acceptance on a Budget

*Contents of this post include experiences with an eating disorder.*

I honestly couldn’t tell you when I first developed my eating disorder. I have a feeling that it all began sometime around the age of six or seven, but sometimes it seems as though I came out of the womb balking at the idea of being 7.2 ounces.

To be specific, I suffer from a disorder called “Orthorexia nervosa.” Unlike Anorexia nervosa or Bulimia, this disorder is marked by an obsessive concern with exercise and the perceived “cleanliness” or “purity” of foods. Basically, if I had all the money in the world, my pantry would look almost exactly like Gwyneth Paltrow’s. Now, one may wonder why this is such a bad thing. After all, isn’t it good to want to eat healthy foods and go to the gym?

Not always. At my worst, I will dream about healthy recipes, have nightmares about eating mountains of cinnamon buns (which sounds absolutely amazing now that I’ve recovered), and cannot for the life of me shut up about diet and exercise despite the fact that I can see my friends become bored, irritated, and concerned with my unceasing Women’s Health jargon. My body, for all intents and purposes, becomes the only part of me that I care about.

My last relapse was over two years ago now, and for a long time, I was too afraid to begin cooking. Too afraid to buy produce or bread just in case I began scouring labels for nutritional content again, or tried to purge all unhealthy fats from my diet. In order to avoid this eventuality, I decided to simply live off prepackaged foods, avoid exercise, and simply try not to think about my body. This strategy worked, though I felt more sluggish than usual, until I arrived in Houston, was handed my monthly grocery card, and was told that it couldn’t be used for pre-packaged foods. Crap.

For the first few months, I struggled. I ordered takeout on my own dime and struggled to decipher the loopholes of “prepackaged food.” If I bought my beloved Annie’s Mac and Cheese, was I exploiting the system? Was I really going to be able to last the year without either destroying my bank account or my sense of self-worth? Am I strong enough for this?

Spoiler Alert: I am! I’ll admit, it took some time, but with the help of my housemate, and lots of embarrassing internal pep talks, I’ve been able to incorporate both large amounts of produce, healthy fats, and goodies from the discount pastry section (the best section of all!) into my daily routine. By being forced to prepare my own food, and by building a support system to hold me accountable, I’ve come farther in my journey to self-acceptance and balance than I ever have before.

I’m able to go on walks and idly check my Health app on my iPhone without feeling the irresistible drive to add miles upon miles to the step-counter. I can gleefully purchase a tub of banana pudding without ever once feeling the desire to put it back on the shelf.

And let me tell you, I’m feeling pretty damn good.

-Valerie, Avenue CDC in Houston.

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