Does this sound like you?
You want to have a healthy relationship with food. You want to eat without thinking about your food choices; without worrying about good foods or bad foods.
But the problem is you know you aren’t there yet. Something isn’t quite right.
What’s the problem?
Unfortunately, you have some disordered eating habits.
What Is Disordered Eating?
Disordered eating is any eating behavior that falls outside of normal eating. Disordered eating habits are so common.
Check this out: about 10% of people have some unhealthy eating habits.1 With unhealthy eating habits so common it can be hard to know what normal eating habits are.
What are normal eating habits:
- Eating when you are hungry
- Eating foods that you enjoy
- Eating enough food to meet your energy needs
- Eating a variety of foods
- Not spending hours thinking about food
What are disordered eating habits:
- Ignoring your hunger cues
- Avoiding foods or whole food groups
- Spending a lot of time thinking about food
- Having strict diet rules
- Struggling with eating at restaurants
What do you think of that list? Do you find that you have some of these habits?
That is okay. Disordered eating is extremely common.
Why? Because dieting is really common. One study found that approximately 60% of women aged 35-65 years old are currently dieting.2 The truth is that most people have at least one disordered eating habit.
Think about that list. You probably know several people that are doing one or more of the items on the unhealthy eating habit list.
After reading this list are you asking yourself if disordered eating is the same as an eating disorder?
That is a great question!
Disordered Eating VS Eating Disorders
Let’s dig into the similarities and the differences between disordered eating and eating disorders.
Eating disorders have components of disordered eating habits. But, they also have a psychological component that disordered eating habits don’t.
Eating disorders, also, have a clearly defined set of criteria to diagnose them. Whereas disordered eating habits don’t have clear criteria.
What’s this mean? This means that even though your disordered eating habits can’t be classified as an eating disorder they are still dangerous.3
Definitely, don’t make the mistake of thinking that there isn’t a problem with disordered eating. These unhealthy eating habits can be extremely bad for your health.
Plus, disordered eating can progress to an eating disorder for some people. This is why you need to recognize unhealthy eating behaviors, causes, and strategies to end them.
What Are Disordered Eating Causes?
There are many causes of disordered eating. You may experience one or all of them.
That is okay. This doesn’t mean that you will develop an eating disorder. It just means that you may be at higher risk for disorder eating than someone that hasn’t experienced them.
Let’s dive in and look at 4 common reasons that you may have unhealthy eating habits.
1. You’re A Woman In A Larger Body
Listen: just being a woman in a larger body puts you at risk for disordered eating.
Don’t believe me?
30% of young women in larger bodies report disordered eating habits or an eating disorder.3
Because you are surrounded by diet culture. It is telling you that you need to look a certain way, eat certain foods, and exercise enough to be considered good enough.
Unfortunately, diet culture is everywhere. All of these unhealthy diets and weight messages creep into your life. And diet culture is at the root of most unhealthy eating habits.
You see these messages in the media, on social, on TV, and in your daily conversations. You feel like you need to do them, too.4
It is hard to combat diet culture. Sometimes we can’t even see the diet culture around us.
2. You Are On A Fad Diet
You may ask yourself, “can a keto diet lead to disordered eating?”
Think back to our list of unhealthy eating behaviors. The keto diet expects you to avoid a whole food group, carbohydrates. Avoiding food groups is disordered eating.
But, of course, it isn’t thought of as disordered eating by most people. In fact, it is commonly accepted behavior. Diets that limit carbohydrates have been around for years. Atkins, Keto, Paleo all work off the same basic disordered eating premise.
Is clean eating disordered eating?
Again, yes. Clean eating contributes to disordered eating.5
Clean eating requires you to avoid certain foods. The diet suggests eating foods that are unprocessed or include 7 ingredients or less. Nutritionally, there is no reason to avoid processed foods or foods with less than 7 ingredients.
Let’s say it again for the people in the back. There is no reason to avoid processed foods. You don’t have to keep your diet to foods with 7 ingredients or less.
Think about other fad diets you may have been on in the past.
Did they require special food rules?
If yes, then those diets required disordered eating habits.5
3. You Have A Chronic Illness
Can this really be true?
Sadly, it is.
One study found that 19.7% of people with diabetes had disordered eating habits. These researchers also found that 24.4% of people with high blood pressure had disordered eating.7
Why is this the case?
You see, managing many of these chronic health conditions requires monitoring food.7 When you have these types of illnesses you will do anything to control the discomfort from your disease. So you are strict with your food rules.
Every day, you struggle with foods you should and shouldn’t have. You plan meals. You analyze nutrients in foods.
It is this extreme management of food that can contribute to disordered eating and even eating disorders.
4. You’ve Experienced Food Insecurity
What is food insecurity? Food insecurity is not having enough food in your household. It is an issue that you may have faced growing up. You may even experience it now.
In the long run, having periods of not having enough food can mess up your relationship with food.
If you don’t have enough food, you dwell on food thoughts all the time. When you do get food you may consume large amounts at one time.
That is a normal response to not having enough food all the time.
One study found that 39% of people that were currently food insecure had disordered eating habits. Only 22% of people that were food secure had habits that qualified as disordered eating. The difference may not seem that great but it is significant. 8
Do you need help with food right now? Here is a resource from Feeding America to help you.
What Are The Dangers Of Disordered Eating?
It’s Bad For Your Mental Health
Unhealthy eating habits can create real mental harm. Research has found that disordered eating is linked to increased psychological stress.9
Makes sense, right? If you are always worried about food, it can be distressing. It can lead you to feel out of control around food.
Additionally, there is a chance that those disordered eating habits can turn in to an eating disorder.
It’s Bad For Your Physical Health
Studies have also found that people that have disordered eating behaviors say they have poor physical health.7
When you think about all the harm that stress can put on your body, this isn’t surprising.
Did you know that science may actually be able to tell which disordered eating habits you have just from an electrocardiogram (ECG)? As cool as that is, it shows that these eating habits can change the way your heart works.10
Additionally, it is possible to have nutrient deficiencies related to unhealthy eating habits. For example, clean eating requires avoiding processed foods. However, processed foods are typically fortified with B vitamins and iron. Avoiding all processed foods may stop you from getting the vitamins you actually need.
How To Regain Healthy Eating Habits
As you can see, disordered eating behaviors are serious business.
I’ve got great news for you.
You can stop these habits.
You heard that right. You can start eating in ways that nourish and satisfy you. You don’t need any of those old diet rules.
I know that sounds like it is out of reach right now. But you can do it.
You just need some help. Let’s look at these 4 simple steps to help you start regaining your healthy eating habits.
Here Are 4 Simple Steps To Get Started
1. Quit the fad diets now. Just say no.
You know now that those fad diets are disordered eating in disguise.
What do you do with that information?
Stop following them. These habits aren’t doing you any good at all. You have the power to stop fad dieting today. How?
2. Embrace healthy eating habits.
Healthy habits are the swaps that replace disordered eating. Not sure where to start? Here are 5 non-diet healthy eating tips for an easy start.
3. Ditch the diet culture rules.
4. Eat foods you love
Stop your food rules. They only make you obsess over food. Instead, eat foods that you enjoy and are nourishing.
You Can Change Your Story
You’ve experienced dieting and disordered eating most of your life.
Imagine for a minute what it would be like to have healthy eating habits. What would it be like to never have to worry about dieting again? Never thinking about food choices sounds like freedom.
You have the power to change your food story. You just need some help from a disordered eating coach. Reach out to me or leave a comment if you need more help.
Feel like you need help right now? Reach out to National Eating Disorder Association.
- Harer KN. Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Disordered Eating, and Eating Disorders. Gastroenterol Hepatol (N Y). 2019;15(5):280-282.
- Satisfaction among young adult women. Personal Relationships. 2020;28(2):406-426. doi:10.1111/pere.12364.
- Nagata JM, Garber AK, Tabler JL, Murray SB, Bibbins-Domingo K. Prevalence and correlates of disordered eating behaviors among young adults with overweight or obesity. Journal of General Internal Medicine. 2018;33(8):1337-1343. doi:10.1007/s11606-018-4465-z.
- Hesse-Biber S, Leavy P, Quinn CE, Zoino J. The mass marketing of disordered eating and eating disorders: The social psychology of women, thinness and culture. Women’s Studies International Forum. 2006;29(2):208-224. doi:10.1016/j.wsif.2006.03.007.
- Ambwani S, Shippe M, Gao Z, Austin SB. Is #cleaneating a healthy or harmful dietary strategy? perceptions of clean eating and associations with disordered eating among young adults. Journal of Eating Disorders. 2019;7(1). doi:10.1186/s40337-019-0246-2.
- Francisco R. Type 1 diabetes and disordered eating behavior. Hidden and Lesser-known Disordered Eating Behaviors in Medical and Psychiatric Conditions. 2021:253-259. doi:10.1007/978-3-030-81174-7_25.
- DURAT G, YILDIZ C, EROL A. Comparison of eating pathology in patients diagnosed with diabetes and hypertension. Turkiye Klinikleri Journal of Health Sciences. 2017;2(1):7-12. doi:10.5336/healthsci.2016-54081.
- Takwa R, Gray V, Dinh D, Barrack M. Relationships between food insecurity and disordered eating among a multiethnic sample of university students. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2021;121(9). doi:10.1016/j.jand.2021.06.083.
- Wade TD, Wilksch SM, Lee C. A longitudinal investigation of the impact of disordered eating on young women’s quality of life. Health Psychology. 2012;31(3):352-359. doi:10.1037/a0025956.
- Green MA, Miles L, Sage E, Smith J, Carlson G, Hogan K, Bogucki J, Ferenzi L, Hartman E, Tao Y, Peng Y, Roche AI, Bolenbaugh MA, Wienkes C, Garrison Y, Eilers S. Cardiac biomarkers of disordered eating as a function of diagnostic subtypes. Eating Behaviors. 2020;39:101425. doi:10.1016/j.eatbeh.2020.101425.