5 Sneaky Signs of Disordered Eating
  • October 14, 2022

Episode 2: 5 Sneaky Signs of Disordered Eating

What is disordered eating? The concept of disordered eating means you don’t necessarily have a diagnosable eating disorder such as […]

What is disordered eating?

The concept of disordered eating means you don’t necessarily have a diagnosable eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa, binge eating disorder or bulimia disorder. But, you are experiencing habits which are not considered ‘normal eating’.

This may include things such as fasting or restricting foods and are often also accompanied by strong feelings of guilt. In many instances, disordered eating behaviours can start to impact your day to day living such as your ability to eat out with friends due to anxiety surrounding loss of control of your food choices.

There are multiple signs of disordered eating you may experience, but we’ve unpacked 5 common signs for you to look out for.


1: Food Rules

One of the most common disordered eating behaviours is creating rules around foods that are based on your perception of their overall health or nutritional/calorie content. This may lead to restricting or completely cutting out certain foods such as sugar or oil or even whole food groups such as carbs. Food rules can also manifest in the timing of food intake e.g. I can’t eat any food after 7pm.

This creates a very black or white way of thinking about food where after eating you have either done well and kept your food rules or you’ve “failed” by breaking the rules. Most of the time these rules are often very unrealistic to keep meaning that the feelings of guilt, shame or failure when you end up breaking them become more frequent with the more rules you create.

Not all food rules may be classified as disordered. Some instances when food rules are ok, and even potentially necessary, include religious, cultural or ethical beliefs or food allergies.

A good exercise to identify if you have any food rules is to go into a supermarket and write a list of all the foods you wouldn’t eat. Then, unpack why you wouldn’t eat them – is it because you generally don’t like them or is it because of a rule you have associated with that food?


2: Trying to suppress your appetite rather than eating

Appetites are normal and a sign our bodies are functioning – we have an appetite because we need to provide our bodies with food to fuel our metabolism. It is also normal for our appetites to vary day to day based on things such as how active we are.

Many disordered eating behaviours, however, aim to try and suppress this appetite or hunger to reduce our food intake. Some common things promoted to suppress our appetites include:

  • consuming large amounts of diet drinks to provide fullness
  • consuming caffeine such as tea/coffee alone as a meal to give you energy rather than food
  • consuming copious quantities of water above needs


3: Having “cheat days”

This refers to the concept of being “good” or eating “clean/healthy” every day of the week but then having a designated day which is a write off or “cheat day” where you disregard your usual habits. This often involves eating all the foods which you have deprived yourself of during the week because you have deemed them as bad or unhealthy.

Swinging between these two ends of the spectrum can trigger something that we call the Binge-Restrict Cycle. The cycle starts with having some form of restriction in your diet (e.g. specific foods or amounts of food) but then somethings happens such as a cheat day/meal or an emotional/stressful event which triggers a binge.

During this binge you may eat large amounts of food beyond comfortable fullness and is often paired with feeling out of control. Binges are usually then followed by strong feelings of guilt/shame that can then lead to another bout of restriction and the cycle continues.

The best way to overcome the binge-restrict cycle is to give yourself unconditional permission to include all the foods that you’ve previously restricted regularly in your diet. Giving yourself this unconditional permission to eat ‘forbidden’ foods may mean that initially, you eat them quite regularly over the week. But, as time goes on, they will become less desirable to eat constantly.



4: Juice cleanses

Cleanses are often promoted as ways to “reset” after a period of not eating as healthy or “detoxify” the body. As this can also be a form of restriction, this can trigger the binge-restrict cycle to develop in full force.

There are also some potential harmful side effects that can come with juice cleanses such as:

  • A lack other essentials such as fat, carbs, protein and fibre which our bodies need to thrive
  • Diarrhoea
  • Light-headedness, dizziness or fatigue due to their very low calorie content


5: Feeling anxious about eating socially

Eating socially includes situations such as going out to eat or even just eating at a friend or family’s house where they are providing the food.

The anxiety you feel when put in these situations may be because either:

  1. you are unable to control how the food is being prepared and/or
  2. they may include specific foods/meals that you may have fears around e.g. going for ice cream with friends

As food is a big part of socialisation in society, this fear can lead to avoiding social occasions completely and if this starts to happen more frequently, overtime it can lead to isolation. This is a big red flag for perpetuating an eating disorders as EDs thrive in isolation.

Some tools to help overcome feelings of anxiety about eating socially include:

  • Starting by getting someone else in your household to make a meal for you – even start with a familiar food you would usually make
  • Then gradually build up to including foods/meals you feel more fearful towards
  • Once you have tackled the food in a more comfortable environment you may be more ready to try going out to a restaurant

If you are experiencing any of these signs of disordered eating, we recommend engaging with a health professional such as a dietitian or psychologist to help guide you through managing these thoughts/behaviours.




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