Eating Disorders vs. Disordered Eating: What’s the Difference?

eating Disorders vs. Disordered Eating: What’s the Difference? is One of the most frequently asked questions. How to tell whether someone has an eating problem? It might be difficult to tell when one’s eating habits transition from disordered eating to an eating disorder in this day and age when food trends and diets come and go swiftly and individuals casually remark how they “eat their feelings” as a coping mechanism.

When one consumes food thoughtfully when hungry and is able to stop when full, this is referred to as normalized, non-disordered eating. They also include a range of foods in their diet.
Many people I know who believe themselves to have a great connection with food may be categorized as “disordered eaters” if they eat when they’re bored, eat the same thing for lunch every day, cut out a major food category, and so on, according to this criteria.

Individuals may alter/manipulate their food consumption as a result of societal expectations and pressures, as well as preoccupations with weight reduction and exercise. This “works” for a lot of individuals. It makes no difference to their life; they can eat whatever they want at any restaurant, and they have no desire to change.

Food fads, fashionable diets, technological applications that track our every move and calorie expended, and the pressure from society to lose weight in order to be considered beautiful are all prevalent in today’s culture.

So, what happens when we become fixated on culture, and where do we draw the line between disordered eating and eating disorders? To comprehend the abnormal, we must first comprehend the normative standard.

There is a lot of debate over how many calories an adult should consume on a daily basis. Nonetheless, the Food and Drug Administration recommends a daily caloric intake of 2,000 calories, with ample amounts of fruits, vegetables, and proteins and minimal intakes of carbs and fats.

The differences between eating disorders and disorder eating will be discussed, as well as the signs and symptoms of each, the underlying triggers and causes, and treatment options.

Types of Eating Disorder

People who suffer from an eating problem will have compulsive food thoughts all day, every day. Calories, flavor, food avoidance, and where to get food are all on the mind of the individual. They will devote hours to meal preparation, calorie tracking, exercise, and binge or purge activities, to the point that it will interfere with their daily lives.

Binge eating disorder, anorexia nervosa, and bulimia nervosa are the most prevalent eating disorders, and each of these eating disorders can manifest differently in each person and have lasting implications.


Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by an undesirable change in body shape and appearance.

Individuals will go to great lengths to achieve their goals. They will not only starve themselves, but they will also use self-purging techniques such as self-induced vomiting, laxatives, diuretics, and excessive exercise to rid their bodies of any calorie intake.


Bulimia nervosa is a significant eating disorder characterized by binge eating large amounts of food in a short period of time (binging), followed by guilt and humiliation, which can lead to self-induced vomiting, strenuous exercise, or the use of laxatives (purging). It’s commonly referred to as a binge-purge eating disorder. The following are some of the diagnostic criteria for bulimia nervosa:

  • Binging is defined as eating an excessive amount of food in a two-hour period while also feeling a loss of self-control.
  • Repetitive self-induced compensatory actions such as vomiting, diuretic usage, laxative use, and severe exercise (purging) to avoid weight gain caused by bingeing episodes.
  • For at least three months, these behaviors recur at least once a week.
  • The key influencing elements of this bingeing and purging behavior are body shape and weight.
  • These behaviors are not exclusive to anorexia nervosa, and the two diseases must be distinguished.

Despite the fact that anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa aren’t the most prevalent eating disorders (binge eating disorder is), they’re frequently featured in the media. As a result, there are numerous misunderstandings about both of these eating disorders among the general population.

Signs and Symptoms of an Eating Disorder

The extent to which an eating disorder has become a source of preoccupation Disordered eating can be distinguished from an eating disorder by thoughts and actions. When you’re hungry, it’s natural to think about or even obsess over food, especially if you haven’t eaten in a while. It’s also natural to consider meal preparation, grocery shopping, and supper desires.

What distinguishes a clinical eating disorder from a disordered eating pattern is the amount of concern with food, calories, and weight fluctuations, as well as the actions that support these obsessions.

While judging how much time and energy another person spends thinking about food or dieting activities is tough, the individual may express their ideas with a friend or their actions may reveal their thoughts. Eating disorders are characterized by the following signs and symptoms:

  • During binge episodes, there is a loss of control.
  • Eating in private or in secrecy
  • Keeping food hidden in unusual places including closets, automobiles, and beneath the bed
  • Distress, remorse, and humiliation following the binge episode
  • a large number of empty wrappers and containers
  • Food thievery or stockpiling
  • Fasting or a period of severe dietary restriction
  • Extreme weight variations
  • Self-esteem issues
  • Excessive eating habits, such as eating solely condiments
  • Depression or anxiety symptoms
  • Keeping away from social situations where food is likely to be present
  • Self-inflicted vomiting after a binge eating session
  • Abuse of laxatives and diuretics
  • Excessive exercise to reduce weight or avoid gaining weight
  • Putting on baggy clothes to hide the fact that you’ve lost a lot of weight
  • Wearing layers of clothing to stay comfortable even in hot weather
  • Cooking food for others but refusing to consume it
  • Obsession with the size and shape of one’s body
  • Developing eating habits, such as chopping food into little pieces

Individuals will go to extremes on a daily or weekly basis to manage their calorie consumption, ranging from binge and self-induced vomiting to laxative usage, dietary restriction, and excessive exercise.

What Is Disordered Eating?

In and of itself, disordered eating is not a “eating disorder.” It is, nevertheless, an unnatural behavior that has the potential to be deadly.

Despite the lack of a formal clinical definition for disordered eating, it is commonly used in the eating disorder treatment community to describe a variety of aberrant eating habits that do not yet meet the criteria for an eating disorder.

Some people feel that untreated disordered eating can lead to eating disorders; however, not everyone who has a disordered eating pattern will develop a clinical eating disorder.

When people eat for motives other than hunger and nutrition, they are said to be disordered eaters. Individuals with disordered eating eat to pass the time, eat to relieve stress, eat to mask their feelings, skip meals, binge and purge on an irregular or limited basis, avoid major food categories, or eat the same thing every day.

Types of Disordered Eating

Anything that is odd to a near-eating disorder might be classified as disordered eating. Here are several examples:

  • Binging and purging
  • Emotional eating
  • Restrictive eating
  • Extreme dieting
  • Laxative abuse

Binging and Purging

Bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa have a lot more in common than most people realize. Many people associate anorexia nervosa with the young girl who starved herself or sliced her food into little pieces to reduce weight. Others equate bulimia nervosa with the young girl who rushes to the lavatory after each meal to vomit whatever food she has ingested.

Although some of these stereotypes are accurate, anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are extremely comparable conditions that entail bingeing and purging. There are two forms of anorexia nervosa: restrictive and binge/purge, whereas bulimia is defined only by bingeing and purging.

The restrictive subtype of anorexia is marked by a desire to lose weight or avoid gaining weight. Bingeing and purging episodes are followed by self-induced vomiting, diuretic and laxative misuse, and excessive activity in the binge and purging subtype.

Self-Induced Vomiting 

Many people believe that purging solely refers to self-induced vomiting. Although self-induced vomiting is a kind of purging, people with the binge/purge subtype of anorexia and those with bulimia nervosa do not have to vomit to be diagnosed with these eating disorders.

Excessive exercise, laxative usage, and diuretic abuse are examples of purging habits. Individuals suffering from restricted anorexia nervosa do not purge in any way.

Binge eating disorder is characterized by a lack of control when eating. Individuals with this disease will experience “out of control” binge episodes at least once a week for three months, and they will often have no idea or control over the items they eat.

Studies have shown that dieting can lead to disordered eating and eventually become full-fledged eating disorders. Research also shows that individuals who engage in dieting to lose weight are more likely to gain that weight back.

Emotional Eating

Emotional eating is a typical symptom of eating disorders. Emotional eating is defined as the use of food to cope with unpleasant or good emotions. Many people who participate in emotional eating do so to fill a gap or to escape difficult emotions like grief, anxiety, rejection, or rage by using food as an unhealthy coping method.

This is something that most of us have gone through at some time in our lives. When you’re having a rough day, who hasn’t eaten a bag of chips in one sitting?
Food, particularly sweets, savory, and fried meals, activates the brain’s chemical reward regions, causing a rush of dopamine. This makes us feel wonderful for a brief time and might even assist to soothe or divert us. However, “eating away our feelings” might become a regular routine of eating to make us feel better, which can be dangerous.

Signs and Symptoms of Disordered Eating

The signs and symptoms of disordered eating are quite similar to the signs and symptoms of eating disorders. The key distinction is in the intensity and frequency of the symptoms.

When compared to disordered eating, the signs and symptoms of eating disorders are far more severe and frequent. The following are some of the signs and symptoms:

  • Extreme dieting
  • Food rituals
  • Changes in weight
  • Social withdrawal

Eating Disorders vs. Disordered Eating

The frequency and severity of the irregular eating pattern are the key distinguishing factors between disordered eating and a diagnosable eating disorder. Despite the fact that both disordered eating and eating disorders are abnormal, eating disorders have highly precise diagnostic criteria that outline common and severe behaviors.

Many of the participants have troubled or dysfunctional relationships with food, their bodies, and exercise. Counting calories, over-exercising, exercising primarily to lose weight and cringing at the sight of skin folds, thigh dimples, and cellulite are all things that people can do. These are commonplace, and it’s past time to begin normalizing bodies of all shapes and sizes.

Unconscious Eating vs. Mindful Eating

Many eating disorder experts feel that being ignorant triggers emotional eating.
We frequently pick at our food when we are no longer hungry or consume snacks just because they are placed in front of us after we have finished our meal.

Being ignorant of being present in the moment leads to mindless or unconscious eating. It’s critical to pay attention to what we’re thinking, feeling, and doing right now. When it comes to eating, practicing mindfulness can help us avoid consuming excessive amounts of food without even realizing it.

I’m not sure if I should be concerned. What if things go a whole lot worse? These are some ideas and questions to consider, not just for people worried about their loved ones, but also for those who are wondering whether or not they are abusing food.

Prevention and Management

There is hope for everyone suffering from disordered eating or an eating disorder. Signs, symptoms, and behaviors can be treated and managed in a variety of ways. There are various strategies to stop your problematic eating habit before it progresses to an eating disorder:

  • Avoid fad diets, such as crash diets. Many diets are quite limited in terms of variety and quantity, causing feelings of deprivation. This might lead to unfulfilled binging and desires.
  • Set reasonable workout goals and learn to move your body in ways that make you happy. Excessive exercise is a symptom of disordered eating, which can develop to restrictive eating disorders. Physical activity is beneficial and healthful, but you should consider how often you exercise and why you exercise.
  • Stop talking to yourself in a negative way. Instead than criticizing your body every time you look in the mirror or get dressed in the morning, pay attention to what it can accomplish for you. Your body is powerful and serves as a vehicle for getting you through the day. Take time to appreciate the fantastic things your body can perform, as well as the aspects of your body that you enjoy.
  • Remove the scale from the equation. Having a scale in your bathroom or kitchen might be dangerous because you may find yourself weighing yourself every day or after each meal.

Seeking Help

The three most well-known eating disorders recognized by mental health specialists are anorexia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and bulimia nervosa. Many psychotherapy techniques are used in treatment to identify the underlying causes that lead to the current eating issue.

In addition, a multi-faceted therapy team must collaborate closely to create positive coping skills and techniques for dealing with triggers more effectively.

You’ve developed an unhealthy obsession with food, weight, and body image. You could even be concealing food, hoarding food, bingeing, or vomiting on your own. You frequently look up eating problems on the internet. You’re afraid of what people will think of you or what will happen if you reveal you’re developing anorexia nervosa, binge eating disorder, or bulimia nervosa.