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Disordered Eating: a pathway to an eating disorder?

Updated: Feb 28, 2023

You might have heard about eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder.

These are serious mental health issues that require professional treatment. But have you heard about disordered eating? It's a term used to describe eating habits that are not quite an eating disorder but are still harmful to our physical and mental health.

You'd be surprised at how many people identify with this more grey area of non-diagnosed disordered eating, which can still be incredibly harmful.

Let's break it down.

Disordered eating habits can range from skipping meals, restricting certain foods, binging, and purging, to using diet pills or laxatives. People engage in these behaviours for various reasons such as stress, anxiety, low self-esteem, or wanting to achieve a certain body image.

Although food is, of course, fuel for our bodies, it actually goes much deeper than that. As humans, we also tie so many other associations and meaning to food such as tradition, cultural identification, lifestyle, affluence, control, ritual, memories, socialising and comfort.

Whether you see it as a good thing or not, the fact remains that food is far from a simple nutritional transaction.

Culture and society have a big role to play in adding pressure to people's lives, and in many cases, people seek to manage the stresses of life via food, or more accurately the relationship we develop to and with food.

You may think skipping meals or purging occasionally is not a big deal, but when these habits become more frequent and extreme, they can lead to an eating disorder.

So, what's the difference between disordered eating and an eating disorder?

While disordered eating habits can cause harm, they don't meet the criteria for a diagnosable eating disorder. But if you have disordered eating patterns and ignore them, it's like playing with fire. The more you engage in these behaviours, the harder they are to control, and they can spiral into a full-blown eating disorder.

Eating disorders are serious and can have long-lasting physical and emotional consequences. Anorexia nervosa, for instance, can cause severe malnutrition, organ failure, and even death.

Bulimia nervosa can lead to electrolyte imbalances, digestive issues, and damage to teeth and gums. Binge eating disorders can cause obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes. These are just a few examples of how eating disorders can impact our health.

The transition from disordered eating to an eating disorder is not always clear-cut. It can happen gradually, and you may not even realise it's happening. That's why it's essential to pay attention to your eating habits and seek help if you notice any red flags.

Do you recognise any of these habits?
  • Skipping meals regularly or for extended periods of time

  • Obsessively counting calories or tracking macronutrients

  • Restricting certain foods or food groups (e.g., carbs, fats, sugar)

  • Engaging in excessive exercise to compensate for food intake

  • Using laxatives, diet pills, or other substances to control weight

  • Constantly weighing oneself and being preoccupied with the number on the scale

  • Eating in secret or hiding food

  • Feeling guilty or ashamed after eating certain foods or amounts of food

  • Eating very slowly or cutting food into tiny pieces

  • Avoiding social situations that involve food or feeling anxious about eating in front of others.

Disordered eating is a warning sign that something is off-kilter in our relationship with food. While it's not a diagnosable condition, it can lead to an eating disorder if left unaddressed. The good news is that we can prevent this from happening by being mindful of our eating habits and seeking help when needed. Remember, our health is more important than any ideal body image.

If you're struggling with disordered eating habits, know that you're not alone, and help is available. A mental health professional can help you identify the underlying issues and develop healthy coping strategies. They can also provide support and guidance throughout your recovery journey, and perhaps even team up with a nutritionist to offer both the physical and mental wellbeing best practices to help heal your relationship with food.


Our team member Roxy has a specialism in helping people with disordered eating, if you feel like you would like to reach out to her for support then you can email the team at or call us on 01305 263285

Read more about Roxy and her work in an interview here

We will also be holding workshops on helping those supporting a loved one with an eating disorder or disorderly eating. Make sure you're on our email list to be kept up to date with the details to be announced soon.

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