Health Approach
Disordered Eating or Eating Disorder?

Disordered Eating or Eating Disorder?

The yo-yo diet and an obsession with food are nothing new in our culture. But when does focusing on food, calories and weight become a health concern?

Disordered Eating

Disordered eating is used to describe a range of irregular eating habits that may or may not warrant a diagnosis of a particular eating disorder. Eating disorders such as Anorexia Nervosa or AN, and Bulimia Nervosa or BN, are diagnosed according to specific and narrow criteria. This excludes most people suffering from this disorder.

Many people with disordered eating symptoms are diagnosed with Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified or EDNOS. However, like AN or BN, EDNOS has specific criteria that must be met in order for the patient to receive this diagnosis and these criteria are also narrowed down.

Disordered Eating vs Eating Disorder

The most significant difference between an eating disorder and disordered eating is whether a person’s symptoms and experiences match the criteria defined by the American Psychiatric Association. The term ‘disordered eating’ is just a descriptive phrase, not a diagnosis. Therefore, although many people who have disordered eating patterns that meet the criteria for EDNOS, it is also possible to have disordered eating patterns that do not fit into the current picture of an eating disorder diagnosis.

However, eating problems that aren’t a diagnosis deserve attention and treatment, as it can turn into more problematic eating disorders and put people at risk for serious health problems.

Symptoms Of Disordered Eating

The signs and symptoms of disordered eating can include, but are not limited to:

  • Frequent diets, anxiety associated with specific foods, or skipping meals
  • Chronic weight fluctuations
  • Rigorous rituals and routines around food and exercise
  • Feelings of guilt and shame associated with eating
  • Concerned about food, weight and body image, which negatively affect the quality of life
  • A sense of loss of control over food, including compulsive eating habits
  • Use of exercise, food restriction, fasting, or cleansing to “make up for any bad foods” consumed

The Damages Caused By Disordered Eating

Many people who suffer from disordered eating patterns either ignore or are not sure what impact it has on their mental and physical health. This lack of understanding can unnecessarily aggravate the damages of disordered eating. Adverse consequences may include an increased risk of obesity and eating disorders, bone loss, gastrointestinal upset, fluid and electrolyte imbalances, low heart rate and blood pressure, increased anxiety, depression, and social isolation.

Disordered eating is a serious health problem that can be difficult to detect, as a person with disordered eating habits may not exhibit all of the classic symptoms typically identified with eating disorders. It is important to be aware that a person who exhibits disordered eating habits and behaviors can also be experiencing significant physical, emotional and mental stress.

However, certified dietician nutritionists are able to detect and treats those with eating disorders. Often, patients who are referred to these dieticians for nutritional advice are unaware that their eating patterns are problematic or harmful. Working with a dietician experienced in counseling patients with eating disorders is a vital step in treating disordered eating and preventing it from developing into an eating disorder.

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