Disordered Eating vs. Feeding and Eating Disorders: Signs to Watch For
| 5 min read
Disordered eating vs. feeding and eating disorders
- Behaviors: A person with a feeding and eating disorder often demonstrates multiple behaviors concerning food and body image that they engage in multiple times a week or daily. However, many people hide their behaviors – so it’s important to consider the other two factors.
- Obsession: A person with a feeding and eating disorder is consumed with thoughts of food, calories, avoiding food, exercising and/or body image. These thoughts could be strong enough to interfere with the person’s ability to focus, sleep and stay present.
- Functionality: A feeding and eating disorder can cause significant issues with a person’s ability to complete daily functions, whereas a person with disordered eating may not experience this issue.
Signs of feeding and eating disorders
- Eliminating food groups
- Extreme preoccupation with body size, shape and image
- Obsession with weight, food, calories and dieting
- Food rituals, including only eating one type of food or food group, excessive chewing, not allowing foods to touch
- Mood changes
- New practices with food or fad diets
- Skipping meals or taking small portions
- Uncomfortable eating around others
- Withdrawing from friends and activities
- Abnormal laboratory findings (anemia, low thyroid and hormone levels, low potassium, low white and red blood cell counts)
- Big changes in weight, both up and down
- Cold, mottled hands and feet or swelling of feet
- Cuts and calluses across the top of finger joints (a result of inducing vomiting)
- Dental problems
- Difficulty concentrating
- Dizziness and/or fainting
- Dry skin and hair, and brittle nails
- Feeling cold all the time
- For women: missing periods or only having a period while on the pill
- Weakened immune system
- Muscle weakness
- Sleep problems
- Stomach cramps or general gastrointestinal complaints like constipation
- Swelling around salivary glands
- Wounds that heal poorly
Types of feeding and eating disorders
- Anorexia nervosa: Individuals with this disorder have an intense fear of gaining weight and exhibit persistent behavior that interferes with weight gain. This can be manifested by irrational, impulsive behavior and a distorted body image. They may follow a dangerously low-calorie diet, avoid eating altogether or exercise for hours per day to avoid weight gain. This can lead to physical signs of malnourishment like becoming extremely frail or appearing weak and emaciated. They may also exhibit thinning hair, brittle nails, and lanugo (fine hair that covers the entire body).
- Bulimia nervosa: Bulimia is characterized by uncontrolled binge-eating episodes where a person consumes large amounts of food followed by a compensatory behavior. Examples of compensatory behaviors include self-induced vomiting; misuse of laxatives, diuretics or other medications; fasting; or excessive exercise. This can lead to dehydration, dental issues, cardiac issues and tears in the esophagus.
- Binge eating disorder: Recurrent episodes of binge eating includes behaviors where a person eats much more rapidly than normal, may eat until feeling uncomfortably full or eats large amounts of food when not feeling hungry. They may eat alone because of feeling embarrassed by how much one is eating, and afterwards have feelings of disgust, guilt or depression. The key difference from bulimia is the lack of compensatory behavior in binge eating disorder.