• Jessica James

Orthorexia and Art Therapy

There is a phenomenal documentary on Netflix called I am Maris. It is about a young girl who was severely depressed and developed an eating disorder named anorexia. It opened a door in me I had long thought closed. Her story started to reflect aspects of my journey and feelings I had not considered in a long time...

I was diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder when I was fifteen. I had an eating disorder when I was nineteen which was called orthorexia. An obsession with clean eating, coupled with compulsive exercise which lasted a year before my body started to shut down. I have had my fair share of being sick. At some point, in all of our lives, we know what that is like.

Now life looks very different externally and internally. I felt as though I had many demons that I was doing a great job of ignoring. Kept finding the light, moving towards love in every moment. I am a ‘recovering perfectionist’. The sense of control and joy I found in being able to challenge my self in surviving starvation, was a daily battle that when I was winning, felt as though nothing could top.

Feeling so powerful saying no to dessert. Tricking myself into thinking I was treating my body like a temple. It felt strong and agile. I loved that feeling and for a period of time it was honest health - good nutrition and exercise. But when it started to tip over into something more, the extreme, that’s when I couldn’t see how to pull back. I was out of control but the disorder tells you the opposite.

I had no energy though out the day, no ability to concentrate and hold trains of thought, not being able to think past your next meal and how to ensure you could be visually satiated for the least number of calories. I eventually sought help myself though. Body checking happened up to 30 times a day. So much guilt and anxiety it crippled me. I never wanted to be sick, I had been happy and healthy for so much of my life but everything felt broken and I didn’t know how to fix it.

I found a counsellor in creative therapy. I didn’t really know what that meant or what she would ask of me. But I knew I was sick and no one else could explain to me what was happening. From the minute I met her, she broke me down. There was no where to hide from her. She shone lights into the very dark closets I wanted to keep skeletons in. I distinctly remember her saying one day, "you are incredibly skinny you know..." and I burst into tears. For so long I was telling myself you need to loose weight that I realised I never put an end point on that statement. At no point would I be happy for myself, at no point had I ‘lost the weight.’

We would meet once a week for about 3 months. We would talk, we did creative activities together. I vividly remember one day she asked me to create the voice, the voice of my eating disorder. I made it this small styrofoam ball wrapped methodically in black wool. It had a pipe-cleaner popping out and slipping back at 180 degrees. I remember saying to her it was so small now. That voice was so small and there was another voice I found. It was a she, and she was light and love.

From then on I learned how to distinguish the voice of the disorder and the voice of love and choice who I wanted to listen to. Everyday after that has come with its own challenges. Sometimes when I’m not concentrating I can confuse the two. But its very rare and never lasts very long.

During my recovery I fell back in love with the arts and creativity. I finally had the capacity to think and create beyond just trying to deprive and control. I have diary entries praying for my mind back. “I don’t care if my body is larger and rolled like a bakery, please, please can I have my brain back.” I had energy to play and live. To love. The journey with my self-image began after the weight started to come back on. I ate SO much food. It came back in a healthy way at a good speed. But my fear of falling back into bad habits still haunts me.

Whenever I get really hungry I get anxious. Addiction to the feeling of starving is a weird thing. And today I stand in front of the mirror and I’m not excited about my body. It feels too soft and scared. When I know how I would love to be running, jumping, lifting weights and sweating myself dry. A huge part of me is so scared that the world we have recovered from will become enticing once again and take us away from the real dreams we have for our life; not to be skinny and strong, but healthy, happy, helping others, creating art, and loving.

Today I stand and often feel guilty for letting rolls form on my body. For letting things be a little bigger than I would like. For feeling just a little off the mark and not empowering myself to make drastic changes and transform the body. But that’s where art takes a left and and the people in my life take a right, and we walk this journey together. Instead of hiding away and continuing to belittle and scold myself, there are newly discovered ways to find her loving voice again.

Something we might not always understand about eating disorders is that we are a crock pot of potential and it takes the perfect storm to flick an ED switch on. For me, it is overwhelm by challenges in life and feeling out of control. It is heightened in relationships where my body is being seen by another and in full force it is crippling. The other thing is that it happens gradually for me. First a few innocent ‘I should be a little healthier’ thoughts and then they seem to snowball into relentless guilt and militant supervision over my health.

The truth is, at the moment I am so grateful for the life I get to live. So grateful. But everyday I feel as though there is a cattle rod to my back saying ‘keep walking.’ Times when I just want to collapse. Because the thoughts are constantly nasty and set the bar disgustingly high for accomplishment. I say I don’t know if I can get there on my own, this is just too challenging. I turn to my art and meet feel as though the culture for social media is changing and although

I hope to share more of it, I am vexed by the pressure to ‘stay active.’ At such a young age we are asked to pioneer ourselves but the truth is we all need guidance and to be under a mentor and someone who understands our struggles and can support us along the way.

I am incredibly blessed to share life with my boyfriend in unconditional support and love. He has been a tremendous light and I couldn’t thank him enough. But art connects with my soul and allows me to express emotions when I can’t find the words. Art is cathartic and exposes a depth to our thoughts we never thought were there. I am on the journey to becoming a certified Art Therapist but the road still feels impossibly long. Who knows what God has in store for us either. I pray that in the mean time I may continue finding her loving voice and bringing peace, joy and comfort to those I connect with. We are all on our own journeys and I hope that you are finding meaning and joy in yours today. I thank people like Maris who are able to honestly share their experiences in a time like today when everything is curated and those who wish to show themselves in the best light all the time might not even see the small cracks until they are so huge and dismantle everything.

Take a moment to reflect on anything that this may have brought up in you. Just know that the thoughts and feelings deserve your acceptance and attention. Shine the light on them with your awareness and watch as they loose their hold on you. Awareness is the first step and then when you feel ready, take a step towards the loving voice and where she guides you. It's all just little steps. We are all in this together.

All my love.


Butterfly Foundation for Eating Disorders

Art Therapy

  • Jessica James Facebook
  • Jessica James Instagram
  • Jessica James Tumblr

©2020 by Jessica James.