Eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes, and without the help of a professional, it is difficult to determine what qualifies as an Eating Disorder. A frequently asked question is how do I know if I have an Eating Disorder? Another common question is what is the difference between an Eating Disorder and disordered eating? The answer to these questions may not be so black and white, but there are some clear signs to look for to help determine what your relationship with food and body looks like.
What is “normal eating”?
Let’s start with another question, what is “normal” eating anyway? Normal is, of course, subjective to each individual; it will look different for each person. Normal eating means not over-thinking it and doing what comes naturally. Normal eating is not perfect. There are no strict rules about food, and there are no rewards or punishments. People have their own unique taste preferences and quirks. Some people are content with eating the same lunch all the time, or eat because they are bored. Meals are not always going to be perfectly balanced, but throughout the day people are receiving the nutrients they need and finding variety and moderation. Our bodies are quite skilled at letting us know what we need if we listen.
The goal is to practice intuitive eating. Intuitive eating is eating when you are hungry and stopping when you are full and satisfied. It is eating what you want based on your taste preferences. And it requires mindfulness of eating in moderation and finding variety in different types of food groups. Again, perfection is not the intention; strive for good enough.
What is disordered eating?
Disordered eating is when one strays away from intuitive eating, and it is common. Many people engage in some level of disordered eating. American society can strongly influence an inclination to disordered eating due to glorifying thinness and diet culture. Messages from the media trickle down to people’s families and even into the individuals own belief system about beauty and worth. Not to mention major industries benefit from profiting off of “fixing people’s flaws”. There would be less money to make if more people were content with how they look and who they are.
Disordered eating is in opposition to intuitive eating. It typically starts with the messages people choose to believe about food and body-image which become unhelpful thoughts and core beliefs. People become preoccupied with these thoughts that drive them into creating rules and rituals around food. Behaviors and eating patterns began to develop. Some signs of disordered eating include: dieting, restricting certain foods or food groups, counting calories, overeating, purging (through vomiting, over-exercising, and/or using laxatives), body-checking, and frequently weighing self. There is a preoccupation with weight and appearance, and several rules are established around eating.
Obsessive and distorted thoughts about food, body, and self combined with the behaviors listed above overlap with having a true Eating Disorder. These thoughts and behaviors jeopardize one’s quality of life and that is a hallmark of an Eating Disorder. It does not take long before this can impact one’s ability to function day to day, and this is how you might begin to suspect that you may have an Eating Disorder.
Some people tend to get by with some level of disordered eating and can live a meaningful life. The farther one is from “normal” or intuitive eating, and the more sacrifices they make, the closer they are to an Eating Disorder. An Eating Disorder is consuming, and it becomes an illness.
Eating Disorders are learned as no one is born with one. Therefore, recovery from an Eating Disorder is completely possible. Whether you experience disordered eating or think you may have an Eating Disorder it is worth it to seek help and find a professional to talk to. At Ammirati Counseling we offer support for those struggling with an Eating Disorder, and encourage you to reach out if you are in need of support.
Mikayla Kendall, LPC
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