Home > Uncategorized > Disordered Eating vs. Eating Disorders

Disordered Eating vs. Eating Disorders

Well this is an epic topic. I will try to succinctly relay my thoughts, and will probably continue to come back and discuss this topic in the future.

(By the way, I’m going to try to start blogging more on actual topics. You can hold me to that, but don’t hold your breath… just in case. No liabilities please.)

Now before I go all semantic-obsessed on you, I wanted to say that this past weekend I was in Minneapolis, MN for the NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association) Conference. IT WAS AMAZING. I had such a great time and met so many wonderful people. I will be writing an overview of it, probably this weekend. But in the mean time, check it:

Me, Kendra Sebelius (www.facebook.com/AVoiceinRecovery), Shannon Cutts (www.key-to-life.com), Brie Widaman (www.facebook.com/RevolutionOfRealWomen), Rachael Stern (twistedbarbiesrevolution.blogspot.com), and Julie Neumann (julieneumann.com)

Alright. Disordered Eating vs. Eating Disorders. Specifically Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. There is a distinct difference between disordered eating and EDNOS. Disordered eating is the way of life that I consider to have consumed (no pun intended) western society. Disordered eating is chronic dieting. Disordered eating is listening to outside sources for what is “right” and “wrong” to eat and not your body. Disordered eating is judging food, body size, body weight, and eating habits with a heavy dose of morality.

Is it important to shed light on disordered eating, bring it out into the open and say, “hey something isn’t right here!”? Definitely. This goes hand in hand with all the ad busting and self-esteem-raising work people are doing. All very important for creating a healthier society overall.

But is it more important to research and do studies on disordered eating rather than EDNOS? No. That’s just my opinion, but it’s a strong opinion. EDNOS, while vague since it is truly a mash-up of the three other clearly defined eating disorders, is still an eating disorder. It is a mental illness. I have had an eating disorder for 10 years. If I had sought help in any of those years up until this past year when I finally did, I most likely would have been diagnosed with EDNOS. I restricted, I binged, I used (and abused) diet pills, I exercised compulsively, I water fasted for several days at a time, I was afraid of food, and I obsessed over food, I had body image distortion, and I believed I was morbidly obese and therefore unlovable. Was I underweight? No, I was never even “thin”. So while I was fasting, restricting, afraid of foods, had incredibly weird eating rituals, and there were times (coincided with manic episodes) of compulsive exercise I would never have qualified as anorexic. I wouldn’t have qualified as bulimic either because I was always afraid of purging since I’ve had experiences of throwing up (due to a stomach virus) and food/liquid/acid has come out my nose. I’m sure that’s not uncommon, but as a kid I really didn’t want to experience that more often than I had to. What I didn’t know at the time was there are other symptoms that would qualify one as bulimic, so who knows maybe I would have… but I doubt I was consistent enough.

If I had sought help, I would not have gotten it. Okay I can’t say that for certain, but it would have been incredibly hard to get the care that I needed. Insurance companies don’t cover EDNOS. And really, it’s only very recently that the psych community has really embraced this…. obviously the criteria in the DSM-IV are there for a reason. It was believed that for one to be suffering from an eating disorder those were the signs. Now of course, it is widely accepted that one suffers long before they reach the point of emaciation, amenorrhea, or bingeing and purging multiple times a day. Sub-clinical, yes. Still serious enough for potential death? Yes. I didn’t seek help because I didn’t think I deserved it. I wanted so badly to be anorexic… but that’s a whole other story.

Now, Brie (of Revolution of Real Women!)  brought up the point that it’s important to raise awareness of disordered eating because it leads to eating disorders. While a point to be taken seriously, it blurs the lines between correlation and causation. Disordered eating habits and chronic dieting do not cause or always lead into eating disorders. If they do, that person has a genetic predisposition to develop this particular mental illness. Therefore, even in a society with less focus on dieting, weighing, and small clothing sizes, people are still going to have eating disorders.

There is so much that we (as a community) still don’t know and are working to figure out about the science behind mental illness as well as the effects media and society have on those predisposed to eating disorders, that the argument is somewhat futile. I think the ultimate goal here is to raise awareness in a broad sense about our societies insane hypocrisies, raise awareness about eating disorders INCLUDING EDNOS in the medical community, and continue to have dialogue about these topics. Actually, the ULTIMATE goal is for everybody to love their body (mind and soul). 🙂

  1. September 15, 2009 at 11:50 pm

    I would argue that it isnt even sub-clinical….
    ED-NOS encompases….
    people who purge everything they eat, but metabolically do not get to a BMI of <17
    People who starve themselves… overexercise… etc…but for whatever reason (dense bones, high muscle mass) do not get that low, even if they look shitty and too thin….
    People who chew and spit

    you get my point.

    as you know… people DIE of ED-NOS…

    • 700stories
      September 16, 2009 at 7:58 am

      yeah exactly, it’s technically sub-clinical, but often it really isn’t.

  2. September 16, 2009 at 7:50 am

    I’m new to your blog, but I look forward to reading more! I think that yes, disordered eating should be researched, awareness should be raised, etc. But, like you, I think that there is absolutely a distinction between disordered eating and eating disorders, and eating disorder research funds are desperately and, for now, primarily needed. Also, I think that part of the project of raising awareness MUST be drawing a distinction between eating disorders and disorders eating, and must call attention to the fact that, though one may lead to the other, that is only one scenario among many and disordered eating does not CAUSE an eating disorder.

    I think it’s incredibly dangerous to conflate the two and it leads to misleading headlines like the one recently that claimed that 60% of women in the U.S. have eating disorders. That’s simply not true. For me, a huge part of the distinction has to do with the impact on one’s life. Disordered eating – while harmful, while unhealthy – is a piece of one’s life. A full-blown eating disorder becomes one’s life.

    As for insurance . . . god. I agree that they are less likely to cover ed-nos, which is appalling. However, they are also very likely to refuse coverage for diagnoses of AN or BN – I, unfortunately, know from experience. I do think that many e.d. professionals are – thankfully – beginning to take diagnoses of ed-nos as seriously as diagnoses of AN & BN. However, I think many people with ED-NOS become convinced (by many factors) that their e.d. is “not serious enough” for treatment, which is really unfortunate. The public needs to be educated that there are a spectrum of eating disorders and all are serious. If only ED-NOS got the serious consideration that other e.d.’s do.

    Wow. I’ll stop now!

    • 700stories
      September 16, 2009 at 8:02 am

      Hi, thanks for your comment! It always baffles me when media gets away with spouting ridiculous “statistics”… so frustrating.

      Yeah I really know nothing about insurance since I’ve spent most of my life avoiding doctors all together, I wouldn’t know to ask what I could get etc. Even when I was dealing with full blown bulimia, who knows. The whole “not serious enough for treatment” was pretty much the story of my life, and it was such a lie. I know I have permanent damage, just don’t know the extent since I still don’t go to doctors haha.

      I hope soon nobody feels that way because that’s what “the world” is saying (of course, most with EDs think that anyway…)

  3. September 17, 2009 at 8:46 am

    You might be interested in this article on treatment/prevention continuum. http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Mental+health+counseling+responses+to+eating-related+concerns+in…-a0198288857

    • 700stories
      September 19, 2009 at 9:57 pm

      finally got a chance to really read this. It’s great! Body Image Dissatisfaction is definitely an “epidemic” in western culture and definitely needs combating. I like the cognitive behavioral strategies to alter maladaptive attitudes.

  4. RRW
    September 17, 2009 at 5:29 pm

    Thank you for posting on this topic, my friend! It’s crucially important for every one of us to try and understand where others in our circle are coming from. That said, I wanted to be sure I cleared a few things up…

    700Stories wrote: “Disordered eating habits and chronic dieting do not cause or always lead into eating disorders. If they do, that person has a genetic predisposition to develop this particular mental illness.”

    I was careful not to say that disordered eating CAUSES eating disorders, but I did say that it CAN lead to or serve as a precursor to them. Not a cause, but a factor or phase. It may just be a ‘chicken or the egg’ type situation (or semantics). In my opinion, I think many of us probably started out in some type of disordered eating category.

    Also, while many of us may be genetically vulnerable to developing an ED, research has yet to prove that ONLY the people who develop ED’s out of disordered eating did so because of their genetics.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that I think the issue is not one vs. the other. I think we shouldn’t say one deserves funding over another. We should seriously focus on what the causes and triggers are for BOTH disordered eating as well as eating disorders. I guess I look at the issue more fluidly than just a black & white issue.

    In my opinion, because so many people who develop disordered eating do go on to a full ED (and it’s not just because they were genetically predisposed to do so), we need to look at what causes they have in common. I feel these issues go hand in hand, or else we are ignoring an important percentage of those who are at great risk of developing an eating disorder.

    • 700stories
      September 19, 2009 at 10:08 pm

      and thank YOU for posting on it as well! 🙂

      and yeah, very much a semantics issue. but can you clarify what you mean by “while many of us may be genetically vulnerable to developing an ED, research has yet to prove that oNLY the people who develop ED’s out of disordered eating did so because of their genetics”?

      I never said (or meant) only people who developed EDs out of disordered eating did so because of their genetics. Truthfully, I’m not a scientist or researcher, and I don’t have time to read all the studies. But I definitely believe in the science and that our brains are the basis of everything. Genetics I’m a little more fuzzy on, haven’t done as much reading in that field vs. neuroscience, but I think it all comes together. Emotions and feelings are regulated in the brain and in our chemistry… so I don’t really see biology and culture as separate issues.

      I agree it’s not one vs. the other but as for funding of research… I think “disordered eating” is much too broad a thing to do adequate research on. At least biological research. I’d love to see sociological and anthropological studies done on the cultural epidemic.

      We could even look at the two general session panels from the conference. 🙂 Jean Kilbourne’s presentation was wonderful, and research like that can really speak to disordered eating (as well as eating disorders) whereas Cynthia Bulik’s presentation spoke to eating disorders, but I’m sure things can be found in her work to uncover things about disordered eating as well. There is overlap… but each had a more specific focus. Does that make sense?

      thanks for the dialogue!

  5. RRW
    September 17, 2009 at 5:48 pm

    One last note… the study/statistic I believe was being referred to was the one that found over 60% of women suffered some form of disordered eating (not eating disorders). That goes to show that there is, indeed, a difference between the two.

  6. RRW
    September 18, 2009 at 5:59 pm

    Well, then! I stand corrected! Thank you for sharing your source because in this case, you are absolutely right. When these terms, definitions and numbers get jumbled together, I truly feel we lose some power in our voices and movement (no matter where you stand on the issue).

    Love & support to you all…

  7. edoutsider
    September 10, 2010 at 10:53 pm

    I always have and still feel like nobody can take me seriously because I’m not underweight. Even at my lowest point when I was starving myself, I wouldn’t have qualified as anorexic with my BMI. I was at the low tip of a “healthy weight range.” (Except I thought I was so overweight) Now I’m bulimic and throwing up multiple times a day and i’m way heavier than I was before, but still a “healthy weight.” 😡

    So frustrating. I don’t even think my own mom takes me seriously. I don’t look sick and I put up a pretty good act. Nobody sees my weaknesses.

  8. October 3, 2010 at 11:01 am

    it is dangerous i thinks….

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