We’ve often heard stories about eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia but there is a third category that encompasses a variety of other eating disorders. This is broadly known as disordered eating and includes chronic dieting, severely restrictive eating, and chaotic eating patterns. It could be compulsive eating or skipping meals. When one’s relationship with food falls into the category of obsessive, this behavior may be disordered eating. It is difficult to estimate how many people suffer from disordered eating, but the CDC states that millions of Americans suffer from it. Because I am not a medical doctor and have no training related to eating disorders, if you suspect you or someone you know suffers from disordered eating, please seek professional help. This article is based on my research and should not replace professional medical advice.
Before we look into disordered eating, let’s first define normal eating. While this will vary significantly from person to person, normal eating involves the consumption of healthy food that provide the body with needed nutrients and enough calories to meet the body’s basic needs. Normal eating also involves a positive attitude about food with thoughts regarding food being a part of daily life while not dominating it.
There are physical, psychological and behavioral changes that may be indicative of disordered eating.
- Rapid weight loss or frequent weight changes
- Loss or disturbance of menstruation in girls and women and decreased libido in men
- Fainting or dizziness
- Feeling tired and not sleeping well
- Lethargy and low energy
- Signs of damage due to vomiting including swelling around the cheeks or jaw, calluses on knuckles, damage to teeth and bad breath
- Feeling cold most of the time, even in warm weather
- Preoccupation with eating, food, body shape and weight
- Feeling anxious and/or irritable around meal times
- Feeling out of control around food
- Black and white thinking (e.g. rigid thoughts about food being ‘good’ or ‘bad’)
- A distorted body image
- Using food as a source of comfort (e.g. eating as a way to deal with boredom, stress or depression)
- Using food as self-punishment (e.g. refusing to eat due to depression, stress or other emotional reasons)
- Dieting behavior (e.g. fasting, counting calories, avoiding food groups such as fats and carbohydrates)
- Eating in private and avoiding meals with other people
- Evidence of binge eating (e.g. disappearance and/or hoarding of food)
- Frequent trips to the bathroom during or shortly after meals
- Vomiting or using laxative, enemas, appetite suppressants or diuretics
- Changes in clothing style (e.g. wearing baggy clothes)
- Compulsive or excessive exercising (e.g. exercising in bad weather, continuing to exercise when sick or injured, and experiences distress if exercise is not possible)
- Changes in food preferences (e.g. claiming to dislike foods previously enjoyed, sudden preoccupation with ‘healthy eating’, or replacing meals with fluids)
- Obsessive rituals around food preparation and eating (e.g. eating very slowly, cutting food into very small pieces, insisting that meals are served at exactly the same time every day)
- Extreme sensitivity to comments about body shape, weight, eating and exercise habits
- Secretive behavior around food (e.g. saying they have eaten when they haven’t, hiding uneaten food in their rooms)
For more information or to find help and support, please contact the National Eating Disorders organization. They have a variety of helpful resources as well as a toll free number to call for support. Disordered eating can have very serious consequences and needs to be treated by a medical profession.