How To Know If You Have an Eating Disorder Jennifer Klesman

It can be tricky to know what the line is between an eating disorder and disordered eating. We can use the Diagnostic statistical manual criteria as a great indicator of when it is a diagnosable disorder. Health implications and the impact on one’s functioning are not necessarily indicators of whether it is or is not an eating disorder. Disordered eating is having a subclinical level of an eating disorder. For example, you might purge one time every two weeks, which is not enough to diagnose as an eating disorder but certainly unhealthy.  So how do you know if you have an eating disorder?

So when does dieting cross the line between dieting into an eating disorder?  A diet is usually short-term, restricting certain types of foods or how much one is eating in an effort to lose weight. Some people can go years of dieting without developing an eating disorder. When it goes too far, it begins to impact someone’s ability to function in the world and interferes with their daily life. They might need to use behaviors in order to get through their day. Disordered eating may have symptoms of eating disorders but do not qualify for the diagnosis based on the frequency of how much one is engaging in behaviors. The symptoms of disordered eating are less severe and more infrequent. Listed below are some helpful indicators to know if it’s disordered eating or an eating disorder. 

Frequency of engaging in behaviors 

How often do you engage in bingeing, restricting, exercising and/or purging are the main determiners of whether or not you have a diagnosable eating disorder. Each one of these behaviors has different requirements for how often one would be engaging in this behavior to be diagnosed as an eating disorder. If you are feeling like you cannot stop engaging in behaviors and feel out of control with these behaviors or there is a have to component it may be likely you are struggling with an eating disorder. If your day to day life is organized around these behaviors and you are using them more often than not, it  may be likely that you are struggling with an eating disorder. 

Intense fear of weight gain

Many people may struggle with not liking their body or something about their body. This is different than having an intense fear of weight gain and using unhealthy behaviors as a means to control weight. Feeling an intense fear of gaining weight is different than not wanting to gain weight. If you struggle with feeling distress around engaging in behaviors out of fear it may lead to weight gain, this could be a sign you are struggling with an eating disorder. 

Impacting Quality of Life 

Are your behaviors with restricting, bingeing, overeating, exercising, or purging are impacting multiple areas of your life? Areas such as relationships, your health, functioning at work, or interfering with daily life, then this may be an indicator you are struggling with an eating disorder. Usually, your life is being impacted in some way such as connections in your life. How you are spending your time, what you are eating, or simply the ability to eat without having intense anxiety around does. 

Preoccupation With Food 

You might find yourself organizing your day around behaviors and food. We have to eat to live so it’s completely normal to think about food throughout your day as your hunger fluctuates or needing to plan what you will eat. If you find that you are thinking about food nonstop and often worried about what you will eat and when and how much and don’t seem like you can “turn off” or get a break from these thoughts, or it feels obsessive in your thinking this may be a sign that you are struggling with an eating disorder. 

You Are Experiencing Weight Changes 

Weight loss is NOT synonymous with an eating disorder. Nor do you have to experience weight loss to have an eating disorder. However, for some, it may be a sign they are struggling with an eating disorder. If you are experiencing weight gain or weight loss coupled with symptoms it may be a sign the behaviors you are engaging in are impacting your health. Our bodies have a natural set point weight range and if you are noticing major changes in your weight it can be an indicator of an eating disorder. 

Article Written by Julie Raymond, LCPC

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