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Understanding the difference between eating disorders and disordered eating can be challenging. Both involve unhealthy relationships with food and can significantly impact a person’s physical and mental health. However, they are not the same. 

What is Disordered Eating?

Disordered eating refers to a range of irregular eating behaviors that may or may not warrant a diagnosis of a specific eating disorder. In general, regular non-disordered eating is when someone consumes food for hunger or nourishment and stops consuming food when they are full. A range of behaviors can be considered disordered eating, including eating to deal with stress or emotions, chronic dieting, overeating, eating only specific foods, skipping meals, or using diet pills. While these behaviors may not meet the diagnostic criteria for an eating disorder, they can still negatively impact a person’s health and quality of life.

What is an Eating Disorder?

Eating disorders, on the other hand, are diagnosable mental health disorders with specific criteria. They include conditions such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. Eating disorders are characterized by severe disturbances in eating behaviors and related thoughts and emotions. They often involve intense preoccupations with food, body weight, and shape, and can cause significant psychological distress. Eating disorders all involve some form of disordered eating behavior, but not all disordered eating behavior may meet criteria for an eating disorder. 

The Key Differences

One of the key differences between disordered eating and an eating disorder is the frequency and severity of symptoms. While someone with disordered eating might have occasional behaviors that interrupt normal eating, an eating disorder involves more frequent and severe disruptions to normal eating patterns. Those with eating disorders often have obsessive thoughts around food or body image that can lead to significant psychological distress and impair someone’s functioning in everyday life. For example, eating disorders can cause people to withdraw from social interaction or contribute to anxiety and depression. Eating disorders can also cause serious medical complications such as low body weight, hormonal imbalances, and electrolyte disturbances, which can in severe cases be life-threatening if not treated.

Treatment Options for Eating Disorders & Disordered Eating Habits

There are a variety of treatments available for both eating disorders and disordered eating. Treatments are tailored to each individual’s situation, and may include a combination of psychotherapy, nutrition education, and in certain cases medication.

Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, can be a crucial part of treatment. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), for instance, can help individuals identify and change unhealthy thought and behavior patterns. Other therapeutic approaches include dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), which can teach individuals how to regulate their emotions and manage stress, or family-based therapy, which involves the patient’s family in the treatment process.

When to Seek Treatment

If your eating behaviors are causing you distress, interfering with your daily life, or leading to health problems, seek help sooner rather than later. Keep in mind that you do not have to meet the full diagnostic criteria for an eating disorder to seek help. Disordered eating can still be harmful and deserves attention.

There Is Help for Disordered Eating, No Matter How Severe

Whether you are struggling with disordered eating or an eating disorder, it is important to seek professional help. At Geode Health, we are committed to supporting you on your journey to recovery. We understand the complexities of these issues and provide tailored treatment plans to address your unique needs.
Remember, you can seek help and begin your journey toward a healthier relationship with food and body image at any time. If you have any concerns, reach out to a provider and start your journey to a healthier life by finding mental health care near you.