An eating disorder is defined as…… any of a range of psychological disorders characterized by abnormal or disturbed eating habits (such as anorexia nervosa). (Webster, 2018)
Disordered eating refers to “a wide range of abnormal eating behaviors, many of which are shared with diagnosed eating disorders.” The main indicator differentiating disordered eating from an eating disorder is the level of severity and frequency of behaviors.
I tend to think of disordered eating as eating habits that veer from the typical patterns seen in eating disorders but still seem restrictive, mildly obsessive and punitive in nature. It’s definitely harder to identify disordered eating. It can be subtle and varied; not as obvious as anorexia or bulimia. It doesn’t necessarily show visible outward signs of weight loss or ritual. It can easily go undiagnosed and therefore never really addressed or treated.
So what are the signs of disordered eating?
It could be a girlfriend who talks about food… a lot. Maybe she talks about restaurants, recipes, what she ate that day, etc. Or the friend who justifies the cupcake she wants to eat, even though you aren’t challenging her decision to eat it. When she eats the cupcake, she may say things like… “Why did I eat that? It wasn’t even that good! I should have only had half!” You may brush it off because it’s just a cupcake, but she is mentally calculating the calories, and questioning her decision to eat it— sometimes hours later. Basically, she is condemning herself. And like the sinner, she silently feels the need to repent.
Or, it could be your guy friend that thinks food is only for sustenance and NOT for enjoyment. Maybe he is obsessed with dairy-free, sugar-free, and/or calorie counting. He would never put full fat in his coffee and can’t understand why people eat rich foods. These individuals can make their caloric intake a daily topic of conversation. You may think they are just “trying to be healthy” and certainly don’t want to judge your friend, but if it feels a little off…. it just may be.
Someone with disordered eating may go no further than the examples above, but then again, they could turn into a full-fledged eating disorder. Either way, be a good friend and role model. Next time you see your friend commenting on her food (or your food) in an unhealthy way, take note and either way, gently say something or model positive food behavior of your own. Also remember, it’s ok to indulge every now and then.