Recognizing Disordered Eating Patterns

When people hear the term “eating disorder,” they often think of anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. While these are the most prevalent eating disorders, avoidant restrictive food intake disorder, pica, orthorexia nervosa, and otherwise specified feeding or eating disorders are more common than many people realize. Below are some symptoms that you might be experiencing if you are struggling with an eating disorder.

If several of these accurately describe you, seek help from a trusted counselor, physician, or registered dietitian. Alternatively, you can contact the National Eating Disorder Association at 1-800-931-2237 for guidance on what your next steps should be.  Some eating disorders are treated with therapy (individual, group, or family therapies), nutritional counseling, medical monitoring, or inpatient treatment.

  1. Do you finish eating way before others that you’re dining with, sometimes eating a meal in as few as ten minutes?
  2. Do you eat until you are uncomfortably full or feel “stuffed”?
  3. Do you find yourself eating when you aren’t physically hungry?
  4. Do you eat most food when you’re alone because you feel that others judge you and you are embarrassed by what and how much you eat?
  5. Do you feel depressed, ashamed, and guilty after eating?
  6. Have you been on a diet where you cut entire food groups out? Examples include no carb or no dairy diets.
  7. Do you spend a lot of time thinking about your body or weight? Does your preoccupation with weight and body image negatively impact your quality of life?
  8. Do you ever alternate fasting or eating very little food with eating large amounts of food? Do you use food restriction, exercise, or purging to compensate for the foods that you have eaten?
  9. Have you had a weight change of at least 7% of your body weight in the past six months?
  10. Do you experience digestive problems such as stomach aches, cramping, nausea, or acid reflux?
  11. Do you eat to feel better when you’re sad, angry, bored, or anxious?
  12. Do you reward yourself with food?
  13. Do you feel your eating is out of control or you’re powerless to change your eating habits?
  14. Do you suddenly want to eat something out of nowhere (i.e., the hunger hits you very suddenly)?
  15. Do you crave specific foods, such as pizza or ice cream, and feel that nothing else can satisfy you in the same way?
  16. Do you mindlessly eat large amounts of food while you’re working, watching television, or are otherwise engaged in another activity?
  17. Do you spend a lot of time thinking about food, reading recipes and food blogs, or preparing food for yourself or others?Does your preoccupation with food negatively impact your quality of life?
  18. Do you have any food rituals, such as eating only a particular food or food group, chewing your food a set number of times before swallowing, not eating specific combinations of foods, or eating at precise times of the day?
  19. Do you suffer from extreme mood swings?
  20. Do you often assess what others are eating or compare your food choices with those of other people?

If you are confident that you are not suffering from an eating disorder, but would like to change your mindset and habits towards food and eating, the following tips may be helpful for you:

  • Keep a food journal of not only what you ate, but also how you felt and what you were doing when you ate. Once you’ve determined what triggers you to eat when you’re not hungry, you’ll be able to brainstorm other ways to deal with those feelings other than eating.
  • Rank your hunger on a scale of 1 (full and not wanting to eat at all) and 10 (ravenous). Eat any time that you’re a five or higher.
  • Remember that it takes 20 minutes for you to feel “full.” If you are eating an entire plate of food in five minutes, your brain and stomach don’t have time to play “catch up.” This hurried eating pace leads to overeating.
  • Stick to a regular eating routine and don’t skip meals or fast. Your body needs food at least every four hours.
  • Think of positive qualities or attributes that you have that aren’t related to your appearance – are you funny, a great caretaker, or unusually creative? If you have trouble remembering these things, stick post-it notes with these characteristics written on them someplace where you’ll see them every day.
  • Consider taking a (maybe long) break from social media. Studies show that spending time on social media sites leads to feelings of anxiety or inferiority.
  • Reward yourself with things other than food – a massage, a new outfit, a perfume, or another item or experience that will make you feel great.
  • Exercise, exercise, exercise! It’s vital for both mental and physical well-being. Just don’t focus on how many calories you’re burning or how much fat you’re losing. Instead, focus on how good you feel, how much healthier your heart and bones will be, and how much better you feel emotionally and mentally after a good workout. Think of exercise in terms of improving muscle strength, flexibility, balance, coordination, or cardiovascular fitness.
  • Pay attention to how you feel when you’re with different people in your life. If you consistently feel down or self-conscious in the presence of a particular person, or after spending time with them, it might be time to reconsider the relationship.
  • When eating, just eat. Don’t read, play with your phone, watch television, or type as you eat. Focus on every bite and chew your food thoroughly.