The red flag notification filled me with adrenaline, my limbs went wiggly and warm. It's the feeling I now associate with a big swig of beer. But this was 2007, and I'd recently installed Honesty Box, the Facebook application where people could anonymously share their thoughts on others.

The new message read:

I'm worried you're not eating enough.
You're losing weight and I only see you
eat bites of cookies.

I felt another rush; my face got hot. I'd been made.

It was true, of course. In just a few months I'd lost what adults at the time still called my "baby fat" (even though I was 15). It was the kind of weight loss that comes from a record-scratch shock to the system, from three meals a day to barely eating anything. As an able-bodied woman just over five feet tall, I recognize the privilege my body is given in public spaces: It's rare for anyone to outwardly question how much space I take up. Still, something in my brain was telling me that I'd never be small enough.

The evidence of my eating disorder was right there in the cafeteria, where I sat at a table every day with my Honesty Box-er. They'd noticed I'd stopped eating the lunches I brought to school, except maybe for a piece of fruit. And, of course, the cookies.

They tasted like Nestlé Toll House cookie dough and were always a few minutes underbaked — the perfect texture. Sold in three-packs for a dollar in the school cafeteria, I'd buy those cookies nearly every day. I'd break off a piece of one for myself, then give the rest away. Throw them in the trash if I had to. In hindsight, it doesn't surprise me that I started baking regularly when I developed this obsession with food. With eating and not eating.

I grew up in a house where I wasn't allowed to buy Oreos or Chips Ahoy, but always had the ingredients on hand to bake my own treats. I made chocolate chip cookies so often that my mom eventually taped the recipe inside the cabinet where we kept the flour and sugar. On weekends, I made tray after tray of those cookies, learning what little tweaks would do to the recipe. What if I added oats or peanut butter? Mixed in melted chocolate or toasted nuts? When the timer beeped, I was ready, armed with my spatula and willing to burn my tongue for that first bite. And those bites were euphoria. Then I'd snap back into reality, realizing I'd eaten half the tray. I'd spit out what was left in my mouth and wrap up the rest of the cookies.

Later, when the house was quiet, I'd go back to the package of cookies. Just one. Okay, two. Another bite. Black out. Spit. Only apples for the next five lunches, I'd bargain with myself.

The cycle repeated.

In college, I went through periods of the same restrictive and binging routines. Night after night, I'd eat a dinner plate piled with nothing but salad. Chug water. Hours later, I'd eat half a pizza, blaming my hunger on the post-homework joints we smoked in my friend's bed. Then, the body-checking would begin.

Body-checking typically takes place in front of the mirror, judging the fit of clothing to measure whether one's body has changed, and feeling parts of the body for areas of soft and hard. Eating Disorders: An Encyclopedia of Causes, Treatment, and Prevention describes it as a behavioral component of body image, presenting in "repeated attempts to evaluate or scrutinize one's body shape, size, or appearance." I body-checked compulsively throughout the day, and always after those late-night pizza binges. Feeling for bones, for the mushier parts of my belly and arms.

Around the time I turned 22, my anorexic, bulimic, and binge-eating tendencies morphed into something else entirely. Something many people don't even recognize as another disordered eating behavior.

Orthorexia (named for the Greek word orthos, meaning "correct" or "true", and Latin's orexis, meaning "appetite" or "hunger") was coined in an essay that appeared in a 1997 issue of Yoga Journal by Dr. Steven Bratman.

In the 1970s, Bratman was a cook and organic farmer on a commune. He believed in the healing power of food. He'd watch his cohabitants obsess over which diet they thought was "best" for the body, which ran the gamut of nutrient-dense, meatless, macrobiotic, dairy-free, allium-excluding, raw-only, wheat-free, unsweetened, unseasoned food. When he began practicing medicine, Bratman saw numerous patients who wished to heal themselves from medical ailments, everything ranging from asthma and rheumatoid arthritis to cancer — through food. As his worldview adapted, he yearned for a universal theory of nutrition. Instead, he realized that these people — all of whom believed their personal definition of "healthy" was the correct way to eat — had developed what he determined a "novel eating disorder."

People with orthorexia are obsessed with so-called "healthy" eating.

Healthy is undefinable. I was a living, breathing example of subjectivity: judged by the personal opinions of "good" and "bad" held by those around me, and holding them as fact.

Orthorexia is difficult to diagnose. Technically, it's impossible — orthorexia nervosa is not yet formally recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the American Psychiatric Association's official criterion for psychiatric language. Because it covers such a massive, subjective subject, experts claim they cannot technically pin down substantiated orthorexic behavior. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) notes that without formal diagnostic criteria, there's no real way to determine exactly what the disorder is, let alone know who suffers from it. Some professionals see it as an extension of an existing eating disorder like anorexia, or a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Many don't see orthorexic behavior as problematic at all.

For me, it was a problem. Though I was eating three meals a day for the first time in years, I was obsessed with what I thought were "good" foods (legumes, produce, whole grains, seeds, certain types of dairy) and "bad" foods (white sugar, meat, processed wheat, saturated fats, but maybe not coconut oil, certain types of dairy, and so on). I followed gluten-free, vegan, and sugar-free blogger recipes obsessively. I exercised compulsively. I adapted my trusty chocolate chip cookie recipe into a mutant: chickpea flour, almond flour, oat flour, coconut sugar, maple syrup, honey, olive oil, coconut oil. Friends and family who'd expressed concern for me in the past commented on how "healthy" I looked, which I now think of as a perfect description for my body and mind at the time.

Healthy is undefinable. I was a living, breathing example of subjectivity: judged by the personal opinions of "good" and "bad" held by those around me, and holding them as fact.

Though I'd spoken with therapists, participated in recovery chat rooms, and taken online courses with health coaches trained to curb dangerous eating habits, it wasn't until after college, when I learned about "intuitive eating" that things started to change for me. A term coined by Registered Dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, intuitive eating means eating based on mindfulness instead of dieting and restriction. Tribole and Resch's concept encourages people not to obsess over ingredients lists or nutrition facts, and to ignore the good-versus-bad food binary.

Intuitive eating means, in short: Eating when you're hungry and not eating when you're full.

I wish I could say that once I discovered intuitive eating I could leave my disordered relationship with food behind completely. But it's important to note that many people recovering from eating disorders have a hard time eating intuitively, myself included. Spending years ignoring hunger and fullness cues made it hard for me to really listen to my body, and to trust it. As someone who's struggled with both restriction and binging, it can be challenging to know what my body wants — especially when it's one of those foods I used to think of as "bad."

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This story was originally published on Finding My Way Back to Food in the Face of an Eating Disorder