Eating Disorder or Disordered Eating?

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week: February 23 to March 1

disordered eatingAmerican culture is obsessed with weight, size, dieting, and exercise. We are a country that longs to look like the flawless models in the magazines, and this has led to a high prevalence of disordered eating. In fact, research suggests that up to 50 percent of the population demonstrates problematic or disordered relationships with food, body, and exercise.[1] However, the rates of clinical eating disorders are much lower—one to three percent of the general population.1 While clinical eating disorders are often easier to diagnose, more subtle forms of disordered eating are difficult to spot.1

There exists four diagnoses of eating disorders in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5 (DSM 5): anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and eating disorder not otherwise specified.1 For each diagnosis, there is a specific set of criteria that must be met; however, not meeting all of the criteria, while still meeting some, does not mean that a person has a healthy relationship with food and weight—these individuals may still be at risk, both physically and mentally.1

Recognizing, even defining, disordered eating is complicated.1 Symptoms of disordered eating often includes behavior that is associated with eating disorders.1 This can include food restriction, binge eating, and purging.1 However, other symptoms often exist. Individuals with disordered eating often base their self-worth and self-esteem highly on their  body shape and weight, and they may constantly feel as though they need to lose weight although their current weight is within the healthy range.1 They may exercise excessively and obsess over calorie counting, and may often feel anxiety regarding certain foods.1 Also, having a rigid eating approach, such as only eating certain foods, not having flexible meal times, and  refusing to eat outside the home is common.1

The main difference between disordered eating and eating disorders is the degree to which it is taken.1 People with disordered eating may have the same symptoms as those with eating disorders; however, they have a lower level of severity.1 This does not mean that their behavior is not problematic—it should be taken seriously. These individuals are at risk of developing a clinical eating disorder.1

If the person’s disordered eating affects their daily functioning, it is time to seek help.1 They may lose concentration and have a difficult time focusing, as their minds are preoccupied with food, weight, and exercise.1 They also may restrict their social life to avoid eating out at restaurants or disrupting their exercise routine.1 Using food to cope with life’s stressors and feeling overwhelming anxiety due to their obsessive thoughts are also serious issues.1

In order to prevent disordered eating from becoming a more serious problem than it already is, help must be sought.1 Therapists can help people improve the relationship one has with their body, raising  self-esteem and learning healthier coping mechanisms.1


  • Danuta

    March 6, 2014, 4:11 pm

    Keep this going please, great job!

  • Hulda

    March 11, 2014, 4:54 pm

    Touche. Great arguments. Keep up the great work.

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