While specific criteria can identify a full-fledged eating disorder, disordered eating patterns may be more difficult to spot and understand. Disordered eating is defined as “a wide range of irregular eating behaviors that do not warrant a diagnosis of a specific eating disorder.” This broad definition does not speak to what these behaviors might be or how they could impact health. To spread some awareness on this issue, I wanted to highlight the most common disordered eating patterns, common side effects, and what actions to take to seek help if needed.
Common Disordered Eating Patterns
- History of dieting or weight yo-yoing
- Viewing foods as either “good” or “bad”
- Engaging in rituals with food or exercise (i.e. not eating after 6 pm no matter what, exercising more in response to eating more)
- Frequently feeling guilty or ashamed about certain food choices or amounts eaten
- Occupation with food, exercise, and/or body image that negatively impacts quality of life
- Feeling a loss of control around eating behaviors and food choices
- Experiencing anxiety in social situations involving food
When a client presents with one or more of the patterns above, a red flag immediately goes up. These behaviors tell me that a client doesn’t have an entirely healthy relationship with food. The priority needs to be raising awareness of and addressing these behaviors before anything else, regardless of why a client may have come to see me. In fact, many clients I have worked with have come to me to improve sports performance or to change body composition and through conversation, disordered eating tendencies have been discovered for the first time. For any health professional not aware of these warning signs, they may not see the red flag and simply address the clients concerns about weight loss or performance without addressing the underlying disordered relationship with food, which in the end can frequently cause more harm.
Effects of Disordered Eating Patterns
Common side effects of long-term disordered eating patterns can include:
- Decreased metabolism
- Frequent gastrointestinal issues (such as bloating, cramping, diarrhea, or nausea)
- Increased rates of depression, anxiety, or social isolation
- Decreased bone strength and increased risk of fractures
- Significantly high or low blood pressure or heart rate
- Electrolyte disturbances or other nutrient imbalances
- Development of a clinically significant eating disorder
What Can You Do If You Suspect That You or A Loved One May Be Experiencing Disordered Eating?
The most important thing to do is reach out for help or additional resources as soon as possible. Both disordered eating and eating disorders have higher rates of recovery when these issues are addressed early. It’s important to find a trusted professional or team of professionals to help guide you or your loved one. Health professionals that can help include registered dietitians, counselors or therapists, psychiatrists, primary care doctors, and social workers. Please note that it’s important to seek out professionals that have experience working in the field of eating disorders or disordered eating in particular. Not all dietitians will be able to help with these issues, just like not all doctors are specialized in cardiology or orthopedics.
If you need help finding resources in your area, please click on the links below to find professionals in your area or reach out to me for help and recommendations:
If you would like to read more about this topic, please visit the links below for online resources or additional written materials: