What is Disordered Eating and is the Same Thing as an Eating Disorder?

Learn about the differences and commonalities among disordered eating and eating disorders

Disordered eating and unhealthy relationships with weight often go hand in hand. A reported 70 million people in the U.S. currently suffer from a disordered eating behavior. The National Eating Disorders Association reports that about 30 million of these cases have been actually diagnosed. This also means that about 40 million cases are undiagnosed, which is quite alarming.

What is Disordered Eating?

Disordered eating is more than just focused calorie-counting or controlling portion sizes to lose weight. It is having a range of irregular eating behaviors that may or may not require a diagnosis of an eating disorder.

This is NOT the same as an eating disorder, which is characterized by severe, abnormal or disturbed eating habits that are related to thoughts and emotions. Sometimes it can be hard to know the difference between these conditions. However, a person is thought to have an eating disorder only if their signs/symptoms match up with the criteria of the American Psychiatric Association.

Symptoms of Disordered Eating:

  • A history of dieting or the constant need to diet
  • Anxiety around certain foods
  • Guilt or anxiety after eating certain foods
  • Frequent weight changes
  • Meal time routines or rituals
  • Constant thoughts about food, weight or body image
  • Feeling the need to “make up” for eating “bad” food by over-exercising, purging or fasting

Addressing Signs and Symptoms

Just because disordered eating may not carry the clinical significance of an “eating disorder”, this doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be taken seriously.

If not addressed, disordered eating can worsen. Many people who suffer from it may not realize the impact it could be having on both their physical and mental health. In such situations, disordered eating can transition to a diagnosed eating disorder and require many additional years of treatment and therapy.

Health Impacts of Disordered Eating:

  • Anxiety, Depression or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Greater risk of obesity and eating disorders
  • Bone loss
  • GI issues like painful stomach acid or problems with bowel movements
  • Fluid imbalances
  • Nutrient deficiencies

If you or someone you know has symptoms of disordered eating, it is important to seek help from a professional at any and all stages. Registered Dietitian Nutritionists are often someone’s first line of defense because they can detect whether or not someone’s eating behaviors are problematic.

If there are cognitive and emotional factors related to the disordered eating, it is especially important to see a psychologist or therapist for help working through those issues. In these cases, it is equally important to treat the mind as it is the physical nature of disordered eating.

For more information about disordered eating, CLICK HERE for education from the Obesity Action Coalition, Founder of the Your Weight Matters Campaign.

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