Do I have an eating disorder?
Updated: Feb 28
Does your relationship with your body and with food negatively impact your day-to-day life? This blog will help you identify the difference between eating disorders and disordered eating, signs and symptoms to look out for, what you can do if you think you or someone you know has an eating disorder, and a health survey at the end to help you determine if you need professional help.
What are eating disorders?
Eating disorders are serious mental health conditions that influence eating habits and body image, which result in elevated stress, anxiety, and depression.
They typically start as a mental illness, often coexisting with other mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, that lead to physical and additional psychological illnesses as the disorder progresses. Eating disorders, although serious and potentially life-threatening, are treatable.
Eating disorders do not discriminate and can happen to anyone. They are caused by a variety of factors that each play their own role in the development of the disorder. Eating disorders are typically caused by a combination of genetic, environmental, and social factors. It’s important to note however that everyone’s experience is different.
What is the difference between eating disorders and disordered eating?
It can be difficult to discern whether someone truly has an eating disorder, or if they solely have disordered eating habits. One of the reasons this can be difficult is because eating disorder experiences are so individualized, and the symptoms can overlap.
Disordered eating behaviors are habits that are practiced for the sake of weight loss or to become more “healthy”. Diet culture is responsible for leading us to believe that our health is dependent on our body size, which is untrue. As a result, many people practice disordered eating behaviors in order to achieve this distorted view of “health”.
Some examples of disordered eating behaviors include:
Frequently trying out the latest “fad” diet
Under or overeating
Believing that your worth and health is tied to your appearance
Using diet pills
The most dangerous part of practicing disordered eating behaviors is that they can be the stepping stone that leads to developing an eating disorder.
The most straightforward answer to the difference between an eating disorder and disordered eating is whether or not the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria are met, and those criteria will vary depending on the eating disorder.
The criteria can be found here in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-5.
Another factor to consider when determining the difference between eating disorders and disordered eating is the level of obsession someone experiences around food and their body.
It’s normal to think about food when you’re hungry, what you’re planning to eat for lunch, or to consider the ingredients in the dessert you’re about to eat. For people with eating disorders, thinking about food consumes their life - it’s an obsession.
Having such a high level of obsession with food and body image leads to a reduced ability to function normally in life, which is another indication that someone may have an eating disorder rather than disordered eating behaviors alone.
Someone suffering from an eating disorder may have to avoid certain situations because of their way of thinking. For example, choosing not to go out to a social gathering because of fear of judgment around eating.
To help us discern the difference between an eating disorder diagnosis versus solely practicing disordered eating behavior, let's take a look at some of the signs and symptoms of eating disorders.
Signs and Symptoms of Eating Disorders
The signs and symptoms of eating disorders vary depending on the disorder. For a more extensive list of common signs and symptoms of different types of eating disorders, read more on the National Eating Disorders Association’s website, here.
Some general signs and symptoms seen in many, but not all, eating disorders include:
Fixation on control of food, weight, and dieting
Restriction of whole groups or food types (i.e. “no carbs”)
Participating in food rituals
Skipping meals or only consuming small portions of food
Fixation on body shape and size
Purging, restricting, or bingeing
Dramatic fluctuation in weight
Irregular menstrual cycles
Dental problems caused by induced vomiting
It’s important to note that eating disorders should not be self-diagnosed. If you are concerned that you may have an eating disorder, seek professional help (resources are listed at the end of this blog).
What do I do if I think I have an eating disorder?
If you think that you may have an eating disorder, it’s important that you seek help sooner than later. Eating disorders can absolutely be treated, but the earlier you get help, the sooner you can recover.
The first step you can take is to complete our questionnaire to help you determine if you do in fact need professional help. Take the survey by clicking here.
From there, you can reach out to us if you are located anywhere in the Tristate area (Pittsburgh, Buffalo, and Cleveland), or in Erie Pennsylvania, where our treatment center is located.
If you are not located in the Tristate area, here are some resources you can use to find help:
National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA): https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/help-support/contact-helpline
National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD): https://anad.org/get-help/
Treatment Center & Practitioner Directory by the National Alliance for Eating Disorders: https://findedhelp.com/
The most comprehensive database of therapists in the US: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us
How to prepare for a consultation with a doctor and what to expect: https://www.eatingdisorders.org.au/my-eating-disorder-recovery-journey/talking-to-my-eating-disorder-doctor/
What do I do if I know someone who has an eating disorder?
Many times, people suffering from eating disorders find it difficult to find help on their own. Family and friends can play a crucial role in encouraging someone they care about to seek help for an eating disorder. They can also be the key to identifying concerning symptoms in their loved one and be the reason that they get help!
If you think that someone you care about has an eating disorder, we understand that this can be a scary and stressful time for you. You are doing the right thing by looking for more information on how to help them!
This video provided by the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) gives guidance on what you can do to help your loved one and how you can talk to them:
If you would like to read more about additional ways you can help your loved one, read our blogs Healthy Family Tools and When Your Child Has an Eating Disorder, or check out How to Help a Loved One on NEDA’s website.
If you are worried that you or someone you love has an eating disorder, it’s not too late to get help. Reading this blog was an amazing first step!
If you don’t believe that you have an eating disorder, but struggle with disordered eating habits, you are equally valid in seeking help. Everyone deserves to receive help if they need it, regardless of the severity of their illness.
This post is for educational and informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
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National Eating Disorders Association. (2021, July 14). Warning signs and symptoms. National
Eating Disorders Association. Retrieved February 14, 2023, from https://www.nationaleating
National Eating Disorders Collaboration. (2022, December 20). Disordered eating & dieting.
NEDC. Retrieved February 14, 2023, from https://nedc.com.au/eating-disorders/eating-
Zucker, T. (2018, February 21). Eating disorders vs. disordered eating: What's the difference?
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