Disordered eating is defined as “a wide range of irregular eating behaviors that do not warrant a diagnosis of a specific eating disorder.” Yo-yo dieting and a pre-occupation with food are nothing new in our culture. But when does a fixation with what is consumed, calories and weight become a major health concern? When is it considered disordered?
Eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa (AN) or bulimia nervosa (BN), are diagnosed according to narrow criteria. This excludes most people and the majority of people suffering with disordered eating.
Symptoms of Disordered Eating
- Chronic yo-yo dieting
- Frequent weight fluctuations
- Extremely rigid and unhealthy food and exercise regime
- Feelings of guilt and shame when unable to maintain food and exercise habits
- Pre-occupation with food, body and exercise that causes distress and has a negative impact on quality of life
- Compulsive or emotionally-driven eating
- Use of compensatory measures, such as exercise, food restriction, fasting and even purging or laxative use to “make up for” food consumed
Harm Caused by Disordered Eating
Many people who suffer with disordered eating patterns either minimize or do not fully realize the impact it has on their mental and physical health. This lack of understanding may unnecessarily exacerbate the harm of disordered eating. Detrimental consequences can include a greater risk of obesity and eating disorders, bone loss, gastrointestinal disturbances, electrolyte and fluid imbalances, low heart rate and blood pressure, increased anxiety and depression, and social isolation.
Disordered eating is a serious health concern that may be difficult to detect since a person with disordered eating patterns may not display all of the classic symptoms typically identified with eating disorders.
Registered dietitian nutritionists are vital to the detection and treatment of disordered eating. This is an important step in treating disordered eating and preventing it from progressing to an eating disorder.