Disordered Eating vs Eating Disorder: What’s the Difference?

Disordered Eating vs Eating Disorders

Eating Disorders…. nobody likes to talk about them. Studies state that almost 30 million people of all ages and genders have suffered from an eating disorder in the United States (2012). That number has grown since 2012, and more people are experiencing disordered eating as well.

What is the difference between disordered eating and eating disorders?

  • Eating Disorder: Defined by the APA (American Psychological Association) Guidelines. To receive an eating disorder diagnosis, one must experience a certain number of symptoms that falls under one of the eating disorders.
  • Disordered Eating: Defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV Revision). A wide range of irregular eating behaviors that do not warrant a diagnosis of a specific eating disorder.

Disordered Eating Symptoms

  • Frequent weight fluctuation
  • Rigid and unhealthy food & exercise regime
  • Chronic dieting
  • Compulsive or emotionally driven eating (like binge-eating)
  • Compensatory measures: exercise food restriction, fasting, purging to recover from food previously consumed (example: Eating a piece of cake, then exercising to burn the cake off.)
  • Feelings of guilt and shame when not meeting food and exercise expectations (example: eating a piece of cake, then feeling like a failure and extremely guilty for not maintaining your health habits.)

With all of that information, I would like to say that I have experienced disordered eating. I sometimes still feel guilt or shame for not sticking to my healthy habits, or that I should work off whatever I ate directly. Also, I do not have everything figured out and still experience binge-eating, but it is a journey and process to recover from unhealthy patterns.

However, thoughts of guilt and shame are becoming normal today for a lot of people, especially with the pressure to have a perfect body. With hormones and genes as important factors for women, it can be difficult to reach the body size we want and to maintain that physique. This goal to reach the perfect body has caused people to drive themselves crazy to maintain a rigid diet and exercise plan.

If you want to participate in a program that has a diet and exercise plan, please consider joining a plan that gives you grace when you slip up. Run the other direction if there is any sort of body-shaming, harsh restrictions towards food, and causes a negative outlook towards yourself or anyone else.

My biggest problem has been binge-eating. I would get hungry, eat a whole bag of chips or crackers without stopping, and then carry on with my day.

Why? Good question, and I’m not sure.

It could be due to my lack of self-control sometimes, the fact that my body has been addicted to carbs since I can remember, or my mindless eating. Chips and crackers are carbohydrates, which hits our blood-sugar levels faster, which causes hunger to subside quicker.

I used to binge eat a ton when I was nannying for this one family, who always had chips. During those two years, I started off slow and then I was bingeing almost every day towards the end of me working for them. Every single day, I experienced heavy guilt and shame, and I didn’t tell anyone, not even Philip. That’s how guilty I felt, and I really thought people would look at me differently for my behaviors.

Trying to Overcome Binge-Eating

Since April 2018, I have been altering my diet to fit my lifestyle and what my body needs. Through this long process, I have been recovering slowly from binge-eating. I started with the Whole 30 diet, which cut out all the foods I would snack on. With my desire to complete the 30 days, I was able to withhold from caving in and bingeing. After the Whole 30, I discovered eating too many grains did not sit well with my body, and chips/crackers consist mostly of grains.

Yes, the Whole 30 restricts certain foods, but someone would participate in the Whole 30 to identify which foods they have sensitivities to and to help overcome sugar and carb addictions. I would advise that you do not participate in the Whole 30 diet for the sole purpose of losing weight. I do not eat certain foods because I have sensitivities to them and they do not make me feel well. The foods I do not eat are not “off-limits” to me, because I will occasionally eat them whenever I am okay dealing with the side-effects (bloating, acne, fatigue, etc.)

To be honest, I occasionally binge, but I have realized it is usually when I have gone without food for too long. However, I am now trying to figure out why and that maybe I’m not eating enough at the right time, or I am still eating too many carbohydrates, which in turn makes me crave carbohydrates.

Journey to Recovery

I am on a journey to improve my overall wellness, and I have made a lot of changes in the process. Feeling guilt and shame every time I ate food I “should not” be eating was driving me crazy. Thinking that I need to work out every time I drank too much or ate too much was making it hard to enjoy myself. I used to not like working out, because I viewed it as a chore.

Now, I want to work out, because I want to see what my body is capable of. I love feeling strong. I love being able to run all over the field during a soccer game.

Through all of this, I want you to take away that it is a process. If you are having disordered thinking about food and exercise, I want you to take it slowly and give yourself grace. Honestly, practicing meditation and doing things through self-love has been such a positive force for me. Approach it from a place of taking care of your overall wellbeing.

I know I probably will never have it entirely figured out, especially since our bodies are constantly changing. The body wants to heal itself and I want to give myself the tools I need to do so! However, I do not want unhealthy habits inhibiting myself from reaching a better state of overall wellness.

Recognize Your Patterns

If you are experiencing binge-eating, or any of the symptoms of disordered eating, try to take down notes throughout the day on your phone or paper to recognize any patterns that are occurring. For example, I noticed I am bingeing more when I have not eaten enough calories, during the 3-4 pm slump, or when I haven’t consumed enough fat and protein.

This week, try to take down some notes to identify any disordered eating patterns.

If you have any questions or want to talk about this further, you can message me through Instagram or email me at coffeedateswithmaddie@gmail.com


Anderson, M. (2015, February 25). What Is Disordered Eating? Retrieved from https://www.eatright.org/health/diseases-and-conditions/eating-disorders/what-is-disordered-eating

Hudson, J. I., Hiripi, E., Pope, H. G., & Kessler, R. C. (2007). The prevalence and correlates of eating disorders in the national comorbidity survey replication. Biological Psychiatry, 61(3), 348–358.

Le Grange, D., Swanson, S. A., Crow, S. J., & Merikangas, K. R. (2012). Eating disorder not otherwise specified presentation in the US population. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 45(5), 711-718.