Disordered Eating: What It Is and How it Differs From Eating Disorders

While it’s true that the vast majority of us can agree on the unhealthiness of certain eating habits, that doesn’t imply we never indulge in them. Eating past fullness or overindulging as a way to cope with feelings of sadness is one example. Perhaps you’ve realized that your diet habits tend to yo-yo from one diet plan to the next. You may have an intuitive sense that these actions aren’t serving you, but it’s crucial to recognize the severity of them and consider whether or not they portend an eating disorder.

An unhealthy eating pattern (disordered eating) and an actual eating disorder are often difficult to distinguish from one another. The two share a lot of similarities, but they are not the same thing.

It’s preferable to let a doctor decide if you or someone you care about suffers from an eating disorder. However, some foundational principles for distinguishing disordered eating from eating disorders can be useful.

Disordered Eating

Can You Describe Eating Disorders?

“disordered eating is used to characterize a spectrum of eating behaviors that may or may not support the diagnosis of an eating disorder,” said the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

To rephrase, everyone with an eating disorder has disordered eating, but not everyone with disordered eating meets the diagnostic criteria for a specific illness like anorexia nervosa or bulimia. In its place, an eating disorder may manifest as thoughts or actions that undermine a healthy lifestyle and a balanced perspective on food.

Where Normal Eating Vs. Eating Disorders Differ

The severe behavioral, cognitive, and emotional problems that characterize eating disorders can ultimately prove lethal.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is the standard for making such a diagnosis (DSM-5). Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder, binge eating disorder, and other specified feeding and eating disorders (OSFED) are all recognized eating disorders. OSFED is a catch-all diagnosis for less well-researched conditions like orthorexia nervosa or specific food phobias.

Physical health is often negatively impacted by an eating disorder (such as severe malnutrition or significant weight gain or loss), but this is less likely to be the case with disordered eating. Nonetheless, the effects of eating disorders on a person’s quality of life can be devastating. Anxiety, sadness, and other mental health issues can be made worse by developing a negative attitude toward food that is marked by fear, restriction, or guilt. In many cases, disordered eating is the precursor to a full-fledged eating disorder.

The Roots of Eating Disorders

Society is saturated with messages about how we should appear and what we should consume, from social media to glossy magazine covers. Many people’s unhealthy perspectives on food can be traced back to the prevalence of diet culture. The “cult of thinness” propagated by the media has been linked to eating disorders since at least 2006.

Experiencing trauma in the past may also play a significant role in the onset of poor eating habits. A study published in 2018 found that women, and particularly women of color, who had experienced trauma were more likely to suffer from an eating disorder.

It’s possible that the company you keep can influence you to adopt some unhealthy diet and lifestyle habits. Your perception of foods may also be influenced by your parents’ and friends’ comments on the macronutrient content of the foods they eat. Some studies have established a link between the use of social networking sites and disordered eating patterns, with social comparison as the likely driver. This shows that the effect of others is not limited to face-to-face interactions.

Learning to Manage an Eating Disorder

You can take measures to prevent disordered eating if you’ve recognized unhealthy dietary habits you’d like to alter.

Let’s Have a Confidential Discussion With Someone Secure

It could be helpful to talk to someone you trust about how you’re feeling. Talk therapy with a trained counselor who specializes in eating disorders is also recommended. Another person who may be useful is a qualified dietician who focuses on eating disorders.

Do some Mindfulness Training

Mindful and intuitive eating practices may also help mend strained relationships with food. You may retrain yourself to appreciate food and eat sensibly by using the principles of mindfulness and self-compassion at mealtimes.

Not Going On A Diet

Avoid diets that force you to eat very little calories or cut out whole food groups. Diets that promise quick fixes in the form of weight loss or improved health usually end up causing more harm than good and are not sustainable in the long run.

Eliminate the Clutter from Your Social Media

Although mainstream media like TV and music are pervasive in modern life, they may also rapidly disseminate damaging messages. Doing an audit of what you see and hear on social media is a terrific approach to get rid of toxic, trigger-inducing messaging if you’re battling with disordered eating.

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