What is disordered eating and how to spot the signs

Eating disorders are not more “serious” than disordered eating. All difficult relationships to food are in
need of professional support.

When thinking about eating disorders and disordered eating, people often think of anorexia and
bulimia. And they are often thinking of a very stereotypical and untrue look of someone who struggles
with food. There is no “look” or type of person who will develop disordered eating or an eating
disorder. In fact, less than 6% of people with eating disorders are “underweight.”

It’s difficult to estimate the amount of people living with disordered eating. What we know is that
dieting behaviours are very similar to disordered eating. The signs of disordered eating include, but
are not limited to:

● Tying self-worth to body shape and weight
● Saving calories or “treat” foods until night time so you can get the most out of them
● Trying to stick to a certain amount of calories per day. This might mean you feeling guilty or
let down when you go over this amount
● Labelling days of eating as good or bad
● Exercising to make up for calories
● Binge eating and emotional eating
● Going on and off new diets, or diet trends
● Constantly thinking about food

As you can see, disordered eating behaviours and thoughts are often the same as those for eating
disorders. That’s why the line between them is pretty blurry.

What causes disordered eating?

The slightly frustrating answer is there is no one cause. Like all mental health conditions, eating
disorders and disordered eating are mutli-factorial.

Many people begin experiencing a difficult relationship to food and their body when they feel that
their body is inadequate. This often leads to going on a first diet or health kick. Since restricting food
is common in dieting (either mentally or physically) you are often left feeling unsatisfied and hungry.

Which over time leads to binge eating, eating more “treat foods”, and breaking the rules of the diet.
Going on and off multiple diets, over months or years, leads to pretty deep rooted disordered eating
behaviours and thoughts. That’s why it’s not easy just to shake it off.

The difficult thing is that disordered eating is the norm in our society. People expect others to “be
good” with food, to diet to change their body. Not eating certain foods and being “healthy” (even
when it’s causing mental distress) is seen as a good thing. You have willpower! You’re a star!

How to get support for disordered eating

Right now, there’s an estimated 1.25 and 3.5 million people in the UK with a diagnosed eating
disorder. That doesn’t even include people with disordered eating – which means this number is likely
much much higher.

If you’re experiencing any signs of disordered eating, there are a few different options.
First, I would recommend speaking with your GP. Your GP may be able to refer you to eating disorder
services, such as counselling or an eating disorder clinic. It could be a very long wait time, depending
on your exact situation. Wait times in the NHS for eating disorder services are around 9 months to 2
years. This isn’t the “fault” of the NHS, but it really does highlight the urgent need for better eating
disorders and disordered eating support in this country.

Another option, which many people opt for, is to find private support. The most important thing is to
seek support from expert professionals who specialise in disordered eating and eating disorders.
There are many people who offer services who do not have specialist training in eating disorders.
You want to look for Registered Nutritionists and Dietitians who are experienced and trained in eating
disorders. You may also look for a therapist or counsellor trained in eating disorders too.

Ease Nutrition Therapy is a specialist disordered eating and eating disorders clinic. The nutrition
counsellors solely work with people in healing their relationship to food and their body. Ease Nutrition
Therapy offers free discovery calls to ask any questions about support, to make sure it’s a perfect fit

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