Disordered Eating Versus An Eating Disorder

Chris Clancy

September 27, 2019

The relationship that Americans have with food and its effects on our physical and mental well-being is complex, both physically and emotionally. With fad diets grabbing headlines day after day and people joking about “eating their feelings” as a means of coping, it can be hard to discern how exactly one is supposed to eat. Whether someone has been diagnosed with an eating disorder (ED) or not, issues of compulsion, self-esteem, and body image often play an outsized role in his or her diet.

In fact, some studies suggest that nearly 50 percent of the U.S. population demonstrates a problematic relationship with food, body image, and exercise. At the same time, just an estimated 1 to 3 percent of the U.S. population lives with a clinical ED such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa.

That leaves a rather large gray area between healthy eating and a full-blown ED, and somewhere in this gray area exists something known as “disordered eating.” While it’s important that disordered eating not be mistaken for a treatable eating disorder, it’s also important that the occasional indulgence not be mistaken for disordered eating.

Signs and Symptoms of Disordered Eating

Signs of disordered eating can include such seemingly harmless activities as eating when bored, having the same meal for lunch every day, or cutting out a main food group without consulting a physician or nutritionist.

Some more extreme symptoms of disordered eating might include:

  • Self-worth or self-esteem based on body shape and weight
  • Disruption in the way one sees his or her body, such as a person falling within a healthy weight range but continuing to feel “fat”
  • Excessive exercise routine
  • Borderline obsessive calorie counting
  • Anxiety toward certain foods
  • Excessive rigidity in relation to eating, including all-cost avoidance of certain foods or inflexible mealtimes

All of these symptoms could also point to a full-blown ED. The difference to be kept in mind is severity. An individual with disordered eating habits might engage in some of these behaviors at a lesser frequency than someone with an ED.

Disordered Eating

Signs and Symptoms of an Eating Disorder

It should be noted that individuals with ED generally engage in multiple behaviors. In addition to being excessively rigid about their mealtimes, they might exercise obsessively, express disgust or even fear of certain foods, and constantly measure their caloric intake. These behaviors express an obsession with food and body image, to the point where one’s relationship with food disrupts other aspects of life, often to the point of basic functionality.

That said, disordered eating can become an ED if left unchecked. Those with disordered eating run a higher risk for an ED and are more likely to develop a co-occurring disorder, such as depression, anxiety, or a substance use disorder. Recognizing the differences between disordered eating and ED take practice in order to reach understanding.

Get Help at JourneyPure in Nashville

 At JourneyPure Nashville, we know the toll that addiction can take on your life and we know how important recovery can be to your healing. By reaching out to us, we can help you get moving in your recovery and show you how to apply your life skills. Make the decision today to stop using and regain control once and for all.