What is disordered eating?
Disordered eating refers to abnormal and unhealthy eating patterns such as restrictive diets, binging or skipping meals. It can look very similar to an eating disorder (such as Anorexia Nervosa or Bulimia Nervosa) and is one of the most common indicators that someone may develop one, however the symptoms are not severe enough for a clinical diagnosis.
Common behaviours of disordered eating may include:
- Binge eating
- Skipping meals regularly
- Self-induced vomiting
- Strict calorie counting and meal planning
- Excessive use of laxatives
What causes disordered eating behaviours?
Our relationship with food can be impacted by a range of external and internal elements, which is why the causes of disordered eating can vary. Research has shown dieting is the biggest risk factor to develop disordered eating. For example, someone trying a fad diet with strict rules around what they ‘should’ and ‘should not’ eat may cause them to start overthinking every meal and lead to a cycle of guilt if they ‘break the rules’ of the diet. Other common causes of disordered eating include trauma, mental health conditions, increased stress, peer influences and exposure to celebrity culture.
Disordered eating support: Coping strategies
It is possible to change disordered eating behaviours, even if someone has been doing them for many years. A key part of recovery is to develop healthy coping strategies when you are faced with difficult thoughts and urges. Let’s look at few examples of strategies:
- Externalise and defuse your thoughts: This refers to relabelling our thoughts to help us detach from it and see it through a different lens. For example, if you are thinking about what to eat for breakfast and think “You should skip breakfast”, try to label this as “a disordered eating thought” and then rephrase it again as “My disordered eating is telling me to skip breakfast”.
- Challenging thoughts: This refers to thinking more critically about our thoughts. When a disordered eating thought comes up, consider the following questions:
- What is the evidence for that thought?
- What are alternative beliefs?
- What are the consequences of having that thought?
- Practise relaxation techniques: If you are feeling overwhelmed with thoughts about eating or food, try doing a deep breathing exercise or practising mindfulness to help reduce stress and clear your mind.
Disordered eating support: Services and treatments
There are a range of specialist services and organisations that offer disordered eating support for people in Victoria. Treatment pathways for people with disordered eating can include counselling, peer support groups and working with healthcare specialists. For more information, look at the following organisations:
If you are concerned, start by having a chat with your GP or by contacting the above organisations. You can also contact CAREinMIND for free counselling support.
Our CAREinMIND counsellors are available 24/7 on 1300 096 269 or click the floating chat button on the right. The service is free for people in north, western and central Melbourne and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.