This post was adapted from episode 3: “What’s the difference between disordered eating and eating disorders?” of the Nourished & Free podcast.
Listen to the full episode: What’s the difference between disordered eating and eating disorders?
Disordered eating vs eating disorder – What is the difference? Are you a ‘disordered eater’? How do you know if you have an eating disorder? Read on to find out!
To lay the foundation for this topic, our question can be answered by the following statement:
Everybody with an eating disorder has disordered eating, but not everyone with disordered eating has an eating disorder.
This might seem confusing, which is why I won’t stop there when it comes to exploring the differences between disordered eating vs eating disorder.
Disordered Eating vs Eating Disorders: What Are They?
Disordered eating is any abnormal behavior with food. This may lead up to diagnosable eating disorder, but it may not. However, the behaviors are still abnormal and in need of attention.
Eating disorders, on the other hand, are a diagnosable illness that can cause serious medical complications. In fact, eating disorders have the second highest mortality rate of all mental health disorders, surpassed only by opioid addiction.
To illustrate the difference between the two, see below:
Simply put, anything between normal eating and an eating disorder is considered disordered eating. Disordered eating can look many different ways and vary in severity, which is why it is a large spectrum.
Quite honestly, normal eating and eating disorders have their own spectrums. I don’t want to minimize that. Normal/intuitive eating may look different between 2 people, and eating disorders also look extremely different from one person to the next.
Let’s look into each category a little more in-depth.
Disordered Eating vs Eating Disorder: Different Kinds of Eating Disorders
Awareness of eating disorders is huge in understanding others and ourselves when problems arise. Education on the varying types of eating disorders can help us to know when to get help or encourage others to get help. This awareness is also key when determining the difference between eating disorder and disordered eating.
Therefore, I will list a few common eating disorders below and their key characteristics.
- Anorexia Nervosa (AN)
This condition is heavily focused on weight loss and food restriction. The individual often sees themselves with a distorted view (body dysmorphia) and the quality of life they are living is greatly impacted. Restriction may be accompanied with binging or purging, excessive exercise, and/or misuse of laxatives.
This condition is not limited to white teenage girls, as we tend to assume. AN can be observed in people of any age, race, gender, etc.
- Bulimia Nervosa (BN)
BN is marked by cycling through periods of binge eating and compensatory behaviors (self-induced vomiting, laxatives, diuretics, fasting, excessive exercise).
- Binge Eating Disorder (BED)
The most common disorder, BED is diagnosed in individuals who have recurrent episodes of eating large quantities without compensatory behaviors. When it comes to disordered eating vs eating disorders, binge eating disorder is a common area of confusion. While many people who struggle with binge eating may not think they have an eating disorder, in many cases they actually do.
- Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorders (OSFED)
A variety of eating disorders that are medically significant, but do not meet traditional criteria for the most common feeding and eating disorders. For example:
Atypical Anorexia Nervosa
AN without the typical criteria for weight being met.
Recurrent purging to influence weight/shape without the presence of binge-eating.
Obsession about clean eating or having the perfect ingredient list (note: this is not officially recognized in the DSM-5, but is becoming well known in the ED community).
For more eating disorders and their characteristics,
What is Disordered Eating?
Are eating disorders and disordered eating the same thing? No, not exactly. All eating disorders are the result of disordered eating, but not all cases of disordered eating will lead to an eating disorder.
Disordered eating is actually very common. Engaging in abnormal behaviors with food or obsessive thoughts around food and the body has become so normalized in our health, wellness, and body obsessed culture.
For example, restricting foods for any reason outside of medical necessity is disordered eating. This might rub you the wrong way because there are many people who restrict foods because it’s “healthier”. Therefore, it seems completely normal when in reality, it’s not. Restricting food for non-medical reasons is unnecessary and often fueled by misinformation.
There is plenty of room to choose more nutritious foods more frequently out of desire to care for your body, but there is no reason to completely banish any foods from your life without a legitimate medical reason to.
This isn’t to say that people are knowingly or purposefully engaging in disordered eating – most times they just simply doesn’t know any better.
Here are some signs of disordered eating:
- Frequently thinking about food
- Obsessive over calories, macros, ingredients, or WW points
- Restricting foods for non-medical reasons (ex: eliminating gluten without celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity)
- Feeling guilt or shame about eating certain foods
- Binge eating
- Frequent emotional eating
- Avoiding carbs
When To Get Help for an Eating Disorder
If there’s ever a feeling of guilt or shame with eating, we have an issue.
If there’s ever a feeling of guilt or shame with eating, we have an issue. You don’t need to feel that way about eating. Eating is a right of passage. If you’re a human being, food is a part of our basic needs– there should be absolutely no guilt or shame with it.
No matter whether you have disordered eating vs eating disorder, if you’re struggling with disordered eating in any capacity it is worth getting help for. Contact your provider immediately if you think you may have an eating disorder.