Disordered Eating

How do you know if you’re suffering from disordered eating?

“I suffer from disordered eating” is one of the most common phrases I hear as a practitioner. But what exactly is disordered eating? Is it the same as having an eating disorder? Or can disordered eating lead to an eating disorder?

This is something we as parents, friends, co-workers, communities need to be aware of. Hospital admissions for people with eating disorders have risen by 84% over the past five years in England. The latest NHS figures show there were 24,268 hospital admissions for eating disorders in England in 2020-21 – up from 13,219 in 2015-16, particularly among young people. It’s an epidemic.

There is no specific definition for disordered eating. It exists between eating ‘normally’ and an eating disorder. Disordered eating may include regularly engaging in strict and unhealthy restriction, eating compulsively, eat whether or not you are hungry, inflexible patterns of eating, abnormal behaviours around food or irregular patterns of eating. However, it will have a lower level of severity and cause less distress to an individual, than an eating disorder.

Disordered eating can still have a negative impact on your life. It frequently results in feelings of guilt, shame and immense stress. It is also one of the most common risk factors for developing an eating disorder.

Eating disorders are severe and life-threatening mental illnesses. They aren’t a lifestyle choice, but more of a coping mechanism. An eating disorder is identified by excessive concerns about shape and weight, distorted or poor beliefs about body image and appearance, and negative emotions of feeling fat, according to a strict criteria.

It can be hard to distinguish between whether someone has an eating disorder or disordered eating behaviours, especially when they may both have an element of secrecy for the individual.

There are 3 main themes to be aware of.

  • Thoughts – for those struggling with an eating disorder thoughts around food seem all consuming and obsessional.
  • Behaviours – Obsessing about food can lead to changing a person’s general behaviours around food.
  • Their new eating patterns may change the way they normally function – they may stop eating around friends or family, have a compulsion to exercise all the time, for example.

If you’re worried that you, or someone you know may be struggling around food, please reach out for support.

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