There is no clear definition for “disordered eating,” so most professionals agree that it is not an actual disorder. However, some do describe disordered eating as something more than just eating too much or too little of certain foods. It can also include engaging in compulsive behaviors or rituals related to food.
Many people who suffer from binge-eating disorders go through life thinking they are alone. They feel isolated due to their special diet that they must adhere to at all times, and stress about how to afford the next meal.
Some people believe there is nothing you could have done to cause your child to develop eating disorders, making it difficult to offer help. This can make those suffering feel even lonelier and stressed out.
It is important to remember that mental health issues such as eating disorders cannot be cured by treating the symptoms only. More effective treatments work with both emotions and behavior to address the underlying causes.
This article will talk about some warning signs that may indicate if someone you know has an eating disorder. If you are worried or think this person may need help, please speak with them directly, or get them into counseling.
You are never too young or old to recognize potential eating disorders. While some eat differently from what others consider normal, everyone should be able to identify when something isn’t right.
Another way that people get involved in disordered eating is by what’s been referred to as compulsive eating. This happens when you eat too much of whatever food type you are trying to avoid or limit foods completely, even though you feel hungry.
You may also spend large amounts of money buying foods that help you stay within your diet, suchas low-fat snacks and nutrition supplements.
This can make it hard to motivate yourself to cook a meal because there isn’t anything left in the house to eat.
People with this problem often describe feeling out of control over their hunger and appetite, along with feelings of guilt for not sticking to their diets.
They also worry about keeping up their appearance through diets and weight loss practices, which can contribute to more stress.
There is an argument that suggests food can become addictive for someone who suffers from eating disorders or what some call “food addictions.” This theory was first discussed in 2007, when psychiatrist Susan Stern described it as “eating disorder related compulsive eating (ED-CCE) syndrome.”
Stern noted that while people with bulimia nervosa may feel hungry at times, they will often over eat to compensate for their feelings of hunger. Some individuals suffering from this condition also experience frequent cravings and eating beyond satiety.
This person might then use exercise to counteract their appetite by taking a longer time to eat and/or engaging in light activity so that they do not eat enough to satisfy their hunger.
Dr. Stern said that those with ED-CCE suffer from strong desires to consume foods which make them feel better and thus are able to distract them from their underlying emotions. She likened these experiences to drug addicts experiencing a high due to cocaine or heroin.
However, she emphasized that this does not mean that anyone who is overweight necessarily has a food addiction. Rather than having internal struggles, people with obesity simply have more body fat which makes them feel warmer and promote sleep.
Overall health aside, many agree that weight loss is a good way to address any kind of eating disorder. By dropping pounds, your body feels happier with itself and therefore less stressed.
People often refer to eating disorders as “dieting” or “nutritionism,” but this term is inaccurate. While it may seem helpful at first glance, “nutritionist” has a very different connotation than what most people associate with dieting.
Nutritionists are trained in nutrition — they have degrees that include nutritional science. But being able to identify nutritious foods isn’t necessarily connected to weight loss! In fact, some of the most well-known low calorie diets aren’t particularly healthy.
Instead of teaching people how to choose healthier food options, some courses teach students why certain food groups should be limited or even banned. This can create more stress instead of relaxation, because now you’re trying to find ways to deal with your hunger by limiting things you like (and which make you feel good!).
Using the word “diet” when talking about eating habits that have negative effects on health can also contribute to body image issues. Because diet culture assigns value only to thin people who use restrictive strategies, individuals with eating disorders may perceive their own behaviors as normal.
This can help explain the stigma surrounding these conditions. Fortunately, there are resources available to treat eating disorders, and research indicates that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) works for both types 1 and 2.1
So if you recognize any of the symptoms of an eating disorder, talk to someone.
Recognize the difference between eating disorders and food cravings
It is very important to recognize that not every person who feels hungry a lot or wants to eat more than they normally do has an eating disorder.
This can be due to many things, such as stress, health issues like diabetes or hypothyroidism, or even just because someone else in their family gets lots of praise for how much they eat.
It’s also important to know that people with eating disorders will often diet alone, but most people need to eat in groups of around eight people.
People with bulimia may go without eating for several hours and then binge or purge by ingesting large amounts of either food or liquid within a short amount of time.
Seek help from a therapist
For some people, eating too much or not enough is more about them trying to feel in control or better than someone else.
For example, you could look at it as they are trying to prove themselves by consuming more food than other people their own size. Or maybe they want to make sure that everyone knows just how thin they think they are so that they get attention.
These individuals may also fear that if they don’t keep up with the rest of the population then they will lose their place in society. This can sometimes go even further and include fears of being poor or failing to meet expectations.
In these cases, the individual is really seeking external validation and praise. It becomes an addiction because they need the feelings that come along with it.
Seek help from a nutritionist
There’s a reason that eating disorders are often referred to as “life-threatening conditions.” When you develop an eating disorder, your body goes through some pretty serious changes in order to cope with the stress of overconsuming or starving yourself.
Your blood glucose levels can become dangerously low which puts you at risk for seizures and death. Your heart may not be able to keep up with your active dieting habits so it does not get enough oxygenated blood flow. This can result in irregular heartbeat and even sudden cardiac arrest if you suddenly eat food or stop engaging in fasting practices.
Because eating too little can cause nutritional deficiencies, people who suffer from eating disorders are usually told to supplement their diets with vitamins and minerals. This is particularly important for teens and young adults whose bones are still developing and need adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D to stay strong and healthy.
However, before seeking professional help, you must first make an effort to recognize when you are suffering from a diagnosable mental health condition like binge eating, purging, or excessive exercise. Only once you have determined that you do indeed have an eating disorder should you seek appropriate treatment.
Work on your mental health
While eating disorders are often described as “diet related”, there is some disagreement over what constitutes a diet. Some experts consider any deliberate restriction of food or nutrients for no medical reason to be an eating disorder. Therefore, if you’re ever asked whether you have an eating disorder, remember that it can exist without being diagnosed as such.
Most people enjoy food, so asking about how someone feels about their body and the size of foods they eat may be helpful in determining whether they could possibly suffer from disordered eating.
If you think you might need help with this, talk to friends, family members, doctors, and other professionals around you. You do not need to self-diagnose.
In fact, most individuals who develop an eating disorder never realize they have one until something happens (like when they go out to lunch with everyone) and it becomes obvious. Sometimes a little push or comment from a loved one is all you needed to recognize your problem.
While it’s important to understand what makes you feel better in your eating habits, don’t worry about being “normal.”
Normal is always changing, depending on who you are and what you want out of your life.
We spend so much time worrying about whether someone or something is normal that we forget our own lives are not normal.
What matters most is how you feel about yourself and your life at this moment, not if other people have the same feelings for food.
If you’re feeling bad about yourself because of your weight, there’s nothing wrong with you! We lose sight of this very easily when dieting comes up in conversations.
Diet talk can sometimes make us feel criticized and ashamed, which only adds to the body image struggle already present.
Instead of talking about diets, try sharing activities and experiences instead. Ask your friends if they would like to do something tomorrow night and then see where things take you from there.
Alternatively, invite them over for dinner and just chat away without any mention of food.
Disclaimer: This article does not intend to diagnose anyone as having an eating disorder nor suggest that their current behavior is necessarily unhealthy. Only you can determine that.
This article will however help you identify potential red flags that could indicate disordered eating.