Over lunch, a coworker informs you that they have stopped eating carbs. Your cousin goes silent at the dinner table to record their meal in a diet app.
And your best friend texts everyone in the group chat that they’re going to the gym to “earn” the brunch you’re having later.
These scenarios have become commonplace, but they are all behaviors that a growing number of healthcare professionals consider to be signs of disordered eating.
Many people are unsure when habits, particularly those labeled “healthy” by diet culture, fall into this category.
This is especially true for people who do not fit the stereotypes of eating disorders, such as people of color, men, and those who are overweight.
But whether you’re suffering from disordered eating, have a full-threshold eating disorder, or simply want to improve your relationship with food, there are resources and support available no matter who you are or where you live.
What exactly is disordered eating?
“Disordered eating” refers to food- and diet-related behaviors that do not meet diagnostic criteria for recognized eating disorders (EDs) but can still have a negative impact on someone’s physical, mental, or emotional health.
Chelsea Levy, MS, RD, CDN, is a weight-inclusive dietitian and intuitive eating counselor in New York City who works with people recovering from disordered eating and EDs. According to her, disordered eating and full-threshold EDs are on a spectrum.
“On one end is healthy eating, or just regular old eating, and then all the way on the other side of extreme or unhealthy behaviors would be an eating disorder,” she said. “Disordered eating would be somewhere in between.”
Some examples of disordered eating habits are:
- Without a medical reason, avoiding entire food groups, specific macronutrients, or foods with specific textures or colors.
- Compensatory behaviors, such as exercising to “make up for” food consumed.
- Obsessively exercising.
- Attempting to trick yourself into feeling fuller with less food by cutting food into small pieces, slowing down the pace of eating, or otherwise.
- Fasting for weight loss.
- Before or after eating, you may experience feelings of guilt, disgust, or anxiety.
- Following strict dietary guidelines or rituals.
- Intentionally skipping meals or restricting food intake — including skipping meals before or after consuming a large meal, unhealthy foods, or alcohol.
- Choosing to eat only “clean” or “healthy” foods taking part in fad diets to lose weight.
- Trying out fad diets to lose weight.
- Purging behaviors, such as using laxatives or forcing yourself to vomit, to lose weight.
- Tracking calories or food to the point of obsession.
- Weighing yourself or taking body measurements on a regular basis.
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