“Mine is a story of manic control of food, which started 6 years ago, when I was 17. I never would have thought that such a thing would have happened to me », says Laura, in 2014 model student of a Milanese Liceo Classico and competitive gymnast with excellent results.
«I played the keyboard, I loved music, writing, traveling and I loved sport, for the well-being it is capable of generating inside and out. I had a top body: 58 kg of healthy muscles for 1,70 m in height, yet ... in October of that year I decided to "eat better". It was an unconscious choice, perhaps motivated by the desire to improve my athletic performance or by the need to align myself with increasingly widespread food fads. If I had to explain the reason now, I wouldn't know what to say, demonstrating how unconscious the origin of an attention to food can be, which in such a short time can become the greatest obsession ".
Menu under strict control
A dangerous obsession that bears the name of orthorexia (from the Greek orthos = right and orexis = appetite): the meticulous attention to healthy meals. It is not yet officially considered a true pathology, but the data from the Ministry of Health are alarming. In the country, out of over 3 million people with an eating disorder, about 450 would be orthorexic and at risk of becoming bulimic or, as happened to Laura, anorexic.
Too many pounds lost in a few months
«In January 2015 my weight it had already dropped to 50 kg, 6 months later it had plummeted to 43: 15 kg less of awareness, of serenity, of lucidity », recalls Laura.
“I had eliminated the higher-calorie foods first, such as french fries and fast food burgers, pizza, sweets. Then meat, with the exception of chicken, pasta, bread and all cereals, the fattest fish, up to a menu that included only seasoned vegetables, fruit, sugary drinks ».
Laura had no strength left. "One evening my heart started beating slower and slower and I felt like I was dying," he says. “Yet, inside me there was a desire to live so strong that it led me to ask my parents for help. I arrived at the emergency room of the Niguarda hospital in Milan just in time. I will never forget the words of the doctor who welcomed me, now an adult, saying: "If you want to live, you have to want it and ask for it". I did so without hesitation and it became clear to me more than ever how willing I was to do anything to take back my existence. I spent several days in the hospital, artificially fed. After I was discharged, they proposed a day hospitalization program, which would last 6 months ».
Laura spent the whole day in the hospital: she read, wrote, played cards with other girls of her age, learned to very gradually reintroduce all the foods she had previously excluded from the diet, and once a week she had a psychotherapy session.
“This cure had served me a lot for physically recover and restore vital signs to a sufficient level»Comments Laura. “But once it was over, I realized that the real challenge had yet to begin. Would I have been able to face life again without falling back into the old "mistakes"? ».
The last shadows to cast out
The beginning of the University, at the engineering faculty, had opened a new chapter for Laura, marked by the desire to abandon the thought of food, which was getting weaker, and embrace new projects.
«In my heart, however, I felt that there was still some shadow to chase away. So in the summer of 2021 I asked for help from a doctor among the most experienced in the treatment of eating disorders: Dr. Arianna Banderali, who followed me for 4 months ».
The monster is no longer scary
"It was she who gave me the necessary impetus to definitively overcome the obsession with food, to convey to me the awareness that" a calorie is a calorie "and that a healthy diet is balanced but not controlled, balanced but not maniacally measured, flexible and compatible with social life, as well as the creator of the psycho-physical well-being of each of us », continues Laura.
"SI'm back to my normal weight and I began a path of self-analysis, which was able to provide me with the cognitive and behavioral tools to face that monster that still survived in me as a scientifically solvable problem. If I made it, and now I'm fine, it is also thanks to my parents who have been close to me, holding my hand, from start to finish, with the strength to scold me for every mistake and hug me for every success ».
The alarm bells
As highlighted by Laura's story, excessive attention to a healthy diet can be pathological (in this case we are talking about orthorexia) and pave the way for an even more serious disease such as anorexia. The latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) has brought together all serious eating problems under a single acronym: Arfid (or avoidant / restrictive food intake disorder).
"If a young woman begins to eliminate certain foods from the menu for the most diverse reasons (I'm afraid of gaining weight, I'm intolerant, I don't like it...) and / or refuses to go out for dinner with friends, it is therefore better to immediately hear the opinion of a doctor expert in eating disorders ", advises Dr. Arianna Banderali, who has been dealing with these problems for 30 years in all age groups.