Is An Eating Disorder Just A Disordered Eating Habit Or More Than That?

Disordered eating (or eating out of the usual order) is different from an "eating disorder". However, it is an abnormal behavior that can potentially become dangerous.

Many individuals demonstrate problematic or disordered relationships with food, body, and exercise. Eating disorders are considered popular mainly among teenagers and young adults who emphasize how their body looks. They may count calories, over-exercise, exercise solely to lose weight, cringe at the sight of skin folds, etc. This relationship with food is considered quite common among this age group. However, if this behavior meets the criteria of an eating disorder, it can be dangerous for one's physical and mental health. 

What is Disordered Eating?

The term disordered eating is often used to describe various abnormal eating behaviors that do not yet fit the criteria for an eating disorder. Disordered eating occurs when individuals eat for other reasons than hunger and nourishment. Individuals with disordered eating eat when they are bored, out of stress, to cover up their emotions, skip meals, engage in binging and purging behaviors on an irregular or limited basis, may skip out on major food groups, or eat the same thing every day.

What is an Eating Disorder?

An eating disorder is a serious mental illness, characterized by eating, exercising, and body weight or shape becoming an unhealthy preoccupation of someone's life.

There isn’t a simple way that defines how an eating disorder develops. There’s almost always an underlying combination of biological, psychological, and environmental factors. It is important to remember that eating disorders are very complex, and no two people suffering from an eating disorder have a similar experience.

Factors that may contribute to eating disorders:


  • Family history of eating disorders
  • Chemical imbalances that relate to hunger, appetite, and satisfaction
  • Temperament traits


  • Low self-esteem
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Lack of healthy coping strategies
  • Difficulty expressing emotion and feelings
  • History of abuse and trauma
  • Temperament traits such as obsessive thinking, perfectionism, sensitivity to reward and punishment


  • Societal pressure to obtain a certain body type
  • Societal beauty standards
  • Social media & marketing
  • Negative body talk (by members of the society)

The primary difference

The primary differentiating factor between disordered eating and a diagnosable eating disorder is the frequency and severity of the abnormal eating pattern. Although both disordered eating and eating disorders are abnormal, eating disorders have very specific diagnostic criteria that outline frequent and severe behaviors.

Is rewarding yourself with food a symptom of an eating disorder?

It is not unless it leads to abnormal eating patterns i.e binge eating, excessive weight gain/loss, vomiting, purging, etc. Chances are that you like food and you are rewarding yourself with something you like as a motivator.

Depending on the eating disorder you are suffering from, you can face several physical, psychological as well as emotional effects. The factors that lead a person to eat/not eat in an unhealthy manner are due to a set of negative thoughts or beliefs. It might be about yourself, your body, or your self-esteem. I understand that it takes a lot of courage but your recovery can and will only start when you seek help from others.


If you or anyone you know displays an abnormal eating pattern, it is advisable to consult a mental health professional for a better understanding of symptoms and whether they fit the criteria or not. For both eating disorders and distorted eating habits, a professional can help you in a better manner with the knowledge of your behaviors, thoughts, history, and symptoms.

No matter what factors cause someone to have an eating disorder or disordered eating, it’s important to know that recovery is possible and most often requires professional help.


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