Disordered Eating and Eating Disorders – What is the Difference?
Disordered eating and eating disorders are often confused with one another, and sometimes used interchangeably. While they may have some similarities, they are distinct from one another and require different approaches to treatment.
Eating behaviours exist on a spectrum and are not always clearly defined. At one end is a healthy relationship with food and at the other end of the spectrum are eating disorders, leaving disordered eating somewhere between these two. Disordered eating can commonly involve many of the same behaviours as eating disorders, but these occur with less frequency or intensity.
Disordered eating refers to a range of eating behaviours and attitudes and is often driven by a desire to control one's weight or shape and may not necessarily be accompanied by significant distress or impairment in daily functioning. These can include the following unhealthy eating behaviours:
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 behaviours might not be diagnosed as eating disorders as they might not meet certain criteria in terms of frequency and severity. That said, they are still harmful, often cause physical and emotional distress, and can have physical consequences. Additionally, disordered eating and dieting is a strong predictor of developing an eating disorder.
Eating disorders, on the other hand, are serious mental illnesses that involve abnormal and unhealthy eating behaviours that become obsessive and all-consuming. The most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. These disorders often involve a distorted body image and a preoccupation with weight and shape, and can have a severe impact on physical health, relationships, work, mood, quality of life and carry an increased risk of medical complications.
It is important to recognise the difference between disordered eating and an eating disorder, as the severity of the behaviours and the level of impairment can vary significantly. Disordered eating may not necessarily progress to an eating disorder, but it can be a risk factor for the development of one.
If you or someone you know is struggling with disordered eating or an eating disorder, it is
critical to seek help and support as early detection and treatment can improve outcomes
and lead to a full recovery. That said, full recovery is possible at any age and no matter how long one has been struggling with disordered eating or an eating disorder.
Want further guidance? Book in with Irina, our disordered eating specialist today to discuss your concerns in a commitment free call.
Registered Nutritional Therapist
Dip CNM, mBANT, mANP, mCNHC, NCFED
Irina has a special interest in eating disorders and disordered eating, such as binge eating, bulimia, chronic dieting, restrictive eating, emotional eating, and poor relationship with food in general. To provide support in these areas and any co-occurring health conditions, Irina offers a personalised approach, which combines nutritional, behavioural, and psychological interventions.