Eating Disorders vs. Disordered Eating

December 1, 2020

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What is the difference?  

Anorexia nervosa has recently been revealed to be the mental illness with the highest rate of mortality. Yet, it seems like we don’t see any of this being covered in the media. Anorexia nervosa is one of three types of eating disorders. All eating disorders have a specific and diagnosable definition; in general, eating disorder is defined in the DSM-5 as “any range of psychological disorders characterized by abnormal or disturbed eating habits”. The DSM-5 is put out by the American Psychiatric Association and is a book that can serve as a resource to diagnose, treat, and prevent various mental illnesses. 

If you have ever seen any social media campaigns recently; you might have seen something about disordered eating. Disordered eating is different from eating disorders though. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, disordered eating is a term that is used to “describe a range of irregular eating behaviors that may or may not warrant a diagnosis of a specific eating disorder”. Unlike disordered eating, eating disorder has a specific and diagnosable definition. To learn more about the specific types of eating disorders, and signs of eating concerns, check out the information below.  

  • Anorexia nervosa: This is not the most common eating disorder in the US, but it is probably the most well-known. Anorexia nervosa is characterized by a severe restriction of calories consumed on a daily basis. Calories are restricted voluntarily because the person oftentimes perceives themself to be overweight even if they may actually be severely underweight. There are also two subtypes of anorexia. The first is the restrive type, and the second is the eating then purging type.  

  • Bulimia nervosa: This is the eating disorder that is characterized by a cycle of binging which is then followed by a compensatory behavior. The compensatory behavior can be self-induced vomiting, excessive exercising, or using laxatives.  

  • Binge Eating: This is believed to be the most common eating disorder in the United States. Binge eating is characterized by eating a large quantity of food in a short period of time. This differentiates from bulimia nervosa because it is not followed by a compensatory behavior. 

  • Some Signs of Eating Concerns: Preoccupation with your weight or shape, food, or exercise; isolation or avoidance of social situations because there will be food present; unhealthy relationships with food or exercise; and extreme weight fluctuations. 

Although there is a lot of information here, there is so much more out there regarding eating disorders and their signs. Fortunately, there are also a lot of resources on campus to help people treat and recover from eating disorders. Contact the UNH campus resources at Health & Wellness and PACS for more information. If you or someone you know is struggling and is not a UNH community member, call the national hotline at (800) 931-2237. 

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