Eating disorders are not always easy to identify. For many people, someone struggling with an eating disorder looks like a very thin teenage girl. However, eating disorders affect people of all genders, weights, ages, and backgrounds. An element that complicates the issue even more is the difference between disordered eating and eating disorders.
While many individuals will experience disordered eating at some point in their lives, those who struggle with eating disorders are experiencing something more acute that requires professional treatment. If you’re unsure whether your teen is exhibiting behaviors that signify disordered eating or if they’re struggling with an actual eating disorder, like anorexia or bulimia, read on here to learn about eating disorders vs. disordered eating.
Differences Between Disordered Eating & Eating Disorders
The most important difference between disordered eating and eating disorders is the degree to which someone feels obsessed with body image, weight, and food control.
Someone with an eating disorder might limit their intake of food, may binge and then purge, or might only allow themselves to eat certain foods. Certain indicators of eating disorders that aren’t as common for those with disordered eating include:
- Concurrent depression or anxiety
- Obsessive thoughts about food
- Difficulty accomplishing daily tasks
- Preoccupation with weight loss and dieting
- Food rituals and excessive chewing
- Frequent checking in the mirror to assess the body
- Withdrawal from friends and activities
Someone who is struggling with disordered eating might spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about their body shape or weight, but they don’t quite fit the requirements to be diagnosed with an actual eating disorder. Calorie counting, eliminating certain food groups, and exercising excessively are behaviors that can blur the line of eating disorders vs. disordered eating.
Some signs of disordered eating that may eventually turn into an eating disorder include:
- Calorie counting
- Self-worth based on body shape and weight
- Rigid exercise routines
- Anxiety about certain types of food
- Inflexible meal times or refusal to eat in social situations
Is Your Teen Struggling with an Eating Disorder?
If your teen is exhibiting the following behaviors, it’s possible that they are struggling with an eating disorder or disordered eating:
- Secretive behaviors about food
- Preoccupation with their weight
- Only eat certain foods or have eliminated foods from their diet
- Regularly express fear of being or becoming fat
- They regularly throw up after eating
- New issues at school or at home, such as lower grades
- Significant weight loss or gain
This is not an exhaustive list, and you won’t be able to diagnose your child alone. A mental health professional can help you understand if your teen is struggling with an eating disorder and direct you to the best course of action.
Treatment for Eating Disorders or Disordered Eating
Eating disorders are a type of process disorder. Process disorders involve addictive behaviors to an action or routine which an individual might find rewarding. These types of process disorders can also include gaming, shopping, or exercise. Many of those who struggle with eating disorders also face obsessions with exercise.
Treatment for eating disorders can involve a number of solutions including:
- Residential or Outpatient Treatment
- Nutrition Education
- Individual Counseling
- Group Therapy
- Family Therapy
Early intervention is key to lasting recovery, and many of those who go through a treatment program are able to heal.
Treatment at Ascend
At Ascend, we do not currently treat eating disorders, but we are equipped to cope with clients who suffer from disordered eating as well as process disorders. We can also help you find the right professionals to assess your child and clarify whether they have an eating disorder vs. disordered eating.