What's the Difference Between Eating Disorders and Disordered Eating?

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Published Date|
November 30, 2023

What's the Difference Between Eating Disorders and Disordered Eating?

When seeking out support for your mental health, it can be hard to navigate the complex terms plastered all around the internet.

If you feel like you need support around your eating habits, you deserve to seek it out no matter what. 

Still, it can be helpful to learn the difference between disordered eating and eating disorders to better equip you to find the support you need.

Here at KMA Therapy, we’re here to help you navigate the therapy journey and help connect you with the support you need.

After reading this article, you’ll know the difference between disordered eating and eating disorders, ways to recognize when you might need support, and how to find the help you need.

What’s the Difference Between Disordered Eating and Eating Disorders?

Although the eating disorders and disordered eating sound similar, they aren’t exactly the same.

The main difference is that an eating disorder is a clinical diagnosis, and disordered eating is not.

what's the difference between eating disorders and disordered eating

However, they can share many of the same characteristics, and both can have a negative impact on your life.

What is Disordered Eating?

Disordered eating involves thoughts, feelings, and behaviours surrounding food that interfere with your daily life.

Although your behaviours or rituals around food might not meet the criteria for a formal diagnosis of an eating disorder, they can still wreak havoc on your life and cause you a lot of distress.

Signs you’re experiencing disordered eating include:

  • Thinking a lot about your weight
  • An intense focus on your body image, size, or shape
  • Feeling compelled to perform specific rituals around food
  • Obsessive thoughts about food, or deeming foods as “safe” or “unsafe” to eat
  • Hesitating to participate in social activities around food (such as getting dinner with friends)

What are Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders are complex mental illnesses that influence how you think about and consume food, and can interfere with your relationship to exercise and body image. 

Eating disorders can affect anyone, regardless of your age, race, or gender. They are influenced by a variety of different factors, including cultural and biological causes.

While they can have serious and life-threatening complications, there are treatments available. 

Common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and avoidant and restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID).

You can visit the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC) to learn more about the symptoms of specific types of eating disorders in depth.

However, it’s important to note that reading about these specific behaviours can be triggering - don’t feel like you need to explore these in depth on your own before getting support.

The above signs of disordered eating can be a good indication that you should seek support, but it can also be helpful to recognize how these patterns might be influencing your physical health.

Physical symptoms of eating disorders include:

  • Stomach pain
  • Feeling dizzy, weak, or tired
  • Changes in your skin and hair
  • Changes in digestion and bowel movements
  • If you’re someone who menstruates, you might notice changes in your menstrual cycle, including missing or stopping periods

Seeking Support for Disordered Eating and Eating Disorders

It can feel like there’s a lot of stigma surrounding disordered eating and eating disorders, and it can be frightening to reach out for help.

Starting with an online resource can be helpful if you’re not ready to speak to someone face to face.

If you’re seeking immediate support, the free NEDIC Helpline is a good resource to start with.

As stated on their website, “the NEDIC helpline is open Monday through Thursday from 9am to 9pm, Fridays from 9am to 5pm, and Saturdays and Sundays from 12pm to 5pm (all times ET). 

You can call us toll-free at 1-866-633-4220 (416-340-4156 in the GTA) or chat with us online. You can also email the helpline at nedic@uhn.ca. 

We’re here to offer information, support, resources, and referrals to individuals living with eating disorders and their loved ones/supporters. Find more resources at nedic.ca/resources.”

If you’re interested in speaking to a therapist, make sure they’re qualified and experienced in supporting people experiencing eating disorders and disordered eating.

Explore our full article on How to Find a Therapist for Eating Disorders for a step-by-step guide to finding the best therapist for you, including comparing group and individual therapy, and unpacking common misconceptions around disordered eating.

Next Steps for Beginning Therapy

After reading this article, you know the difference between disordered eating and eating disorders, and next steps to take to get support.

Here at KMA Therapy, we know it can be hard to navigate the therapy process alone, and we’re here to help you through it.

Register online to take the first step in your therapy journey or read our free Therapy 101 Guide to learn how therapy can work for you.

If you’d prefer to keep reading, explore these articles we’ve chosen for you:

Author |
Emily Weatherhead
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