A Wide Range of Behaviors
There is such a wide range of behaviors that could be considered disordered eating that it might be helpful to define it by what it is not. “Non-disordered” eating can be described as eating when physically hungry and stopping when full. This is also the goal of “intuitive eating” and it is important to note the difference between physical hunger and emotional hunger, such as eating when one is bored, lonely, or sad. Furthermore, non-disordered eating involves getting enough variety of food. With this strict definition of non-disordered eating, we can now say that disordered eating is anything that falls outside those guidelines. At this point you might be asking, “So do you mean that if I eat the same breakfast every day or if I mindlessly snack on some chips while watching TV that I’m engaging in disordered eating?” Well, actually, yes.
Disordered Eating Is Quite Common
Disordered eating is by no means uncommon. Think about the popularity of fad diets or how common it is to hear jokes about eating one’s feelings. However, many people can engage in this type of behavior and it doesn’t affect their lives negatively. I like to compare it to a night of heavy drinking for non-alcoholics. Is it good for you? No. It’s definitely not something you want to make a habit of, but if you can do it now and then and make it work for you, it’s not much to worry about, either. So when, then, does disordered eating become a problem?
A Helpful Metaphor
It is helpful here to continue the alcohol metaphor. Disordered eating is a behavioral characteristic of eating disorders in the same way that heavy drinking is a component of alcoholism. It is what a person does with that disordered eating and how it affects their lives that distinguishes an eating disorder. Does this person engage in disordered eating daily? Do they hide it? Often when disordered eating becomes a problem, individuals will quit eating around other people. Do they obsess over it? Preoccupation with weight, calories, or body image is another warning sign. And finally, is it disrupting their lives? Can they no longer function normally because of their eating?
A Potential Sign of Suffering
It’s important to note that disordered eating on its own does not necessarily lead to eating disorders. Current science supports the idea that eating disorders are a product of both genetic factors and environmental influence. For someone who is genetically predisposed, or who has an environmental history conducive to the development of eating disorders, disordered eating is extremely dangerous. It’s also a sign that someone could currently be suffering from an eating disorder. If you or someone you know is struggling, please seek professional help today. Ocean Recovery has been treating eating disorders since 2002. Give us a call to start building your foundation for hope today.