Orthorexia Gave Me Epilepsy. Warning.

Orthorexia Gave Me Epilepsy. Warning.

This is the most open and honest thing I’ve ever posted.  My 2 best friends and husband told me not to go ‘public’ with this, even though 99.9% of the world have no idea who I am or would care.  But if you’re a ‘clean’ eater, vegan, paleo, trying to save the planet, or just on a ‘healthy diet’, you may want to listen.  It all led me to have 2 seizures.  And if I lose clients over this, or potential yoga teacher trainees, then so be it.  ‘Orthorexia’ was the only word in French that I understood when I was lying in the hospital with the doctor and my husband by my side, talking as I was semi-conscious.  I’m only writing this because after finally googling the word last night and spending an hour in tears, I realised that there are many others like me, and I hope I can save one of them from having an epileptic fit.

‘Orthorexia’ is not yet officially categorized in the DSM, but is understood as a more recent hybrid of eating disorder and anxiety.  So this is what is said in google:  ‘Orthorexia is the term for a condition that includes symptoms of obsessive behavior in pursuit of a healthy diet. Orthorexia sufferers often display signs and symptoms of anxiety disorders that frequently co-occur with anorexia nervosa or other eating disorders.’  Anyone remotely relating to that at this moment?

Me at 18

Since a young age I was very conscious of animal and planet welfare.  At 11 when I learned about CFC gases and the effects of littering or benefits of recycling, I drove my mum mad by insisting we change all household and bathroom products that contained harmful gases and only use white loo paper.  At my absolute insistence, and only if her or the nanny were watching, could I take a large bin bag up and down both sides of our road, with rubber gloves on, picking up all the litter in between the parked cars.  And then of course we had lots of pets, and lovely school visits to farms, and horses, rabbits etc at our country house…. That leads me to growing up in Chelsea, where the pressure was HUGE to aspire to the Twiggy’s and Kate Moss’s, and I’m short with a big nose.  I was however a debutante, and walked in a Burberry bikini at the Berkeley Dress Show, where I subsequently got a bit of press for being the ‘posh’ girls with tattoos and piercings.

You can tell it wasn’t my comfort zone.  And from 14 onward I was very spiritual and have been in and out of vegetarianism, before I drop too much weight… I was obsessed with ‘healthy’ diets or finding the ‘right’ diet for me.  LONG story short, we get to this March 2017, 3 days before I turned 36 years old, and I’m watching a documentary with my husband called ‘Cowspiracy’.  Bloody hell it blew my mind.  I felt such guilt and shame at my ignorance and destruction, that I became vegan that night.  My husband on the other hand remained slightly more rational.  I had considered myself an intelligent woman with a psychology degree and a good business, compassionate, worldly and aware, but I was obviously wrong.  So as a resolution to turning 36, and becoming a better person for the planet and for my health, I turned vegan.  Now you need to bare this in mind:  I HATE SALAD, have never eaten salad leaves and am not a fan of most vegetables and fruits.  Yes I know if you check out my Instagram page you’re going to think I only live on kale.  Never tried it.  The only thing green I’ll eat is avocado mixed with mayonnaise, at a push.  Ask ANYONE who knows me.  So for someone who had the previous year been doing the Paleo diet (I won’t bore you with the whole justification and books I read as to why I was following that particular fad), and had been recently been eating cheese, eggs, and organic fish and occasionally meat, turning vegan was in hindsight a stretch.  Particularly when I was going through a stressful time, working very hard, on little sleep.

Basically I was living off marmite or jam sandwiches, beans and cereal.  But more to the point, the amount of times I just wouldn’t eat, instead of eating the ‘unhealthy’ option, and didn’t put in the time to mindfully learn how to eat new foods in new ways.  I was sacrificing my own health, being ‘healthy’ at the detriment to my own life.  As I tell all the yoga teachers I’ve trained, take care of yourselves, maintain your daily practice, because if you don’t, what use can you be to anyone else.

And that’s what happened to me.  I didn’t put myself first.  So if you take away anything from reading this, then please let it be that.  To put yourself first.  It’s been 5 weeks since I had the 2 seizures and my husband still won’t recall it to me.  He’s still too emotional at finding me after the first seizure, and witnessing the second, the ambulances, hospital, all while we were finally meant to be getting a bit of holiday time after a busy, stressful time.  He’s still tearing up when I try to ask him what I looked like…  So my body shut down on me.  I haven’t been giving my brain enough fats, my body the nutrients, or probably hydration that it’s needed.  All because I was trying to save the planet, be a better person and be ‘healthier’.  A word, by the way, I currently have MAJOR issues with…  And I also tried to blame it on veganism until last night, when I remembered the French doctor saying the word ‘Orthorexic’.

Old & New: my new body building shake snack & my endless supplements I’d take instead of ‘unhealthy’ food..

You see, all the EEG’s and MRI showed my brain’s in fantastic condition, and last night I finally returned home after giving an intensive yoga teacher training course in Portugal.  The neurologist said I couldn’t drive for 6 months and not to do any strenuous work for 4 weeks, but I pleaded that I’d be more anxious and miserable if I’d had to cancel 13 budding yoga teachers coming from all around the world.  I’m extremely lucky that I bloody love my job with a passion, and I literally want to be teaching yoga into my 90’s, if I were to live that long!!  So after a wonderful, slightly anxious 2 weeks abroad, a delayed flight, I was back in my bed with my snoring husband and cats.  I suddenly remembered the word the doctor had said in French and I looked it up.  Having read the definition above, I’ll now fill in the next part for you, without boring you with all the family and upbringing drama.

I’ve suffered from severe anxiety from a young age.  Every day I wake up and it’s like I’m about to go into my hardest A-level exam all over again.  The anxiety cripples my appetite.  From 10 years old I had panic attacks and major sleeping issues that quickly developed into severe insomnia.  I was reading an entire Nancy Drew book during the night while my sister was in the bed next to me, before having to get up for school.  By 11 I’d moved onto Agatha Christie.  I had obsessive compulsive tendencies, rituals, phobias and some very serious bouts of depression over 12 years.  The story of that time is not for anyone under the age of 18.  My ex-fiance will testify that I spent the best part of a New Year’s holiday at The St Regis Hotel in Mauritius inside the marble shower, because I was so phobic of the sound of thunder.  (Again due to another family drama trauma the psychiatrist later uncovered..)  But thanks to my psychology degree I actually managed to work my way out of that one eventually, and now I’m OK with the sound of it.  I have faith I’ll work my way out of all this now as well…  However it moved on to a dreadful fear of flying, where I have serious panic attacks, something my husband has been witness to many times, among other little things here and there.  To make this relevant to you reading this,  when are our rituals, or ‘just something I do’, actually obsessive compulsions?  It’s when they start to damage us physically, mentally, socially, emotionally…  When you don’t know what to cook, or people don’t invite you to dinner because you’re vegan, when you feel guilt or shame, when you’re mentally not alert and functioning how you should be, or when you try to be healthy and nearly end up dying of an epileptic fit?!

And if you’ve snuck a look at my Instagram in the meantime I want you to know that I do NOT WANT TO BE THIN.  I’m very happily married, with a wonderful business, living in the most incredible country in the world.  I want for nothing and I’m an intelligent and spiritual person, who has more depth than still thinking that what’s on the outside matters.   I WISH I had curves and a booty!!!  I am however a yoga teacher who’s very active, walks fast and my anxiety burns away fat quicker than most.  Anyway, thanks to a Harley Street doctor who didn’t know what else to recommend for my anxiety at 13 years old other than medication, he’d suggested I look up if there was Yoga at the Chelsea Sports Center or locally.  And there was and I started immediately.  I remember the moment like it was yesterday.  He said exactly in his old, snobby voice ‘Well there’s this thing I’ve read about going around called yoga, where you breathe, and stretch and relax or something, and perhaps it’s something you should try’.  It became another obsession of mine along with the concept of meditation due to a school visit to a Buddhist monastery/center in London.  You understand by now that my parents had money and I had really been treated to the absolute best doctors and all different therapies.  One of my father’s best friends was extremely high up in the Royal medical team, so it’s not like I didn’t have the support, and with a psychology degree and love of spiritualism, you’d think I’d have more self-realisation by now!!  And I consider myself a bloody good yoga teacher!  But you see I’m naturally thin boned, but yes you can see that I had dropped to 44.8Kg recently, and when I saw one of the recent videos I’d posted I was quite disgusted with myself.  I told my husband that night a couple of months ago, that I knew something was wrong.  We didn’t have much time to delve into it but we hastily decided that re-introducing cheese and occasionally some fish into my veganism, would at least help.  But it was too late, it wasn’t enough, and still I wasn’t getting the sleep and rest my body and brain needed.

But it’s taken until this.  My body letting me know that enough is enough and that food, rest, deep breathing, and taking care of yourself above all else, is the most important thing in life.  Only then are you loving yourself.  Only then do you have the proper capacity to love your family, friends, pets, the planet….  So please,  just take a moment to listen to your body and what your brain and heart are telling you.  Take a moment to think if in your strive to be a better person or healthier, that you’re doing so at the detriment of yourself in any way?  If so, give yourself a bloody break!  Drink that glass of wine, eat that burger, enjoy the processed donuts, whatever your guilt is…. I’m not saying I’m going to eat a McDonald’s, but I have got an appointment with a nutritionist and a psychologist.  However, as evident by my thunder story, my ability to certify 13 fabulous yoga teachers in the last 2 weeks, and the great morning I’ve just had, I think I’m doing pretty damn well already.  Admittedly I received an email from one of my private clients that I usually drive to, that had me crying.  I can’t drive for another 5 months due to the seizures and I had to email her to explain.  Her reply was beyond compassionate and beautiful and I very much look forward to seeing her next week and resuming our weekly sessions:-)  But not only did her reply put me in a good mood, but I’ve actually made and eaten a proper breakfast and started the whole day completely differently. (I won’t bore you the details but suffice to say that besides anxious and orthorexic I can also be lazy.  Cooking a breakfast knowing I’d have to deal with all the dishes afterwards was a major feat, even if I did eat it out of the pan!)

I’m turning a new leaf, I know it’s going to take a lot of work, but it feels really great doing it.  If anyone cares, then maybe I’ll write another post in a while with an update.  But for now I feel super positive.  I have a new little tattoo that just says ‘2017’ on my finger.  I know what it’s there for and what it reminds me of every hour, and that’s all that matters…  Is my obsessive morning ritual of washing my face with cold water before spritzing Jo Malone Lime, Basil and Mandarin on my neck, psychologically dangerous?  Am I obsessed with yoga and teaching it?!  Are these bad things?  Well I don’t think it’s a major medical concern and I guess the psychologist will let me know when I meet her;-)

My clients have all been really supportive, and my trainees were really understanding that I didn’t spend long in any yoga poses upside down, and that I went to bed early.  And you know what, my husband bought a beautiful piece of organic free-range chicken for us to cook tonight!  Yes my chronic anxiety means that I’m still feeling guilty and I’m apprehensive.  I’ve said that I’ll eat fish once a week and chicken once a month, and then I’ll see how it all goes with the nutritionist appointment…  I’m sorry if as a yogi, vegetarian, vegan, activist, whatever, that you are offended or you’re going to feel the need to troll me or de-friend me.  In fact, I’m not sorry.  I’ve written this non-stop in the last hour and it’s come from a good place.  My heart, and the hope that if this helps just one person, then it’s OK.  I know I’m a good person who is hugely dedicated to my husband, family, friends, pets, clients, students and to being as patient, kind and loving with anyone from anywhere.  I’m definitely not perfect, that could be another whole post, and that’s absolutely OK too.  None of us are, and we should never expect ourselves to be, and more importantly let other’s high, or unfair expectations of you, get in the way of PUTTING YOURSELF FIRST.  Give yourself a break.  Be as forgiving with yourself as you are with others!  I’m taking this as a major lesson, an important message from my body, and the self -ealisation of having to be more mindful with myself.  So please: Listen to your body.  Listen to your head. And listen to your heart.  Mine could have failed me during the seizures, but luckily I’m still here to type this, and the neurologist says they’re very unlikely to happen again if I eat properly and get sleep!  Fingers crossed.

Charlie's signature xx


Charlie Stewart-Brown
Charlie Stewart-Brown

Charlie began practicing yoga over 20 years ago and has been teaching for over 10 years around the world to people of all ages and abilities. Originally from London and having worked in New York and Lisbon after her Psychology degree, she has since settled with her husband in Switzerland, and dedicated her life to expanding her knowledge of the science of yoga, mindful meditation and better physical and mental health.

Over the years Charlie has worked with some of the most renowned yoga teachers around the world (David Swenson, Shiva Rea, Anne-Marie Newland, Leslie Kaminoff, Sadie Nardini, Sonia Sumar etc) certifying in Hatha, Sivanada, Ashtanga, Childrens and Family Yoga & Yoga for the Special Child. She has become highly respected for her successful work in yoga therapy, especially for Autism, ADHD and other behavioural and developmental syndromes. She has also talked at some of the biggest corporations in Switzerland and the annual SGIS (Swiss Group of International Schools) Conference on implementing Mindfulness in the work place and the education system.

Charlie holds the highest yoga qualifications as an ERYT500 (Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher), RCYT (Registered Children´s Yoga Teacher), RPYT (Registered Prenatal Yoga Teacher) and YCEP (Yoga Continued Education Provider) with the Yoga Alliance, and has developed Indiv Yoga™ to bring a more physiological, therapeutic and individual approach to yoga. Indiv Yoga™ Switzerland is a RYS (registered yoga school) and RCYS (registered children’s yoga school) providing Yoga Alliance RYT200 and RCYT teacher training certifications of the highest professional standards. The focus of Indiv Yoga™ is to provide the benefits of yoga to every type of individual, using its teachings to achieve physical and mental balance, and diminish the anxieties of modern life for adults and children.

Read her online testimonials and qualifications for a feel of her knowledgeable and friendly professionalism.

  • Manuela
    Posted at 12:17h, 25 September Reply

    Thank YOU so much for putting everything out there.
    You will help so many others – You rock! Kiss kiss, Manuela

  • Kat mrozi
    Posted at 22:27h, 24 September Reply

    Dear Charlie,
    I got link to this via our mutual friend and I read it all straight ahead …I know that our life paths separated some time ago,but since I met you I knew that you are a unique strong and powerful woman. Sitting here on the Sunday’s evening in Africa I just wanted to give you a huge congratulations for your honesty. Your story shows how real and amazing you are. Please keep like that – I am sure that all the best energies of the universe will help you to solve your health issues and you will be a wonderful example for many to follow… Please do never change and don’t give up girl !

  • Lara Costa
    Posted at 00:30h, 23 September Reply

    Wow charlie. So much here to process. I truly believe you are NOW on the healthiest path for you. Thank you for being so brave in sharing these private moments, thoughts, beliefs, fears, joys with us. I think its not a mistake to show how vulnerable you are as it just shows us that we all are. If we look at you we would never know. Live laugh love eat (in moderation in my case!) And stop to enjoy each moment. See you soon my friend. Lots love lara xxx

    • Charlie Stewart-Brown
      Charlie Stewart-Brown
      Posted at 12:22h, 25 September Reply

      I loved seeing you last week and our chats as always. Thank you for being such a wonderful friend for so long xxx

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