Are You Suffering From an Eating Disorder or Disordered Eating?

Are You Suffering From an Eating Disorder or Disordered Eating?

When you scroll online, it seems we are overwhelmed with ads and influencers pushing the latest fad diets, "fitness" trends, and apps designed to track every calorie we eat or burn. Society places a certain pressure on us to lose weight to be "beautiful," but what happens when we begin to cave in under this pressure? And where is the differentiating line between disordered eating and an eating disorder?

In this article, we will be discussing what eating disorders and disordered eating are, how they are similar, and how they differ. Once we understand what they are, we'll talk about how mental health counseling is in treatment to help individuals recover from their eating disorders.

What is an Eating Disorder?

Eating disorders are talked about a lot more than disordered eating, so we'll start here. 

Individuals suffering from an eating disorder will have obsessive thoughts about food all day, every day. These thoughts will range from meal planning to detailed calorie counting and planning excessive exercise. Binging and purging activities are also signs of an eating disorder. The most telling sign of an eating disorder is how much it affects this individual's everyday life. They are willing to go to great lengths in altering their diet for fear of gaining weight and having a distorted body image.

The two most widely known eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Let's get an understanding of what these are:

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder most commonly known for the unhealthy disturbance it causes in body shape and image.

Individuals with anorexia will go to great lengths to limit their caloric intake, starving themselves for fear of gaining weight. They may also self-purge by self-induced vomiting, use laxatives and diuretics, or extreme exercise to rid themselves of calories they have consumed.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder that involves short periods of binging (excessively eating) followed by feelings of guilt and shame leading to purging, self-induced vomiting, excessive exercise, and laxative abuse. 

Criteria for an individual to be diagnosed with bulimia are repetitive binging and purging habits that they don't feel in control of. These binging and purging behaviors occur at least once a week for three months. And body shape and weight are the primary influencers of these behaviors. 

Now that we've talked about what eating disorders can look like, here are signs of an eating disorder to look for in yourself or someone you love:

  • Loss of control during binging

  • Eating in secrecy

  • Hiding food in abnormal places

  • Feeling of distress, guilt, or shame after binging

  • Extreme food restriction or fasting

  • Extreme variation in weight

  • Low self-esteem

  • Excessive eating rituals

  • Avoiding social situations where food may be present

  • Laxative and diuretic abuse

  • Excessive exercise to lose weight or prevent weight gain

  • Cooking meals for others but refusing to eat them

  • Obsession with body shape and size

  • Complaining about being overweight when you are actually underweight

  • Excessive dieting

What is Disordered Eating?

Now that we know what eating disorders are, what exactly is disordered eating?

There isn't a definitive definition of what disordered eating is. The simplest way to explain disordered eating is it's an abnormal behavior that can potentially become dangerous. Disordered eating occurs when individuals eat for any other reason than hunger and nourishment. Things like emotional eating, skipping meals, skipping major food groups, or eating the same thing every day are types of disordered eating. 

It's also important to note that disordered eating can range from abnormal habits like eating the same thing every day to nearing eating disorder territory. Here are signs of disordered eating:

  • Emotional eating (eating when sad, stressed, or bored)

  • Restrictive eating

  • Extreme dieting

  • Binging and purging

  • Laxative abuse

We can clearly see an overlap in disordered eating and eating disorders, but just because someone has disordered eating doesn't mean they have an eating disorder. With both disordered eating and eating disorders, there are treatments to help individuals struggling with them to recover.

What are Therapy Options?

Treatment of disordered eating and eating disorders should be a team effort among the individual, a primary care physician, nutritionist, and mental health professional. The first step in finding treatment for eating disorder recovery is talking with a primary care doctor to evaluate symptoms and eating patterns. They can determine the severity of your symptoms and refer you to a treatment specialist.

There are a few different types of therapy used in the treatment of eating disorders. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Enhanced Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT-E)

Cognitive behavioral therapy aims to identify thoughts and patterns contributing to an individual's eating disorder. Once these thoughts and patterns are identified, the individual is taught strategies to modify and manage them. 

Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT)

Interpersonal psychotherapy is most commonly used to treat eating disorders like bulimia and binge eating. This type of therapy explores how an individual's eating disorder fits into the context of their interpersonal and social relationships. The individual will then be taught strategies to improve their communication and interpersonal skills to help reduce eating disorder symptoms.

Family-Based Treatment (FBT)

Family-based treatment is most commonly used if the individual struggling with an eating disorder is a child or adolescent. This treatment aims to include family members so they can learn how to play an active role in the recovery process. 

Dialectal Behavior Therapy (DBT)

Dialectal behavior therapy aims to help the individual focus on managing difficult emotions. The individual will also learn to change behaviors associated with their eating disorder. 

Nutritional Therapy 

Nutritional therapy by a registered dietitian (RD) is crucial for eating disorder treatment. In this type of therapy, a dietitian works with the individual to restore their relationship with food and eating and helps them meal plan and normalize their eating patterns.

As you can see, each type of therapy for eating disorders aims to equip individuals with skills and strategies they can implement into their everyday life. Therapy plays a crucial role in the treatment of an eating disorder. Many people have achieved recovery and experience little to no symptoms with the help of their physician, nutritionist, and mental health counselor. 

If you believe that you or a loved one has an eating disorder, it's important to remember that help is always available. Recovery from an eating disorder is possible by seeking treatment.


Fuller, Kristen. “Difference Between Disordered Eating and Eating Disorders.” Very Well Mind, 19 Sept. 2021,

Walsh, Judith. “Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of Eating Disorders.” NCBI, 15 Aug. 2000,

White, Marney. “Is Therapy an Effective Treatment for Eating Disorders?.” Healthline. 23 Nov. 2020,

Bence, Sarah. “How Eating Disorders Are Treated.” Very Well Health, 7 Mar. 2021,


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