You have probably heard of the most common eating disorders Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa, but did you know there are several other types? These can also get confused with disordered eating- which is often how an eating disorder develops. We take a look at the differences between the two.

Disordered eating

What is it? 

Unfortunately ‘diet culture’ means becoming fixated on our weight and what we eat is now a part of our culture. Although it is good to be conscious of the food we are consuming to ensure we are maintaining a healthy, balanced diet, a preoccupation with calories and weight often leads to a pattern of disordered eating. The most common way of describing ‘disordered eating’ is a series of irregular eating habits that may eventually lead to an eating disorder. According to the American Psychiatric Association, the term ‘disordered eating’ is a descriptive phrase, not a diagnosis. This means that whilst those exhibiting disordered eating patterns may fit the criteria for an eating disorder, it is possible to have an unhealthy relationship with food without it being classified as one.

Common types: 

  • Frequent dieting
  • Anxiety over specific foods or refusal to consume them
  • Skipping meals due to fear of weight gain
  • Fluctuations in weight due to irregular eating
  • Rigid routines surrounding food and exercise
  • Feelings guilty or ashamed to eat
  • Obsession with food, weight and body image
  • Feeling overwhelmed around food
  • Trying to make up for consuming bad food through exercising

Eating Disorders

What are they?

Eating disorders are often a step on from disordered eating and can potentially be fatal if left untreated. Whilst there are many different types of eating disorders, including chew & spit (chewing food and spitting it out before it is consumed) and Orthorexia– an unhealthy obsession with eating ‘pure’ food, the three most common are:

  • Anorexia Nervosa- A severe restriction of calories and strict rules around eating. Binge eating followed by purging may occur, and sufferers lose vast amounts of weight.
  • Bulimia Nervosa– May also involve fear and restriction around food, but sufferers are more likely to be a normal weight. Bulimics feel a lack of control around food and often binge to feel better- until the guilt sets in and purging follows. Like Anorexic’s, Bulimics use ‘techniques’ including vomiting, excessive laxative intake or exercising excessively to try and rid their bodies of the calories.
  • Binge Eating Disorder- Although bulimics binge eat, those with binge eating disorder also eat large amounts of food in a short amount of time, but do not purge it afterwards. Food is often used as a comfort, can be eaten secretly and hunger/fullness signals are ignored.

*It is important to note in regards to eating disorders and disordered eating, not all two cases are the same. Not all symptoms are present in each sufferer, and it is known as an ‘invisible’ illness for a reason- you cannot always see the physical and emotional suffering one is experiencing.*

If I cannot see the suffering, how do I help?

If you are worried about a loved one, there are several telltale signs you can look out for which may help you determine if it is disordered eating or an eating disorder.

For an eating disorder, look out for:

  • Dramatic weight loss 
  • Wearing baggy clothes to hide body shape
  • Use of diet pills and laxatives
  • Disposing food or wrappers in strange places
  • Hair loss, sunken eyes, pale skin
  • Loss of menstrual cycle
  • Constipation and or stomach pain
  • Mood swings including depression and anxiety
  • Trips to the bathroom following meals, sometimes using running water to hide the sound of vomiting

The most important thing to do if you suspect someone is suffering is encourage them to get help– research has shown that early treatment provides the greatest chance for a full recovery.

Dr Jeremy Alford runs a private personalized intensive CBT and Mindfulness program that has great results with reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression that are associated with eating disorders. This helps the person to learn improved ways of coping and relating to food as well as relating to their body. Find out more here: https://www.choicesretreats.com/eating-disorders/

Dr Jeremy is also the founder of MEEDA: Middle East Eating Disorder Association which raises awareness of eating disorders by providing talks, workshops, fundraising activities, research and collaborations with other established associations to help those suffering in the Middle East. Visit the website here: https://www.meeda.me/

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