Getting to know Orthorexia with Jason Wood: An Unhealthy Obsession With Being Healthy

As a fashion brand that communicates our products through semi-nude photography, we are constantly aware of the messages our content conveys.

This is why we work hard to ensure a diverse range of bodies are used in our advertising, and to promote healthy, body-positive ideals.

As part of the #RealBodyRevolution campaign, we wanted to explore the effects that fashion and media can have on our mental wellbeing, and what role culture has to play in our eating habits.

A Culture of Disordered Eating

The psychological and cultural notions that surround eating disorders are complex and at times, confusing. 

With over one million people estimated to suffer from an eating disorder in the UK alone, they are more common than you might think, and come in a variety of forms.

Amongst the better-known types of eating disorders are those that sit on either end of the spectrum, namely Anorexia for restriction, and Binge Eating for excessive overeating.

In between, there are many other forms that can go largely unnoticed and undiagnosed due to presenting themselves in more subtle ways, making detection much harder. 

One of these is Orthorexia. 

What is Orthorexia?

To most, healthy eating is seen as a good thing, something that we all strive to do more of.

But what happens when the desire for a healthy lifestyle turns into an uncontrollable obsession?

Unlike other eating disorders, Orthorexia differs in the way that it focuses on the quality, rather than the quantity of food. 

It is defined as a fixation on ‘purity’, which involves only eating foods that are considered healthy, and restricting those that aren’t. 

Those who suffer from Orthorexia are rarely focused on losing weight, but experience an obsession with the benefits of healthy eating, leading to adverse effects on an individual’s self-esteem and overall well-being. 

As part of the #RealBodyRevolution campaign, we caught up with Jason Wood, author of the blog Orthorexia Bites, to get a better understanding of what it’s like to live with the condition.

1.  Jason, you suffered from orthorexia, an eating disorder where your goal of eating healthily turned into an unhealthy obsession. Can you tell us how it started, how it manifested, and the point at which it took over your life? 

I grew up overweight and was constantly made fun of by the bullies at school. This gave me a negative view of self and my body.

In high school, I lost weight as part of a diet program and I loved the attention and praise this accomplishment received.

I began to see weight control and loss as something I was good at and it became an identity of sorts.

My unhealthy relationship with food escalated as I went through turbulent times in my life.  

Then at the age of 29, I had a scare with colorectal cancer which is the same disease that took my dad at a young age.

I didn’t want to die young, so I set out on a mission to eat as healthy and clean as possible.

This is when my disordered eating morphed into an obsession with healthy clean eating.

It took over my life to the point that I started skipping social events, spent hours a day thinking about my diet, and became a devout follower of fad diets and health trends. 

2.  Eating disorders are often associated with binging unhealthy foods or not eating at all. Your food obsession was with eating pure, healthy foods - did this make it harder to accept you had a problem?

Absolutely, I often received praise for my healthy diet. People, including my doctors, would acknowledge my will-power and dedication to a healthy lifestyle.

I often say I was killing myself to live longer.

In my mind, I was doing the right thing for longevity and total health. This praise from others helped to justify my actions. 

I would go online and see all these super fit models and influencers who promoted these health foods and fad diets.

I never for a moment thought what I had was an eating disorder because I was just doing what diet culture promoted.

Plus, I didn’t match the stereotypes we so often listen to in regards to eating disorders. 

3.  There are strong stigmas attached to eating disorders. Did you ever feel that as a man with an eating disorder, the world would be less accepting of your problem?

Yes, I often felt invisible or not worthy of help as a male with a lesser-known eating disorder.

When I searched for treatment options, the only images that even came up were young, skinny females.

This made it very difficult for me to personally accept my eating disorder diagnosis.

Even in my advocacy work, I’ve been turned away from some outlets and platforms because women with eating disorders are the priority.

In a sense, it feels like those people are discounting my battle and saying it’s not as big of a problem since I’m a guy. 

There is a huge stigma around men and mental health.

From a young age, boys often suppress their emotions and authentic selves in order to “fit in” and not be seen as inferior.

I did this myself. I feared talking about my own hurt, insecurities, and anxiety would make me look weak.

My mission is to break this stigma and make men realise that vulnerability is strength! 

4.  What was the turning point for you, when you realised this really was a problem that you had to address? And how did you address it?

I refer to this as the pita incidence.

My husband and I were out of town and stopped in a restaurant for dinner.

My eating disorder made vacations a stressful time for me because I was out of my normal routine and didn’t always have easy access to my “safe foods”.

At the restaurant, I ordered a hummus platter and asked to substitute the pita bread for fresh vegetables.

The server was unable to do that.

I became hysterical and told my husband I wanted to leave and just go home.

I was over dinner and over the trip. 

At that moment, he expressed his concerns about my eating habits and the pain he could see inside of me.

His words opened my eyes and I immediately recognised I was facing something bigger than myself. 

I called my doctor the following week and then started working with a therapist and nutritionist on a plan to restore my body, mind, and soul. 

5.  You now run a blog, Orthorexia Bites, which aims to tackle the stigma around men with eating disorders, and open up the conversation to those who are experiencing an eating disorder. What kind of reception has your blog had? What have you learned about other men with eating disorders?

Wow, this reception has been incredible.

I didn’t even know what orthorexia was until months into recovery when I stumbled across the term in a book.

I knew that as a guy with a lesser-known eating disorder, I needed to share my story.

I want to help raise awareness of the disorder that nearly cost me my life while helping others reclaim their lives. 

I initially thought my blog would be a spot to discuss orthorexia, but I’ve soon seen the need to open up the conversation to other topics including men’s mental health in general. 

I’ve learned that there are a lot of other men out there going through their own battles, whether that be an eating disorder, addiction, or depression.

I’ve had the privilege to connect with several of them and find the experience of sharing our stories with each other to be extremely therapeutic. 

6.  Do you think brands have a role in talking about difficult and sensitive issues, such as eating disorders? Or is it more nuanced than that?

Brands definitely have a role in talking about difficult and sensitive issues. In fact, I would say they have a responsibility. 

There is a toxic narrative out there right now rich in stereotypes and stigmas.

It will take a lot more than just people like myself sharing our stories via personal platforms to make the change we need.

Brands have large platforms and can give volume to our voices. 

7.  What do you think the importance is of brands who embrace body diversity in their advertising and content? What message does it send to people experiencing mental health issues?

Brands must take into account that their messaging and advertising can be triggering to those of us who have insecurities or who are battling an eating disorder.

It’s vital that brands be inclusive and celebrate uniqueness rather than simply promote the stereotypes and stigmas that presently exist. 

As a male, I’m constantly subjected to advertisements of men with rippling muscles and six-pack abs.

For a long time I compared myself to those images and developed a negative view of myself.

I grew to hate myself because no matter how I tried and pushed myself I could never look like the ads I see on television or on the Internet.

These images fuelled my eating disorder, while destroying my feeling of self-worth. 

I would gladly champion any brand that is willing to stand up against the stigmas and stereotypes and finally embrace body diversity!

8.  How would you describe your relationship with food and eating now? 

Eating disorder thoughts still pop into my mind from time to time, but I am now learning to embrace and confront those thoughts.

I’m gaining the upper-hand in my fight and starting to enjoy food again.

My relationship with food and eating no longer consumes my mind like it once did.

I am reclaiming my life back one bite and meal at a time. I can eat foods that once sparked guilt and anxiety within. 

Recovery is a process, full of good days and bad days.

I make sure to celebrate the good days and learn from the bad ones. Most importantly, I am sticking to my mantra of trusting, embracing, and enjoying the process! 

9.  What advice would you give to someone reading this blog who suspects they have a difficult relationship with food?

Ignore the stigmas and stereotypes!

There are numerous types of eating disorders and they don’t discriminate.

Eating disorders can happen to anyone and can often go unnoticed.

Just look at me, I battled an eating disorder for almost fifteen years and didn’t even know it until three months into recovery.

Eating should never be a source of stress, anxiety, or shame.

I encourage everyone to speak to someone if they even have the slightest suspicion of a difficult relationship with food.

Talk to your doctor, someone you trust, or find me! I’m always here to listen. 

And above all, remember YOU ARE NOT ALONE!

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To learn more about Orthorexia and follow Jason’s journey, you can read his blog, Orthorexia Bites, here.

If you feel like you might suffer from an eating disorder and would like to speak to someone, visit Beat Eating Disorders to see a list of their support services.


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