What is Disordered Eating?
Disordered Eating describes a variety of abnormal eating behaviors such as restrictive eating, fasting, compulsive overeating, excessive exercising, or irregular or rigid eating patterns that can be harmful to you both physically and psychologically. Disordered eating can affect all kinds of b o dies and you cannot tell by looking at someone if they are experiencing disordered relationship with food or their bodies.
The phrase Disordered Eating is used to cover the rang e of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors ab out food and body size and shape that lie between healthy eating habits and eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder. These behaviors are ab out more than food; they are often done in the name of losing weight or looking “healthier,” but, they can put you at risk for significant health problems.
Disordered Eating vs Eating Disorder
The difference between an eating disorder and Disordered Eating comes down to whether a person’s symptoms align with the established criteria for an Eating Disorder as defined by the American Psychiatric Association. A therapist who specializes in eating disorders can help determine if someone meets criteria or not. Disordered Eating is a descriptive phrase, not a diagnosis, but it is behaviors that can potentially become dangerous, and put you at risk for developing an eating disorder and other serious health problems. We know that disordered eating often is born out of the normalization of diet culture, masquerading as wellness, health, or lifestyle, which often creates the conditions for eating disorders to manifest.
Signs of Disordered Eating
- A preoccupation with food, weight, and body shape or size
- A feeling of loss of control around food
- Following diet or health fads
- Diet pill or supplement misuse
- Undereating or binge eating
- Eating quickly without enjoyment
- Eating past comfortable fullness
- Laxative, diuretic, and enema abuse
- Rigid or compulsive eating habits
- Fasting or exercising to make up for eating “bad foods”
- Compulsive exercising
- Skipping meals or denying hunger cues
- Eating based on how much you exercised
- Obsessively counting calories
- Eliminating certain foods, macronutrients, or food groups
- Secretive eating or avoidance of eating around people
- Characterizing certain foods as “bad” or “toxic” but others as “good” or “pure”
- Difficulty reading their internal hunger and fullness cues
People at Risk from Disordered Eating
Men and women are both susceptible to Disordered Eating. The truth is that many of us eat in a disordered way, which explains why many of us don’t see these behaviors as being disordered or out of the ordinary. Women, however, are often more at risk because of societal standards of weight and beauty. One survey estimated that 75% of American women engage in some sort of Disordered Eating behavior.
Physical Harm Caused by Disordered Eating
You don’t need an eating disorder diagnosis to suffer from serious effects of disordered eating. Many people who exhibit Disordered Eating patterns do not fully realize the impact it is having on their mental and physical health. This lack of understanding may make the harm caused by Disordered Eating greater. Consequences of Disordered Eating include a greater risk of health consequences or developing an eating disorder. Physical risks include bone loss, gastrointestinal disturbances, fluid imbalances, and low heart rate and blood pressure.
The Emotional and Social Impact of Disordered Eating
Disordered Eating has been linked to a reduced ability to cope with stressful situations. Feelings of guilt, shame, and failure are common in people who engage in Disordered Eating. A person with Disordered Eating behaviors may avoid situations where people will b e eating, which can contribute to low self-esteem and social withdrawal. Other mental health risks include irritability, difficulty concentrating, decreased motivation, emotion dysregulation, fatigue, and difficulty sleeping.
Diagnosing Disordered Eating
People with Disordered Eating are often unaware that their eating patterns are problematic. Working with a therapist who has a background in counseling patients with Disordered Eating can help someone identify their behavior, understand its function in their life, learn to change it, and pre vent it from turning into an eating disorder. If you think you or someone close to you is suffering from Disordered Eating, it is important to reach out for support as so on as possible.
Seeking Treatment for Disordered Eating
People who suspect they have Disordered Eating should seek treatment with a mental health professional. Psychotherapy can help you understand your relationship with food, develop body acceptance, and explore the relationship patterns and other psychological issues that contribute to Disordered Eating. Eating disorders are severe and life-threatening mental illnesses. An eating disorder is not a lifestyle choice.
Treating Disordered Eating
There are several evidence-based treatments that can help with Disordered Eating including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). A cognitive behavioral treatment called CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) has been developed to target Disordered Eating. This treatment focuses on attitudes about eating, body shape, and weight, and on modifying the thinking—like perfectionism, self-esteem, mood intolerance, and interpersonal difficulties—that leads to Disordered Eating. Treatment helps challenge thinking patterns and change unhealthy behaviors through behavioral and nutritional counseling. Therapy sessions focus on eating habits, relationships with others, and developing healthy coping skills.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) also can help someone with Disordered Eating. Treatment focuses on developing skills to replace maladaptive behaviors. Skills focus on building mindfulness skills, becoming more effective in interpersonal relationships, emotion regulation, and distress tolerance.
The goal of ACT(Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) is focusing on changing your actions rather than your thoughts and feelings. Patients are taught to identify core values and commit to creating goals that fulfill these values.
The roots of Disordered Eating can b e complex, so a therapeutic approach that can investigate the wide variety of factors including cognitive, behavioral, emotional, relational, social, cultural, and physiological, should all be considered.
The Goal for Treatment
To understand the underlying factors behind your Disordered Eating, make peace with food, to reconnect with your natural bodily sensations like hunger and feeling full, cope with your emotions with kindness, respect your body, and to give you a renewed sense of self in terms of doing what is right for you.
Disordered Eating FAQs
Normal eating doesn’t follow a schedule or rules because it is different for everyone, but in general it means being able to enjoy your food without feelings of shame or anxiety. Normal eating is trusting your body to make food choices that feel good for you, without judging yourself.
It can. People with Disordered Eating are at higher risk of having that develop into an eating disorder such as anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder.
Missing an occasional meal isn’t cause for concern. However, if you notice that a friend or family member frequently skips meals or makes excuses not to eat, it can indicate a pattern of Disordered Eating.
Yes. Disordered Eating is prevalent among people with diabetes and can significantly increase diabetes mortality and morbidity, which makes it even more important to seek a diagnosis and treatment.
At its most severe, disordered eating can lead to a weakened state, significant health complications, and even death. If you or someone you know is in this condition, it is important to seek medical help immediately.