Disordered Eating – what is it?

Disordered eating refers to a wide range of abnormal eating behaviours. Most of these are shared with recognised eating disorders. So how do we differentiate between disordered eating and an eating disorder? It comes down to the level of severity and frequency of eating behaviours.

Yo-yo dieting and a preoccupation with food are not new in UK culture. But when does a focus on food, calories and weight become a health concern?

Disordered eating behaviours especially “always-on-a-diet” is a common indicator of the development of an eating disorder.

Disordered eating usually has a negative effect on a person’s emotional, social and physical wellbeing.

Frequently these behaviours lead to:

Iamge of woman with disordered eating

Disordered eating food restriction

  • fatigue
  • malnutrition
  • poor concentration
  • social isolation (due to anxiety around food/eating)
  • reduced ability to cope with stressful situations
  • irritability
  • feelings of guilt and failure
  • low self-esteem
  • emotional impairment
  • other anxieties
  • depression
  • suicidal thoughts and behaviours (particularly in adolescents)

All of these feelings can arise as a result of binge eating, ‘breaking’ a diet or weight gain.


“Normal” Eating Behaviours

Really there is no such thing as typical eating behaviours. So what is considered “normal”. Let us look at it in terms of quantities and types of food consumed. This varies considerably from person to person. It depends on their age, gender, lifestyle, culture, religion, country, etc. So “normal eating” refers to the attitude a person holds in their relationship with food, rather than the type or amount of food they eat.

This means we have to look at generalities of what most people eat to stay health in mind and body. We take these to be normal

It is normal to:

  • Eat more on some days, less on others
  • Have some foods because they taste good
  • Have a positive attitude towards eating
  • Eat a balanced diet containing all food groups
  • Not label foods as “good”, “bad”, “clean”
  • Not be “always-on-a-diet”
  • Over-eat occasionally
  • Under-eat occasionally
  • Sometimes crave certain foods
  • Recognise that food and eating should only take up a small part of our daily thoughts and actions


Disordered eating behaviours and attitudes include:

  • Regular fasting
  • Long-term restrained eating
  • Skipping meals altogether
  • Binge eating
  • Self-induced vomiting
  • Restrictive dieting
  • Unbalanced eating (e.g. restricting a major food group such as ‘fatty’ foods or carbohydrates)
  • Using laxatives and diuretic,
  • Having unnecessary enemas
  • Taking steroids and creatine, (athletic performance enhancers)
  • Using diet pills

Information on Eating Disorders