With more and more people coming out about eating disorders on blogs and in the media, a lot of people have some idea what it means to have this horrific illness, however, there is another struggle going unnoticed in the background, known as disordered eating.
You may think disordered eating is the same thing as an eating disorder, but they are two completely different matters, each that deserve separate attention and treatment.
An eating disorder is a mental illness, one that consumes the thoughts and actions of the patient all the time, whereas disordered eating is described as an overall unhealthy relationship with food.
To be more specific here is an example of each.
A patient with anorexia nervosa may wake up in the morning and weigh herself in order to determine what to eat that day, then continue to weigh herself throughout the day to make sure it hasn't gone up. She will be consumed with thoughts of what to eat, when to eat, how many calories she's eaten, how many minutes of exercise she has gotten, etc. There is no control whatsoever in her case, the eating disorder has taken over and tells her she isn't good enough to eat and that she must purge or exercise in order to get rid of the extra calories.
In contrast, a patient with disordered eating may be on their third new diet of the month, making sure everyone knows that they are vegan now and that they are feeling "like a new person". They may go on and off diets, try new exercise programs, or new food regimens, however, they almost always go back to their old habits and are confused as to why this happens.
Basically, the main difference is the severity levels of each disorder. A full blown eating disorder is a mental illness related to brain function, whereas disordered eating, although confusing to the brain, is more about habits and ways of thinking about food. Disordered eating can be controlled more easily than an eating disorder.
So how do you know if you suffer from disordered eating or a poor relationship with food?
-Do you try new diets each week or month?
-Do you consider this new diet to be the cure-all for your problems?
-Do you go through periods of restrictive dieting, followed by binging or purging episodes?
-Do you view certain foods as "good" and others as "bad"
-Are your eating habits erratic or sometimes bizarre?
-Do you struggle with diet pill use or laxatives?
If you answered yes to any of those questions/symptoms, there may be a chance your eating habits are disordered or unhealthy. So now what? Where do you go from here?
The first piece of advice I would suggest is to stop and see if you can recognize where you are struggling the most, are you having a hard time eating certain foods, do you diet a lot with no results, are you confused about what to eat?
If you can identify what your issue is, and truly admit it, then you can take steps to change it. And this is really important because if you can't say out loud that you're struggling, then you're denying you are. And that won't help you get better or feel better. You must admit where you are having trouble, and there is nothing wrong or bad about this! This is the starting point, the turn around point, the stepping stone to a happier you!
Once you see your difficulty clearly, the next steps can come easier. Drop the diet, clear your house of diet foods, make room for REAL foods (fresh veggies, fruit, grass-fed meats, eggs, etc), learn portion sizes, eat slowly, recognize there are no "bad" foods, just ones that are healthier than others, and have fun.
Eating shouldn't be stressful or hard, but rather fun and exciting. Learn to cook colorful meals, add in new ingredients or things you've never tried before, experiment!
The main point I want to make here is that, honesty is key, and the most important person you have to be honest with is yourself. Let yourself admit weakness in order to obtain strength!
HealthyPlace.com (2014). Disordered Eating and Eating Disorders: What's the Difference?
Rogers Memorial Hospital. (2013). Disordered Eating VS Eating Disorders.