Disordered Eating


Patterns of communication and unresolved conflict.

Disordered Eating

In our society and in various sources of mass media, there are many different messages about what is desired or acceptable – especially in terms of eating habits and body weight or image. For men and women alike, confusion and frustration are common when the messages received are not consistent or go against other beliefs: “Which is true?”

Overwhelming feelings of stress, disappointment, and shame might result when the “ideal” weight or body image does not appear is not reflected back to us in the mirror. For some of us, eating and not eating, binging and purging, or obsessing about food or calorie intake are engaged in as a way to deal with or make sense of these issues some of the time; when these behaviours become frequent and have a negative impact on physical or emotional well being and functioning, disordered patterns of eating may have become an eating disorder.

What is Disordered Eating?

Disordered eating habits refer to unhealthy relationships with food. Consistently feeling anxious or ashamed when in the presence of food or even just thinking about food, restricting socializing with friends on the basis of whether or not food or eating might be involved, or using food or eating as a coping method could indicate the presence of disordered eating. Self esteem or self worth issues, feelings of guilt or shame when around food, and genetic factors (histories of disordered eating or eating disorders in the family) could also be involved in these patterns of eating.

Disordered Eating or Eating Disorder?

Disordered eating and eating disorders are very similar, yet very different. Ultimately, what distinguishes the two is the degree or frequency and severity of the behaviours.

There are 4 separate forms of eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and eating disorder not otherwise specified. Individuals with disordered eating exhibit many of the same behaviours that are part of eating disorders (like food restriction, bingeing and purging, use of diet pills or laxatives, rigid calorie counting, excessive exercise), but to a lesser extent. Though the symptoms may not be as severe as those engaged in by persons with eating disorders, disordered eating is a very real concern and could increase risk for developing a more serious condition.

What Now?

Treatment for disordered eating often look very different for each person. What has helped one individual is not likely (but might) be just as effective for another person. We all have preferred ways of coping, are helped by different activities or techniques, and are able to engage in different tasks. To address these factors and others, making an appointment with a counsellor provides an opportunity to discuss problematic patterns of relating to food, form healthy eating plans, relate to emotions and thoughts differently, develop helpful coping skills, seek out appropriate sources of social support. Importantly, seeing a counsellor would provide a supportive resource person for help, to feel heard, and to realize that hope is possible.


Gottlieb, C. (2014). Disordered eating or eating disorder: What’s the difference?

Howard, C. (2018). Disordered eating vs. eating disorders: What’s the difference?

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