Disordered eating is a serious issue in the United States. According to the Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, an estimated 28.8 million Americans, or around 9% of the population, will experience an eating disorder at some point in their lives.
What Is Disordered Eating?
Disordered eating can take many forms. Many people assume those who have an eating disorder are underweight, but this isn’t always the case. It’s possible to be overweight or have a weight doctors would consider to be within the normal, healthy range while still engaging in disordered eating behaviors.
What Are Disordered Eating Habits?
Some common disordered eating behaviors include:
- Focusing on good versus bad foods
- Frequent dieting or extreme dieting
- Obsessing over calorie counting
- Binge-eating and purging
- Restricting certain food types
- Overindulging after restricting food for a while
- Punishing or rewarding yourself with food
- Exercising excessively
- Extremely negative body image
What Impact Can Disordered Eating Have on Your Health?
Disordered eating can have a significant negative impact on a person’s health. Because body weight is one of the diagnostic criteria used for the diagnosis of eating disorders, physicians often overlook early signs of disordered eating patterns in those who are a normal weight. However, these individuals can still experience health issues, including low blood pressure, low heart rates and decreased electrolyte levels.
The long-term impact of a poor relationship with food can be even more severe. There are documented cases of obese individuals who have malnutrition due to the poor quality of the food in their diet, and long-term restrictive or disordered eating can lead to loss of bone density, gastrointestinal disturbances and disorders, and other lasting health impacts. For example, individuals with bulimia nervosa may damage the enamel on their teeth during their purging.
Besides impacting your physical health, poor nutrition can also exacerbate any mental health conditions you may have. Someone who engages in disordered eating patterns as a form of control may find their relationship with food worsening, alongside their anxiety, stress or depression.
Is Disordered Eating the Same as an Eating Disorder?
Disordered eating is different from clinically diagnosed eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, but it can put someone at higher risk for those mental health disorders. Many people who don’t fit the eating disorder criteria listed by the American Psychiatric Association are diagnosed with disordered eating instead.
This erratic eating style is bad for your health because with extreme food restriction, the body fails to absorb the necessary nutrients to function effectively. Some of the behaviors may even be similar to addiction. An experienced mental health professional can help you with a proper diagnosis and will work with you to develop a treatment plan.
Do You Need Counseling for Disordered Eating?
Disordered eating can affect people from all walks of life. Maintaining a healthy, varied diet is important, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing to make an effort to exercise a little more or reduce your food intake in a healthy way if you’ve been advised by a medical professional to lose weight. Such behavior becomes disordered if it turns into a preoccupation with food or weight loss.
You may benefit from counseling for an eating disorder if any of the following are true:
- You frequently engage in emotional eating.
- You’re fearful of gaining weight.
- You weigh yourself daily or more frequently.
- You’ve turned to diuretics, laxatives or purging as a way of losing weight.
- You’re secretive about your eating habits.
- Loved ones have expressed concern about your eating habits.
- Someone eating food you’d planned to eat makes you very angry.
- You hide food so you can eat it later.
- You seek out friends who have similar eating habits to you.
- You struggle to stop eating after one or two cookies or sweets and eat the whole pack.
Restrictive eating and inflexibility around food is also a red flag. This includes not eating food because of its texture, lack of interest in food and refusal to eat. Some people may also purge, or vomit, to get rid of food.
If you’re concerned you might need counseling for an eating disorder, call Get Centered today. We offer counseling for disordered eating in St. Louis and can help you on the path to recovery as you build a positive and healthier relationship with food.