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Eating Disorder vs. Disordered Eating (and Why They are Both Important!)

This past week was National Eating Disorder awareness week. Eating disorders coming in many different shapes and sizes with anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating being the most well-known. However, in addition to eating disorders, many people experience what we call disordered eating. This is very common on college campuses as routines are changing, new expectations are set, and many students start facing unrealistic pressures to look a certain way, eat a certain way, or become someone they are not in an attempt to fit in.

With 40%-60% of elementary through middle-school aged girls being concerned about their weight, it is not surprising that eating disorders and disordered eating patterns develop. Since both are topics are ones that I believe we should all be educated on and aware of, I’m here to explain the difference between the two, but also show that neither should be taken lightly.

An eating disorder is a range of disorders characterized by extreme emotions and behaviors surrounding weight, food, and size. They are life threatening and there are many factors that play into one. When you think of an eating disorder, most people jump to anorexia (characterized by weight loss), bulimia (binge eating followed by behaviors compensating for the effects), or binge eating disorder (episodes of eating large quantities of food). All of these are very serious and have incredible consequences but have a narrow criterion for diagnosis. There are also many other types that may not come to mind right away. Laxative abuse is considered a type of eating disorder as well as compulsive exercise. All of these have to do with the feeling of distorted body image.

[bf_image id="2k9z8bffwm463qmjx3wkhbc"] Disordered eating, on the other hand, may be less extreme, but is way more common. This type of eating includes many unhealthy behaviors that may be easily overlooked. Fad diets, cleanses, and diet pills are all apart of disordered eating as well as skipping meals, cutting out certain food groups, and a heightened focus on appearance. The main thing that sets disordered eating apart from eating disorders is the degree of the behaviors. These actions do not seem extreme, but they could lead to more extreme eating disorders and are often precursors to depression and anxiety.  

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Frequent dieting, meal skipping, rigid routines involving food and exercise, feelings of guilt after eating, or using food restriction or exercise to “make up” for “bad” foods consumes are all symptoms that I see on a college campus daily. You are probably realizing right now that you participate in some of these behaviors. 

I have seen these behaviors a lot in sports. As a former rower for the University of Michigan, nutrition was incredibly important, but still seemed to be forgotten by many girls. 42% of Division I athletes report that they have some form of disordered eating. This makes them eight-times more likely to be injured. 

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The same goes for diet culture and disordered eating. 62% of high school and college aged girls report that they are trying to lose weight and 59% say they are actively dieting. Of those that dieted moderately, they were five-times more likely to develop an eating disorder through their patterns of disordered eating. 

The stigma surrounding our weight needs to be stopped. With many people trying to match their “ideal shape” and the glorification of small waists and flat stomachs, eating disorders and disordered eating are more prevalent than ever. This body dysmorphia starts as early as age six and can impact your mental and physical health for the rest of your life. 

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Recognizing that most of us probably suffer from some form of disordered eating, I think we all need to take a step back and realize just how much it is affecting our lives. Do not let unrealistic standards define who you are or what you should look like. You are unique and deserve to treat yourself with respect instead of tearing yourself down for not looking like the supermodel on the front of the magazine. That’s not you.

[bf_image id="4x5qwrv64ww23cvbjtg7gmb"] While most of us have these feelings every once in a while it is incredibly important that we recognize the dangers associated with these behaviors and understand that there is no perfect body. Be careful, and know that there are resources to help with both eating disorders and disordered eating. If you or someone you know needs help call or text (800) 931-2237 or head to www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/help-support/contact-helpline.

A Michigan native, Madeline started writing for Her Campus in 2019. Currently a senior at the University of Michigan majoring in Neuroscience with a minor in Spanish Language and Literature and is currently applying for physical therapy school. Aside from Her Campus, Madeline used to row for the University of Michigan Women's Rowing team, attends every sporting event she can (especially Football and Hockey), and loves spending time outside.
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