Knowing the Difference Between Disordered Eating and Eating Disorders

Many people are unaware of the subtle signs of disordered eating, which can lead to diagnosable eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia. For Anne Poirier, author of The Body Joyful, disordered eating started at the age of 11 or 12. She explains how her mother knew something was wrong and brought her to a therapist, eventually leading to a diagnosis of anorexia.

Disordered eating patterns can include secretive food behaviors, excessive body checking, and compulsive exercising, which can lead to positive reinforcement from peers. This initial validation can lead to a dangerous reward cycle, which can quickly spiral out of control. Unfortunately, disordered eating is normalized in society, which makes it harder to identify as problematic behavior.

The distinction between disordered eating and diagnosable eating disorders is an essential but difficult one to make. Although disordered eating is not an official diagnosis, it describes unhealthy behaviors associated with food and body-image concerns. This can range from risky dieting behaviors to frequent body-image thoughts.

A diagnosable eating disorder has a set of criteria, which can include physical health impairment, extreme distress, or compromised personal relationships. Seeking a diagnosis involves assessing whether a person’s symptoms align with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

The most common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. Anorexia nervosa involves extreme restriction and weight loss, while bulimia nervosa includes bingeing and purging behaviors. Binge eating disorder is characterized by regular binge eating without purging.

Awareness of the subtle signs of disordered eating and seeking help are critical in preventing disordered eating from escalating into a full-blown eating disorder. It is crucial to seek help even if the behavior does not meet the criteria for a diagnosable eating disorder, as disordered eating can still have significant negative impacts on a person’s life.

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