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February 27, 2023

What is Disordered Eating?

The prevalence of eating disorders (EDs) in the United States may come as a shock to some. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, approximately 9% of the population (~30.1 million Americans, based on 2022 census data) meet diagnostic criteria for an eating disorder. An even larger number of people may not meet full diagnostic criteria for an eating disorder but engage in disordered eating behaviors. These disordered eating behaviors should not be ignored because they can be just as harmful, are often overlooked, and even encouraged by a society that praises weight loss and diet culture.

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week

The National Eating Disorders Association designates February 27-March 5 as 2023’s National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. During this time, there will be a lot of much-needed discussion around signs, symptoms and dangers of EDs (see this Avance Care blog post for a great overview). However, it is also important to turn our attention to some of the more subtle, and often normalized, signs of disordered eating.

Because diet culture in the United States is so prevalent and present in all spheres of our lives, the harm in disordered eating behaviors has become nearly invisible. Take a moment to consider all of the messaging you’ve heard around body size/weight and diet. For many of us these messages come directly from friends and family, medical professionals, ads for weight-loss supplements, articles about fad diets in magazines or blogs, social media posts/influencers, etc. Because of the prevalence of these messages and the value we place on the above mentioned messengers, it’s easy to see how harmful beliefs around the body and disordered eating behaviors can develop and become the norm.

Signs of Disordered Eating:

Some common, and sometimes societally encouraged, signs of disordered eating behaviors can include:

  • Consistently jumping from one diet trend to another
  • Repeated loss and gain of weight, also known as weight cycling
  • Frequently skipping meals and/or prioritizing other tasks over eating (i.e- “I’m too busy” or “I was so wrapped up in work I forgot to eat today”)
  • Only eating foods that you consider “clean” or “healthy”
  • Feeling disgusted, depressed, or ashamed about your eating habits or body
  • Frequent discussion with others around diet and weight
  • Constant comparison of your body/weight to others
  • Never feeling relaxed around food or having lots of “food rules”
  • Frequently feeling “out of control” around certain foods
  • Body checking (asking others how you look, pinching parts of your body, checking mirror obsessively, frequent weigh-ins)
  • Noticing food and body image taking up a great deal of your mental energy or thoughts

If you recognize some of these behaviors in yourself, you are not alone! The diet culture that we live in can make it feel like these are “you problems”, or that they stem from a lack of self-control, which can lead to feelings of shame and guilt. This struggle can leave you feeling like it “could be worse” and comparing your struggles to those of others, or downplaying them because they don’t fully meet criteria for an ED. It is important to acknowledge these behaviors because even if you may not check all of the boxes for an eating disorder diagnosis, you are still worthy of support in exploring your eating behaviors and beliefs about your body. In fact, being proactive in examining the role that disordered eating behaviors are playing in your life, and learning ways to shift beliefs and habits around body image and eating is one of the best gifts you can give to yourself. It also serves to prevent these behaviors from further developing into an ED in the future. Remember, we all deserve harmony in our relationship with our body and food choices!


If you would like support in further exploring your relationship with food and your body, the Avance Care Behavioral Health and Nutrition Services teams are here to help. To learn more about Avance Care Nutrition, visit our website or call 919.237.1337 option 4 to speak with a Wellness Coordinator.

If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, contact the NEDA helpline, call (800) 931-2237, or reach out to an eating disorder specialist in your area.

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