Disordered eating may occur when irregular eating behaviors do not fit the specific criteria for an eating disorder but can still lead to significant health risks. The behaviors can look very similar to an eating disorder, such as restriction, binge eating, emotional eating, or a combination of these. Disorder eating occurs on a spectrum and can range in severity. Emotions, behaviors, and thoughts all contribute to disordered eating patterns and can impact mental and physical health. Eating disorders on the other hand are a diagnosed mental health condition that consists of persistent abnormal eating patterns and severe distress. About 25% of those that struggle with disordered eating will develop an eating disorder, putting someone at a higher risk. If you feel you may be triggered by descriptions of disordered eating behaviors, please stop here!
Disordered Eating Behaviors
Restricting: This may include eating less than your body needs to sustain itself or limiting a certain type of food.
Binge Eating: The consumption of a large amount of food in a short period of time, with feelings of guilt and a lack of control.
Yo-yo dieting: Engaging in cycles of dieting, followed by a period of either binge eating or returning to previous eating habits.
Calorie Counting: A preoccupation with counting calories, often with anxiety around certain food choices.
Orthorexia: A preoccupation with eating a certain way in the hopes of promoting health. This often consists of things such as eating only raw foods, fixation on ingredients, eliminating processed foods, or certain food groups.
Chew and Spit: This takes place when someone chews food and then spits it out, instead of swallowing.
Compulsive exercising: Engaging in excessive exercise as a means to control one’s body or compensate for food choices.
Physical and Mental Health
Both disordered eating and eating disorders can negatively impact one's physical and mental well-being. Irregular eating patterns can lead to nutrient deficiencies, hormonal imbalances, and compromised immune function. Individuals may experience anxiety, depression, guild, shame, isolation and distorted body image.
Body Image Distortions
Negative body image is often a common characteristic in those engaging in these behaviors. Diet culture plays a huge role in how we talk to ourselves and the unrealistic body expectations folks struggle with today. Check out more on diet culture here. These patterns of disordered eating are often fueled by the desire to lose weight or change body and shape. These restrictive behaviors lead to increased preoccupation with food, heightened cravings, and higher likelihood of engaging in binge eating behaviors.
The Therapeutic Approach
Disordered eating is treated very similarly to eating disorders in that we want to address one’s relationship with food and their body. This often involves an eating disorder therapist and/or a dietitian.
Understanding the differences can be important. However, the main focus is how to improve your own stressors of the negative relationship with food and body. Disordered eating can affect folks of any age, gender, or culture. These behaviors can negatively impact physical health, emotional well-being, social functioning, and one’s overall quality of life. If you or someone you know is struggling with their relationship with food, please reach out for support at Serendipity Counseling Services.