Disordered Eating vs. Eating Disorder vs. Normal Eating

Let’s distinguish eating disorders, disordered eating, and normal eating. Think of it like a spectrum with varying levels of severity. Just because you don’t have a diagnosed eating disorder doesn’t automatically mean you’re relationship with food, body, and self is functional.

Eating Disorder: Severe symptoms and disease such as Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder, Orthorexia, or Other specified feeding or eating disorder “OSFED.” You’ll hit criteria of distress, impairment in functioning, and obsession that needs medical and psychological treatment. It’s a complex biological, psychological, social, emotional, spiritual disease.

Disordered Eating: Your relationship with food is unbalanced. You subscribe to rigid rules about food and are often guided by guilt and shame when it comes to food. You ignore hunger and fullness cues, or perhaps you can no longer feel them. You engage in artificial, unsustainable, quick diet weight loss or weight gain. You’re likely heavily enmeshed with diet culture and have poor body image, weight concerns, and are consumed (obsessed) with thoughts of food. Disordered eating will looks like a chaotic relationship with food. This can easily escalate or fit the criteria for OSFED, a full blown diagnosis. (The DSM-V doesn’t define disordered eating, so this is a matter of professional opinion and experience).

“Normal” Eating: As an abnormal psychology professor, we actually use the word “normal” here (we could statistically map this out bell curve style). Your relationship with food is cool! It’s not obsessive or controlling. It’s not abusive. You enjoy a variety of foods and are thoughtful and mindful about food, not distressed. You enjoy the pleasure and satisfaction of food. you’re mindful of hunger cues and generally know how much your body needs day by day. Thoughts are balanced, calm, and you respect seasons and changes in your appetite and food desires. Food doesn’t impair your functioning in life!  I believe we can all get here. We’re not robots, we can often have “disordered” eating or moments! It’s okay! Move away from perfectionism, no relationship is that way, including a relationship with food.

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