Disordered eating and eating disorders are frequently confused and occasionally even used interchangeably. Despite their similarities, it's important to recognise that they are separate entities, each calling for its own unique treatment approach.
Eating habits lie on a continuum, lacking clear-cut boundaries. On one end, there exists a healthy rapport with food, while at the other extreme, we find eating disorders. Disordered eating falls somewhere in between. It often encompasses many of the same behaviours as eating disorders, albeit with lower frequency or intensity.
Disordered eating encompasses a spectrum of attitudes and behaviours related to food. It is often driven by a desire to manage one’s weight or shape and may not necessarily lead to significant distress or disruption in daily life. These behaviours may involve:
Obsession with weight control
Caloric restriction, such as skipping meals
Frequent comparison of own food choices to that of others
Adoption of rigid food rules
Anxiety and fear around food
Compensatory behaviours, such as “making up” for a binge by restricting, purging, or over-exercising
Worries about body image
Obsessive preoccupation with ‘pure’ or ‘clean’ foods (i.e., orthorexia) which leads to important dietary restrictions and the severity of which can range from disordered eating to an eating disorder
Some of these disordered eating patterns might not meet the diagnostic criteria for an eating disorder due to differences in frequency and severity. Nevertheless, they can still be detrimental, causing both physical and emotional distress, and may lead to physical consequences. Furthermore, engaging in disordered eating behaviours and restrictive dieting serves as a significant indicator for the potential development of an eating disorder.
On the contrary, eating disorders represent severe mental health conditions characterised by abnormal and unhealthy eating habits that become consuming and obsessive. The most prevalent eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. These conditions often entail a distorted perception of one's body and an excessive fixation on weight and shape, which can profoundly impact physical well-being, relationships, professional life, mood, overall quality of life, and elevate the risk of medical complications.
It's crucial to differentiate between disordered eating and a full-fledged eating disorder, as the intensity of behaviours and the degree of disruption they cause can vary widely. Disordered eating may not inevitably progress into a formal eating disorder, yet it can heighten the likelihood of developing one.
If you or someone you know is struggling with disordered eating or an eating disorder, seeking help and support promptly is paramount. Early identification and intervention can significantly enhance the prospects for recovery and lead to a complete restoration of well-being. It's worth noting that achieving a full recovery is attainable regardless of age or the duration of the struggle with disordered eating or an eating disorder.
About the Author
I'm a Nutritional Therapist and Naturopath based in Kingston-upon-Thames, London.
By helping my clients to work WITH their body rather than AGAINST it, I can guide them back into alignment so that they can feel empowered and at home in their skin.
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