What is disordered eating and how can it be treated?

November 8, 2022

Disordered eating is not a lifestyle choice. For individuals who have disordered eating, just getting through the day can be difficult. Food surrounds us so they are confronted with what can feel like regular temptation or torture. Recovery from disordered eating is possible, but can be especially challenging for an individual and their family because unlike alcohol or drug use, abstinence from food or mealtimes is simply not possible.

What is disordered eating?

Disordered eating covers a vast range of behaviours which can include over-eating, under-eating (anorexia), binge eating, craving food or lacking control around food and an obsession with healthy eating (known as orthorexia).

Individuals with eating disorders exhibit disordered eating, but not all individuals who are considered to have disordered eating will be diagnosed with an eating disorder. Disordered eating and eating disorders are common – it’s estimated that they affect 16.3 per cent of the Australian population (Hay, Girosi and Mond, 2015). 

The signs of disordered eating 

Many of us experience different eating patterns over the course of our lifetime. However, when we start obsessing over how we eat or don’t eat, those behaviours can take control of our lives. An obsessive focus on dieting, calorie counting, fasting, skipping meals, avoiding food groups or unusual patterns during eating is commonly displayed by those with disordered eating. 

An individual may also experience a distorted body image and sense of self, and isolate themselves from social situations where food is involved, eat alone or hide their eating habits from loved ones and friends. You might also notice constant concern or complaints about being ‘fat’, them speaking about diets and weight loss often, and frequent use of scales and mirrors to check for weight gains or losses, and flaws.

How we can help 

Recognising that you or a loved one has disordered eating can be extremely difficult. At South Pacific Private, we understand that disordered eating is often not about food at all. We know that people suffering from disordered eating are usually using food to cope with difficult and painful feelings stemming from childhood trauma, low self-worth, unhealthy relationships. Alternatively, some people are attempting to control the only thing they feel they can control – the food they put in their body. 

Feelings of guilt, failure and unworthiness are often felt by the individual, which is why we go beyond just treating the symptoms of disordered eating to identify, address and resolve the underlying causes. “Unfortunately many people who suffer from disordered eating don’t fully understand the impact it has on their mental wellbeing until they are in treatment,” explains Tori McCarthy, Senior Therapist and Program Manager at South Pacific Private. “It’s not uncommon for some people to go through treatment and to discover that their other addictions or substance use and mental health is intertwined with their relationship to food and their body image,” adds Tori. “We offer a dedicated Mindful Eating Program as part of our general program. It includes nutrition and mindfulness workshops to equip clients with the tools and strategies to help develop a healthy relationship with food and their body.” Even after years of disordered eating, it is possible to recover and develop positive eating behaviours.

If you believe you may be suffering from disordered eating and are ready to take the first step toward recovery, call us now on 1800 063 332.

PLEASE NOTE: For some people who are experiencing disordered eating, a diagnosis of a specific eating disorder such as binge eating disorder, anorexia or bulimia nervosa may be applicable. We recognise that clients with these diagnoses, who are actively purging, or have a Body Mass Index of less than 18, require specialist medical care and 24-hour supervision. Because the South Pacific Private operates as a therapeutic recovery community, we recommend individuals first gain stability with their disordered eating through a specially targeted program or through working with a specialist. Anorexia and bulimia carry very serious health concerns. If you feel your symptoms are severe, please seek medical advice as soon as possible.

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If you would like more information for yourself or for a loved one, our client care team is available to take your call 7 days a week.

Call 1800 063 332

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Curl Curl NSW 2096

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