Eating Disorders vs Disordered Eating

I am sure you hear the phrase “eating disorders” or ED often. But have you heard the phrase “disordered eating” and do you know the difference?

Eating Disorders vs Disordered Eating

First up, some definitions:

Eating Disorders: “any of a range of psychological disorders characterized by abnormal or disturbed eating habits (such as anorexia nervosa).”

Disordered Eating: “refers to a wide range of abnormal eating behaviors, many of which are shared with diagnosed eating disorders. The main thing differentiating disordered eating from an eating disorder is the level of severity and frequency of behaviors.”

This sentence from Laura Collins’ blog post helps explain it even more: “Disordered eating hurts the body and confuses the brain, but an eating disorder is a problem with brain function.”

So, if you have an eating disorder, you also suffer from disordered eating. But having disordered eating symptoms does not necessarily mean you have an eating disorder.

You probably know the common eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder. If you have one of those or think you do, you should see a medical professional immediately.

But what do you know about disordered eating? Do you know that disordered eating can have a negative impact on a person’s entire well-being? If a person has anxiety around food or eating, it can affect that person’s social life (and beyond).

Some disordered eating behaviors and attitudes include:

  • Binge eating (episodes of uncontrollable eating)
  • Constant dieting
  • Skipping meals regularly
  • Obsessive calorie counting (or macros or points or servings)
  • Self-worth and self-esteem based current weight
  • Restrictive eating habits (giving up food groups, refusing to eat outside your house, sticking to a strict eating schedule)
  • Using diet pills or steroids
  • Excessive or rigid exercise routine

Dieting is one of the most common forms of disordered eating. Did you read that? DIETING is one of the most common forms of disordered eating. In case you don’t know, diets don’t work.

Many people talk about “normal” when it comes to food. What is “normal” can vary from person to person and from day-to-day for each person. But check out this definition of “normal eating” from the fabulous Isabel Foxen Duke:

“Normal eating” isn’t something a person does, it’s something a person thinks. Furthermore, “normal eating” is not defined by how or what a person eats, but rather, by how one feels about themselves. (Isabel Foxen Duke)

So what is normal?

  • Eating more on some days and less on others (listening to your hunger signals)
  • Eating foods solely because they taste good (your favorite pie or cake)
  • Having a positive attitude toward food
  • Not labeling food as good, bad, clean (it’s just food)
  • Over-eating on occasion
  • Under-eating on occasion
  • Craving certain foods

Some articles on disordered eating you might be interested in:

Disordered Eating or Eating Disorder: What’s the Difference?
What Is Disordered Eating?
Disordered Eating and Dieting
The Biology of the Diet-Binge Cycle

If you think you suffer from an eating disorder or have multiple disordered eating symptoms, I encourage you to see your doctor or a registered dietician.



5 Responses to “Eating Disorders vs Disordered Eating”

  1. When I went back to get my Masters degree in counseling a number of the women were specializing in this area I therapeutic help. I was in awe of how they worked with clients. It definitely takes a special gift <3
    Great post. Great links.

  2. It’s such a fine line. In trying to help women feel better, stronger and healthier we have to talk about food. I coach them to focus on balance, listening to their body and there is a time and place for all foods (they are not good or bad). They want rules. They want structure. They don’t want to think about food. It’s hard to help them see that they do need to think about it to relearn how to eat and NOT diet.

  3. Thanks for informing us the the difference between the two. These kind of disorders can cause physical, psychological and emotional distress. A person suffering from this kind of illness should address it right away. A lot of people managed to recover from an eating disorder and are living a healthier life now.