Disordered Eating Causes and Symptoms

Disordered eating is used to describe a range of irregular eating behaviours that may or may not warrant a diagnosis of a specific eating disorder. Typically, though not always, disordered eating is a symptom of wanting to lose weight; it can lead to anxiety about food and ultimately affect your quality of life.

The difference between eating disorders and disordered eating is that eating disorders can impair physical health, nutrition and psychosocial function, and they’re medically diagnosed using strict criteria. Examples of eating disorders are Anorexia nervosa, Bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder and Orthorexia nervosa.

People with disordered eating may be a healthy weight but are often overweight and may have tried many different diets and know a lot about healthy eating but still struggle to maintain a balanced diet.

Disordered eating may include the following:

  • dieting

  • bingeing

  • laxative abuse (including ‘skinny teas’)

  • skipping meals/ restricting intake

  • compulsive exercising

  • having strict rules about food

  • feeling anxious about food and social eating

  • feeling out of control around food

  • body image problems

Unfortunately, these unhealthy eating behaviours have become more common due to recent societal norms. We live in a society where being ‘thin’ is idealised and has positive connotations of being healthy and beautiful. As a result, weight loss is looked at as a means to becoming ‘thin’ and is often celebrated, no matter the method.

On the other hand, the word “fat” went from being associated with being ‘wealthy’ and ‘healthy’ in the 1600s to having negative connotations. Being called ‘fat’ has become an insult while being told that you are ‘thin’ or that ‘you have lost weight’ is viewed as a compliment. This ideology reinforces unhealthy eating behaviours and serves to encourage them, thus increasing the prevalence of it.

Types of Disordered Eating

Dieting Dieting is propelled by the desire to be thinner. The word ‘diet’ implies restriction, with the aim being to cut out foods to lose weight and change body shape. Dieting is something that everyone has heard of or may have even done themselves. The problem with diets is that they are so tempting and know how to seduce you. They tell you they can help you drop down two clothes sizes in a week, which seems too good to be true. The old adage, “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” is right in the context of dieting.

Diets that are really restrictive or tell you to have unusual combinations of food to help you lose weight very quickly are called FAD diets. Whilst you may achieve weight loss, it’s rarely permanent and it’s not long until you pile the pounds back on. This is because dieters are likely to undergo an episode of overeating or binge