Saturday, January 16, 2021

Disordered Eating vs. Eating Disorders

Ours is a culture of disordered behaviors.  It is so common to see college kids engaging in binge drinking or strange dieting practices that we often overlook their seriousness.  I live near New York University and continuously see kids almost falling-down-drunk in the streets on the weekends.  The #1 most commonly asked question we receive when we are presenting in schools and universities relates to how we can tell the difference between disordered eating (drinking or exercise) behaviors and eating disorders (or alcoholism, etc.).

Keep in mind that we think of these concepts on a continuum: disordered eating is on the one side of the continuum and eating disorders are on the other.  Because we live in a disordered culture where it is almost “normal” or becoming more normal to think about diets and obsess over weight, it is “normal” to over-exercise or praise people for exercising, and it is “normal” to think about our looks constantly it is increasingly challenging to know when there’s a problem.

Here are a few warning signs.

Beware when

  … eating or exercise behaviors (or drinking / smoking / substance abuse, etc.) are the activities we think about more than anything else during the day. 

If your mental “head space” is filled up mostly with thoughts about any one or two things; such as, e-mailing, texting, working out or dieting — it could be a sign that you have deeper concerns underneath the surface.

 … individuals start to feel “guilty” or “bad” if they eat food or DON’T exercise. 

Disordered eating behaviors (for example, skipping lunch in order to go out drinking at night) start to shift into eating disordered behavior when we start to feel “guilty” or “bad” about ourselves.  If you start noticing that you are feeling guilty for eating or for not exercising or that you genuinely feel as if you are a good or bad person based on the food or exercise behaviors that you choose, you might want to speak to a professional.  This can be a warning of more complex things happening under the surface.

 … “more” is never enough. 

If you have to run more often, run or work out for greater distances or longer amounts of time, drink another glass of wine, eat more, restrict more, or “beat your time” more, these could be signs that something is out of balance.

For any of the above warning signs, it is recommended that you contact an eating disorders specialist (or drug and alcohol specialist).  It certainly can’t hurt to be cautious and inquire as to whether the behaviors are leaning into the eating disorder side of the equation.

Remember, if you have any of the four types of eating disorders, this isn’t something that you can just “will” away or stop.  Seeking a professional to help you strategize is the best possible thing you can do to take care of yourself and those you love.


This re-post is courtesy of Gurze Publications Eating Disorders In Schools blog

 Robyn Hussa, MFA, E-RYT, is Founder and CEO of NORMAL, for which she was awarded the 2010 Champion in Women’s Health award from Ms. Sue Ann Thompson and the Wisconsin Women’s Health Foundation. Ms. Hussa is also a professional performer and New York producer. She is the co-Founder of the Drama Desk and Obie award-winning Off-Broadway theatre company, Transport Group, for which she won the 2007 Drama Desk award for the company’s breadth of vision and presentation of challenging productions.   She is the Editor of the WeAreTheRealDeal blog site and author of Healthy Selfitude — a result of Hussa’s in-depth training in the performing arts, voice, movement, and yoga. She holds a Master’s in Fine Arts and is an E-RYT yoga instructor with the Yoga Alliance.

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