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Do I Have Symptoms of Disordered Eating?

Updated: Dec 27, 2023

Man licking a mushroom

Eating disorders are serious health conditions that can have detrimental effects on both physical and mental well-being. They are characterized by disturbances in eating behaviours and a distorted perception of food, weight, and body shape. While eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder are well-known, there is another category that lies on a spectrum between normal eating and a full-blown eating disorder.

This is known as disordered eating.

Disordered eating encompasses a range of symptoms and behaviours related to eating disorders but at a lesser frequency or lower level of severity. It may include restrictive eating, compulsive eating, irregular or inflexible eating patterns and dieting, which is one of the most common forms of disordered eating.

The Risks of Disordered Eating and Dieting

Disordered eating behaviours, particularly dieting, are significant risk factors for the development of eating disorders.

Eating disorders are severe and life-threatening mental illnesses that require professional intervention.

Restricting food intake can have profound effects on the body, leading to changes in metabolism and triggering overeating and binge-eating behaviours. Additionally, dieting is associated with various mental health concerns, including depression and anxiety.

The impact of disordered eating goes beyond the physical realm. It can negatively affect a person's quality of life, making it harder to cope with stressful situations.

Feelings of guilt and shame are common among individuals with disordered eating habits.

Binge eating or deviating from a restrictive diet can trigger these emotions, leading to a cycle of self-criticism and low self-esteem. Consequently, individuals may isolate themselves from social situations involving food, contributing to social withdrawal and diminished self-confidence.

The Diet Myth: Understanding the Vicious Cycle

Dieting plays a significant role in the development and maintenance of eating disorders. Many eating disorders are perpetuated by what is known as the "diet cycle." This cycle illustrates how restrictive eating and subsequent breaking of the diet rules can lead to negative emotions and a resolve to "do better," ultimately restarting the cycle.

The diet cycle typically follows these stages:

  1. Diet/Restriction: a person limits their food intake in quantity or by excluding specific foods or food groups.

  2. Deprivation: the body and mind respond to food restriction by slowing down the metabolism, increasing appetite and intensifying cravings for the restricted foods. This stage often involves feelings of deprivation, irritability and fatigue.

  3. Breaking the Diet Rule: the diet rules are inevitably broken, as the body craves and needs the restricted foods. This often results in overeating or binge eating.

  4. Emotional Impact: breaking the diet rule triggers feelings of guilt, low self-esteem and negative body image. Individuals may perceive themselves as failures lacking willpower.

  5. Dissatisfaction with Weight or Shape: the emotional impact leads to a renewed determination to "do better" and often prompts a return to dieting or restriction, perpetuating the cycle.

The Risks of Disordered Eating and Dieting

Disordered eating poses severe risks to an individual's physical and mental health. It can lead to the development of clinically diagnosed eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder or other specified feeding and eating disorders (OSFED).

Disordered eating can result in various health complications, including osteoporosis or osteopenia (reduced bone density), fatigue, gastrointestinal problems, headaches and muscle cramps.

What are the Signs of Disordered Eating?

One of the signs of disordered eating is rapid weight loss. People who are struggling with disordered eating may go to great lengths to shed pounds, often resorting to restrictive diets or excessive exercise. This obsession with weight loss becomes all-consuming and it can be a clear indication that something is not right.

Another sign of disordered eating is an unhealthy preoccupation with food and diet. Individuals may become fixated on counting calories, meticulously tracking every bit of food that enters their mouth. They may also develop irrational fears of certain foods or food groups, leading to a highly restrictive and unbalanced diet. This constant preoccupation can cause anxiety and guilt around food.

Binge eating is another sign of disordered eating. People who engage in binge eating episodes often feel a loss of control over their eating habits and consume large quantities of food in a short period of time, leading to feelings of guilt and shame.

Disordered eating can have serious consequences on physical health, including nutrient deficiencies and hormonal imbalances.

Changing Disordered Eating Behaviors

The good news is that it is possible to change disordered eating behaviours, even if they have persisted for years. With the right support and treatment, behaviour change is achievable. Seeking help is crucial, as disordered eating and dieting are key risk factors for the development of eating disorders.

Early intervention is the most effective preventative measure against the progression of disordered eating into a full-blown eating disorder.

Remember, CHANGE is possible.

Seeking support from healthcare professionals and therapists who specialise in treating disordered eating can make a significant difference in recovery and overall well-being. Remember, you are not alone in this battle, and there is help available to support you on your journey towards a healthier relationship with food, emotions and thoughts



  1. Qian J, Wu Y, Liu F, Zhu Y, Jin H, Zhang H, Wan Y, Li C, Yu D. An update on the prevalence of eating disorders in the general population: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Eating and Weight Disorders-Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity. 2021:1-4.

  2. Samuels KL, Maine MM, Tantillo M. Disordered eating, eating disorders, and body image in midlife and older women. Current psychiatry reports. 2019 Aug;21:1-9.

  3. Wilksch SM, O'Shea A, Ho P, Byrne S, Wade TD. The relationship between social media use and disordered eating in young adolescents. International Journal of Eating Disorders. 2020 Jan;53(1):96-106.


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