Are you struggling with unhealthy relationship with food and body image and are considering getting support? Then you want to get clear whether it’s an eating disorder vs. disordered eating patterns that you need help with.
There are some similarities between eating disorders and disordered eating patterns. However, the differences between the two include the severity of symptoms, duration and frequency of disordered behaviors, and how much it is impacting your life.
Yet, there still is a lot of stigma about getting help and support with your eating habits. You don’t need to be clinically depressed to get some support and therapy to lighten your load. Similarly, you do not have to have a diagnosed eating disorder to make improvements in your food habits and food relationship for the better.
This article will help you find out the differences between eating disorder vs. disordered eating. Also, whether an eating disorders nutritionist, counsellor or eating disorder recovery coach will provide you with the relevant support.
Eating disorder vs. disordered eating: The Statistics
One glance at the food habits of people around us can help us understand that so many of have a ‘bad’ relationship with food. So it's easy to question what is considered 'right' and 'wrong'. The diet culture rules around what, how much, and when we should or shouldn't eat.
This is also why disordered eating patterns can feel like a 'normal' relationships with food because so many people around have it.
The National Eating Disorders Association states that 20 million women and 10 million men in the United States alone will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their lives. While the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) reported that 30 million people in America have an abnormal relationship with food. Which is double the amount of people who actually have a diagnosed eating disorder.
Additionally, The National Eating Disorders Association found that 35% of dieting becomes obsessive, and 20 to 25% of those diets turn into eating disorders. This highlights how dieting and food obsession can turn into full-blown eating disorder behaviors.
Interestingly, disordered eating behaviours also tend to be more than twice as prevalent among females (3.8%) than males (1.5%).
Eating disorder vs. disordered eating: what’s common?
Eating disorder vs. disordered eating patterns share some similarities. This includes preoccupation with food and/or body shape, distorted body image, low self-esteem, and a fear of gaining weight or becoming fat.
They can also involve an array of behaviour related to controlling food intake, ranging from restrictive eating habits to overeating. Both involve unhealthy attitudes towards food and body image concerns, but there are some distinct differences, linked with the severity and frequency of behaviours.
Eating disorder vs. disordered eating: Know the difference
Disordered eating is an umbrella term to describe unhelpful food habits. It includes anything from skipping meals, binging, purging and actively trying to lose weight or limiting food intake. The difference between diagnosed eating disorder vs. disordered eating lies in the severity of symptoms.
It is completely normal to eat too much or too little at times, or even try to lose weight at different points in our lives. It is when these behaviours become obsessive and start to negatively affect other areas of life such as mental health, relationships, work performance and overall health, then it may be time to get help.
Types of Eating Disorders
The exact prevalence rates of eating disorders are difficult to gauge. A 2017 study of over 5,700 people in Australia found that anorexia accounted for 8% of cases, avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) 5%, binge eating disorder 22%, bulimia 19%, and other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED) 47%.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V), is a tool that mental health professionals use to diagnose mental illnesses. This also includes eating disorder diagnosis. According to the DSM-V, there are several distinct types of eating disorders, each with its own set of criteria.
Anorexia Nervosa is characterized by an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, leading to severe restriction of food intake. Individuals with Anorexia Nervosa often have a distorted body image, perceiving themselves as overweight despite being underweight.
Restriction of energy intake is present, relative to requirements, leading to significantly low body weight. Level of severity measured by BMI, 17 defined as mild, < 15 defined as severe. The DSM-V criteria require the presence of such behaviours, coupled with an inability to recognize the severity of the situation.
In Bulimia Nervosa, individuals engage in recurrent episodes of binge eating, usually following negative emotions. This is followed by compensatory behaviours such as self-induced vomiting, excessive exercise, or misuse of laxatives. And it is accompanied by a sense of lack of control during the episode. By the DSM-V criteria, these episodes must occur at least once a week for three months for a diagnosis of Bulimia Nervosa.
Binge Eating Disorder
Binge eating disorder is characterized by frequent episodes of consuming extremely large amounts of food in short periods, often to the point of discomfort. These episodes are marked by feelings of loss of control, guilt, and marked distress about the situation. Unlike Bulimia Nervosa, there are no compensatory behaviors involved. The DSM-5 criteria require these binges to occur, on average, at least once a week for three months.
Orthorexia Nervosa is an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy and “clean”, or the avoidance of foods perceived to be unhealthy. Self-imposed food rules are exaggerated by fear of disease, a sense of impurity and/ or anxiety and shame.
In addition, these dietary restrictions escalate over time and may include eliminating entire food groups and doing cleanses, fasts and detoxes.
With Orthorexia Nervosa, positive body image, self-worth and identity heavily depend on the ability to stick to self-defined “healthy” behaviours. Individuals become obsessed with healthy eating to the point of psychological and physical harm.
OSFED (Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder)
Finally, OSFED is a subcategory of eating disorders that do not meet the criteria for any other specific type of eating disorder. It is characterized by a range of symptoms that may include binge eating and compensatory behaviours, extreme restriction or overeating. It comes in combination with self-injury or purging, and/or intense fear of gaining weight or being fat.
These can include Atypical Anorexia Nervosa, Purging disorder, Night Eating Syndrome, Compulsive Exercise and Diabulimia.
Signs of Disordered Eating Patterns
The signs of disordered eating patterns vary from person to person. Signs can often be hard to recognise, as many of these behaviours can be linked with dieting or low self-esteem, which is becoming more and more common. Some common disordered eating signs may include:
- Preoccupation with food, body weight or shape
- Routinely overeating and binge eating, extremely restrictive eating habits, fasting or eliminating entire food groups
- Feeling guilty, ashamed, embarrassed or anxious about eating
- Thinking about food 24/7
- Distorted body image
- Patterns of yo-yo Dieting
- Using strict Food Rules
- Excessive exercising or physical activity to “burn off” the calories
- Using diet pills, supplements, laxatives or diuretics to control weight.
Are you are experiencing any of these signs of disordered eating patterns and it's affecting your mental health and quality of life? Then it is important to reach out for help from an experienced and specialised professional. A qualified eating disorders nutritionist or an eating disorder recovery coach can help you get on track towards establishing a healthy relationship with food.
When to seek help with your eating habits
In each of these diagnosed eating disorders, an individual's relationship with food is abnormally skewed. This can lead to negative effects on their health, well-being and quality of everyday lives. If you recognise yourself in these descriptions, it's crucial to seek help as soon as possible. Your family doctor/ GP will be able to direct you to the help available and necessary.
In some cases and stages of an eating disorder, inpatient treatment is necessary and recommended. Additionally, working with a registered dietician can be required, depending on the severity of the eating disorder.
If you do not qualify or need inpatient treatment or help from government health agencies isn’t available, you may want to seek private help available. This could be from an eating disorders nutritionist, counsellor or an eating disorder recovery coach. These professionals can provide the support and guidance you need to begin your recovery journey.
Perhaps you don't have a diagnosed eating disorder. However, the disordered eating patterns may also be affecting your mental health and quality of life significantly.
Everyone's experience is unique, so don't hesitate to reach out for help. Especially if you're struggling with food and your body daily. An experienced and specialised professional can help you promote a healthier relationship with food.
How Eating Disorders Nutritionist can help
There is no single answer to where to turn for help. There are many therapists and professionals available out there that can support you in your journey. Make sure you find a person who specialises in eating disorders and disordered eating patterns and has relevant qualifications to support you.
Most people with eating disorders and disordered eating patterns will work with a counsellor/ psychotherapist. These professionals can help with uncovering some patterns from the past that can often be challenging and help you with solutions and actions to move forward. This is extremely useful if you feel stuck in behavioural patterns and are struggling to figure out why it is happening.
Consider working with an Eating Disorders Nutritionist
They can help you change your relationship with food and help you progress with practical, actionable steps.
This can be a trained and registered Nutritional Therapist, Nutritionist or Registered Dietician. It's important to make sure that they are familiar with the concepts of intuitive and mindful eating.
Additionally, Group Eating Disorder support sessions can be beneficial for you. Especially if you thrive with social support and a strong social network, this can help you make considerable progress.
Use all the resources you possibly can and a variety of services if that’s available for you, as that means that you tackle the issue quicker and from all the angles possible.
Should you consider working with an Eating Disorder Recovery Coach?
Working closely with an Eating Disorders Recovery Coach, you can gain insight into how to change your relationship with food while also addressing underlying mental health issues. They will work with you to build self-awareness and provide strategies to handle difficult situations through nutrition counseling.
An eating Disorder Recovery Coach often is a person, who has a foundational background in talking therapies. This can include counselling, psychotherapy, nutritional therapy or dietetics and has completed specialist training area in eating disorders.
However, just like with any professional, make sure that your chosen Eating Disorder Recovery Coach has the relevant qualifications to work with eating disorders and disordered eating habits and is not basing their work on their own recovery process alone. Try and avoid professionals, who are not eating disorder specialists or have never worked with clients with similar issues to yours before.
Have a read on their website, see if they have testimonials that you can relate to. Additionally, have the first session or introductory call to figure out if you can connect with the person and see yourself working with them.
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Eating disorder vs. disordered eating: The Bottom Line
If you're struggling with eating issues, remember there is no 'right' or 'wrong' time to seek help, but the sooner you reach out, the sooner you can begin your journey towards recovery and food freedom.
Seek help from an experienced and specialised Eating Disorders Nutritionist/ Dietician, Counsellor/ Psychotherapist or Eating Disorder Recovery Coach and take a significant step towards reclaiming your health, peace of mind, and freedom around food.
Trust me, you will be pleased you did it!