While most people are familiar with the characteristics of "classic" eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, other disordered eating patterns tend to fly under the radar. Perhaps you have wondered if you struggle with disordered eating, but have ruled out the possibility because your weight is in the "normal" or "overweight" BMI category. Or, maybe you feel constantly stressed about food, but have received positive feedback from friends, family members, and/or healthcare practitioners regarding your food and fitness habits. Regardless of your size, peer opinions, gender, or age, if you're wondering about whether your eating is disordered, it's worth investigating. Here are four questions to ask yourself to help determine if your eating may be disordered.
Am I Anxious?
While disordered eating can be manifested physically, it is extremely important to examine what's going on for you internally in response to food. Many people with disordered eating experience intense anxiety after having consumed specific "off-limits" foods, or find themselves stressing over how what they eat may affect their weight. Others are plagued with guilt after eating, or feel anxious that they will binge at a future meal or snack. Feeling stressed about eating out or eating with other people is another sign that something isn't right with your relationship with food.
Can I Be Flexible?
Another sign that you may be experiencing disordered eating is a lack of flexibility in your eating patterns. To determine if you are a flexible eater, think back to a time when your eating plans changed suddenly. How did you respond? It's common for individuals with disordered eating to be distressed if their eating plan changes even slightly. Maybe you're on a diet plan, and feel guilty if you don't follow it exactly. Maybe there are certain nutrients or food groups, such as carbohydrates, fat, gluten, dairy, or sugar, that you restrict because you feel out of control around them. Perhaps you have a calorie or macronutrient limit that you are stressed if you exceed. On the flip side, feeling out of control around food is also a sign of rigidity and restriction, as binge eating episodes typically happen in response to deprivation.
Do I Compensate?
Compensating for food consumption has been massively normalized in our culture, but it is a sign that something's amiss in your relationship with food. Compensation can take a variety of forms, from exercising in response to food consumption to skipping meals or restricting food after a period of overeating. For some, it can even involve purging through vomiting and/or laxatives, or simply altering your workout frequency or length to "earn" additional calories for a meal in the future. Regardless of the form, these behaviors often leave individuals feeling like a slave to food and numbers as they slide deeper into disordered eating behaviors.
What Is My Body Telling Me? While physical symptoms are not necessary to confirm that your eating is disordered, oftentimes your body will begin to respond negatively in response to disordered eating patterns. For some individuals, large weight changes or fluctuations (up or down) are a sign of disordered eating. In addition, individuals who are restricting food often experience frequent coldness, fatigue, poor wound-healing, dry hair/nails, and irregular menstrual periods in women. Exercising in spite of physical pain, ignoring hunger and fullness cues, and having difficulty concentrating are other symptoms that indicate a dysfunctional relationship with food.
If these symptoms resonate with your own experience, you are likely engaging in disordered eating patterns that can harm your body and mind. Here at Rethink Nutrition, our dietitian Sydney specializes in helping those with diagnosed eating disorders and disordered eating patterns, and would love to help you reclaim a positive, enjoyable relationship with food. What are you waiting for?
Disordered Eating as a Precursor to Eating Disorders. (2018, October 30). Retrieved June 17, 2019, from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/blog/disordered-eating-precursor-eating-disorders
What Is Disordered Eating? (n.d.). Retrieved June 17, 2019, from https://www.eatright.org/health/diseases-and-conditions/eating-disorders/what-is-disordered-eating