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  • Writer's pictureCatherine Lott

Is my eating disordered?

Updated: Jun 26, 2023





In a world in which the diet industry has become so dominant, where weight stigma and the idea of the thin ideal is being constantly pushed, a normal eater is getting harder to find.


This diet culture has created a belief system that values thinness at all costs and equates body size to health and personal virtues; it thrives on restriction, and making us feel guilty and ashamed for eating certain foods and failing to exercise punitively. This diet industry generates about $470 billion a year globally (as of 2021). This huge amount of money relies on destroying our self-esteem, preying on our self-doubt and propagating the idea that every thing would be better if we were thinner or our bodies were a different shape-and we could achieve this if we were just more disciplined and managed to follow 'the rules' more rigorously.

This diet industry generates about $470 billion a year globally (as of 2021) This huge amount of money depends on destroying our self-esteem, preying on our self-doubt and propagating the idea that every thing would be better if we were thinner or our bodies were a different shape-and we could achieve this if we were just more disciplined and followed 'the rules' more rigorously.

So in a world where abnormal eating behaviours have become normalised, how do we know if our eating is disordered?


Disordered eating is a broad term used to describe a range of irregular eating habits that can cause negative physical, emotional, and mental health outcomes.


Unlike diagnosed eating disorders, disordered eating does not necessarily meet the diagnostic criteria for a specific disorder, but still represents an unhealthy relationship with food and our body.


The primary difference between disordered eating and eating disorders involves the severity and degree of the symptoms. Disordered eating frequently involves many of the same behaviours that occur in eating disorders, but such symptoms occur less frequently or less intensely.


This does not mean that disordered eating is not serious. Eating disorders are often more recognizable and represent diagnosable conditions. Disordered eating can often be more subtle, making it more difficult to recognize or, at times, more challenging to address. And disordered eating can contribute to the development and onset of an eating disorder.



Disordered eating can often be more subtle, making it more difficult to recognize or, at times, more challenging to address.



So what type of eating behaviours are disordered?


Symptoms of disordered eating vary widely but can include:



  • Avoiding certain food groups

  • Binge eating

  • Calorie restriction or extreme dieting

  • Changes in weight

  • Eating due to boredom

  • Eating as a way to cope with stress

  • Eating to deal with emotions

  • Elaborate rituals related to food and eating

  • Eating the same things every day

  • Engaging in limited or irregular bingeing and purging

  • Feeling guilty for eating or eating certain foods

  • labelling foods as "good" or "bad"

  • Misusing diuretics, laxatives, or enemas Self-inducing vomiting

  • Skipping meals

  • Avoiding major food groups

  • Taking an all-or-nothing approach to healthy eating

  • Using diet pills or supplements to lose weight


Types of Disordered Eating


Disordered eating is not a condition recognized in the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders."


The term refers to a type of abnormal eating behaviour that occurs on a regular basis and has the potential to meet the diagnostic criteria for an eating disorder.



These behaviours can have severe consequences on physical health, leading to malnutrition, digestive problems, hormonal imbalances, and many other other health problems. Disordered eating can also take a significant toll on mental health, leading to anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.



Disordered eating is not a condition recognized in the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders." The term refers to a type of abnormal eating behaviour that occurs on a regular basis and has the potential to meet the diagnostic criteria for an eating disorder.


Types of Disordered Eating


Disordered eating can include behaviours that are abnormal as well as those that are very similar to those of eating disorders. Disordered eating patterns can include:


  • Cleanses

  • Diet pills

  • Emotional eating

  • Excessive exercise

  • Fad diets

  • Laxative abuse

  • Misusing supplements

  • Overeating

  • Skipping meals or fasting

  • Social withdrawal


Disordered eating can also include the use of self-induced compensatory behaviours following eating. This may involve self-induced vomiting, but it can also include other actions like extreme exercise or the use of laxatives or diuretics. Such behaviours may be viewed as disordered if they occur infrequently but would meet the criteria for an eating disorder if they occur at least once a week for a three-month period.


Behaviours may be viewed as disordered if they occur infrequently but would meet the criteria for an eating disorder if they occur at least once a week for a three-month period.


Research has shown that dieting can contribute to disordered eating, which can trigger an eating disorder.


Emotional eating can be a common type of disordered eating. When we experience negative or challenging emotions, we may turn to pleasurable activities, such as eating, to boost our mood and avoid painful feelings. Such eating patterns sometimes begin in childhood and can persist into adulthood.


This can become an unhealthy coping mechanism contributing to further negative feelings. Overeating can often be followed by feelings of shame and guilt.


What causes disordered eating


The causes of disordered eating are complex and may involve biological, environmental, and psychological factors.


  • Biological factors may include genetic predispositions, neurotransmitter imbalances, and hormonal changes.

  • Environmental factors may include family attitudes towards food and weight, social and cultural pressures to conform to unrealistic beauty standards (including unhealthy and unnatural values around thinness), from celebrity culture, television and movies, social media, and online influencers which can lead to distorted body image and unhealthy relationships with food.

  • Psychological factors may include stress or difficult life changes, low self-esteem, perfectionism, and a history of trauma or abuse.


Coping with disordered eating


Coping with disordered eating can be challenging, but there are several steps that we can take to manage symptoms and prevent further harm.


If you recognize signs of disordered eating, you can take steps to manage your behaviour and develop a healthier relationship with food. Finding new coping methods may help prevent such behaviours from progressing to a full-fledged eating disorder.


Some steps you can take include:


Avoid Fad Diets

Diets tend to be highly restrictive and lead to feelings of hunger and deprivation. This often results in cravings and overeating behaviours, leading to feelings of failure and guilt. Instead of following fad diets, focus on eating a balanced diet and avoid labelling foods as inherently "good" or "bad."


Use Positive Self-Talk

These steps may include seeking support from friends and family, practicing self-care and stress management techniques, and working with a healthcare professional to develop a personalized treatment plan.


Practice Body Neutrality

It can also be helpful to use an approach known as body neutrality to shift your focus. Body neutrality involves practicing accepting your body and focusing on caring for your body with adequate food, rest, water, and care. Learning to appreciate your body can help improve body image and combat disordered eating behaviours.


Try Mindful Eating

Mindfulness is a practice that involves focusing entirely on the present moment. When applied to eating, it can help you avoid unconscious, distracted eating and instead fully appreciate the food you eat and the experience of consuming it.


Mindful or intuitive eating can help you become more attuned to your body and learn to recognize when you are hungry and when you are full. It can also help you learn to identify unhealthy eating behaviours, such as using food to distract yourself from challenging emotions.


Strategies

Strategies that can help include avoiding weighing yourself every day, limiting your exposure to unrealistic body standards, and practicing gratitude. A therapist will be able to help you work on your disordered eating, and anything that is helping to maintain it , such as anxiety, perfectionism, depression or low self-esteem. A dietician may be able to help you get back to a balanced diet and your GP can help you with any medication you may need to support your recovery, such as anti-depressants.


Anyone is at risk of developing disordered eating , and prevention where possible is really important. Parents and caregivers can play a crucial role in helping adolescents and young adults by promoting healthy attitudes towards food and weight by modelling healthy eating habits and promoting body positivity. Educators and healthcare professionals can also raise awareness about disordered eating and provide resources and support to those who may be struggling.


Getting help for disordered eating is essential, and if you are struggling, seek professional support as soon as possible. A healthcare professional can conduct a comprehensive assessment and develop a personalized treatment plan that addresses your unique needs and circumstances. With the right support, you can overcome disordered eating and achieve a healthy relationship with food and your body.

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