Many people have some difficulty distinguishing between and eating disorder and disordered eating. For those who truly suffer with an eating disorder, it can be a frustrating experience when they hear hear someone mistakenly, or even mockingly refer to their own eating patterns as eating disordered. The two terms may be better understood by the 4Ds of an eating disorder: they are different (from disordered eating), debilitating, devastating and deadly.
Millions of people have lifestyles with disordered eating and even more will experience episodic behaviors related to disordered eating. In fact, it may be unfair to call much of this “disordered” as many of these types of behaviors routinely happen in the lives we live. Most people will at times overeat, satisfy a craving for something they want, overindulge with desserts, or cope with the stress over something like a break-up by eating a pint of ice cream. We have more choices for food than ever in our history and eating it causes the brain to release dopamine and other chemicals that can make us feel good. But, yes, many people do have disordered eating.
So what differentiates an eating disorder from disordered eating? It is the all consuming and distressful thoughts around food, calories, exercise, body image and weight that dictate nearly every moment of a person’s life when struggling with an eating disorder. It is the tormented mind and thought processes that make an eating disorder different from disordered eating. It is the torment that debilitates a person’s ability to function well. It is the torment that can devastate self-esteem and the relationships around them. And, it is the torment and the medical effects that can end a life. It is not a gap between disordered eating and an eating disorder, it is a canyon. I will say this here, and again and again, in an effort to help everyone understand this and hopefully develop further compassion towards those who suffer. – Dr. Jeffrey DeSarbo