Disordered Eating vs. Eating Disorders

Eating disorders don’t appear overnight and for some people, they never appear at all. Still, that doesn’t mean every single person that doesn’t have an eating disorder has a perfect relationship with food, exercise, and body image. This is where disordered eating comes in.

So, what is it?

Disordered eating can come with the signs we commonly associate with eating disorders, such as calorie counting, poor body image, or a rigid exercise routine, but cannot be diagnosed as an eating disorder because these behaviors/thoughts are either less frequent or to a lesser degree. Our society is obsessed with eating “healthy,” fad diets, being thin, and presenting oneself as perfect. Between the ads for weight loss teas on Instagram and the thousands of special diet recipes out there, it’s easy to see how someone’s relationship with food and/or their body could be disrupted. 

While disordered eating can be something that occurs without an eating disorder in the future, it can turn into one for some people. Before my eating disorder, for example, I had disordered eating and behaviors take place that went under the radar to both myself and others due to the fact that in society these behaviors are often celebrated. Choosing the “healthier” option can get you praise when eating out with friends, dropping a few pounds will give you “skinny legend” status on Instagram, and being rigid with your exercise routine is seen as “goals” to everyone else. During this time before my disorder set in I would think of foods as good/bad, stick to a rigid workout regime, count calories, and continually measure a day’s “success” based on how I felt my eating measured up to the day before. These things didn’t go away when I was fully entrenched in my disorder- they amplified. 

I assumed in the beginning that because I hadn’t been diagnosed and I was getting praise that everything I was doing was okay, but none of it was. Although I was eventually diagnosed with orthorexia and anorexia, disordered eating that goes unnoticed and/or never reaches an eating disorder diagnosis isn’t any less valid. Not knowing if what you’re doing is normal, not knowing how to stop, and feeling terrible about food/exercise/your body are all valid reasons to want to learn more, seek help, and get better.

Just like nobody deserves to live with an eating disorder, nobody deserves to live with disordered eating. Even if it doesn’t result in a full blown medical diagnosis, it can still harm your mental and physical health. Food is meant to nourish our bodies and our bodies are meant to work and live for us, not the other way around. If body image, anxiety, food guilt, excessive/obsessive exercise, and/or calorie counting are intruding on any part of your day- it’s too much! 

I know that getting rid of anxiety and negative feelings towards food and/or your body is easier said than done. Trust me, it can take major life changes and shifts in mentality. Depending on the level of severity it can also mean seeking help from professionals. I don’t want to negate eating disorders (ever) because they’re life threatening illnesses, but I also refuse to negate disordered eating. Educating yourself and others about disordered food thoughts and behaviors is extremely important to not only preventing eating disorders, but also in preventing even more growth in diet culture mentality that is a breeding ground for negative self worth. 

If you struggle with body image, anxiety, obsessive exercise, food guilt, food shame, calorie counting- anything that makes you feel bad about the food on your plate or the skin you live in- this blog is for you. It isn’t just for those struggling and recovering with eating disorders. I encourage you to read along, find what you can work on to better your relationship with food/exercise, and to treat yourself kindly.

Featured photo by Thought Catalog from Unsplash

All content on RecovRoad is based on personal experiences, research, and ideas. Please do not repost/share without credit and be aware that nothing on this blog takes the place of professional help. This is also a formal trigger warning: content about and relating to eating disorders may be triggering to survivors. Please see the “RESOURCES” tab, call the National Eating Disorders Association hotline at 800-931-2237, and remember to take care of yourself.

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